The U Street Corridor is D.C.‘s generous gift to music lovers. With the 9:30 club and Black Cat at its Metro stop, locals have memorized a sort of homing pattern toward these two venues, counting on them as reliable stops for their favorite indie bands. But where can music lovers go when looking to find something new? The answer is just down the block. The Velvet Lounge is U-Street’s answer to the sold-out indie hot spots of the District. Drawing frequent comparisons to a studio apartment or even a walk-in closet, the Velvet Lounge is a grungy little venue that houses the basics: a small bar and perhaps a smaller stage. The music there is typical to that of the bar scene - unapologetically noisy and edgy and brought to you by fresh-out-the-van out-of-town bands trying to make a name for themselves. The Lounge also features frequent D.J. sets and occasional movie screenings. So stop by the Velvet Lounge instead of just sitting there waiting for your favorite band to finish their latest album - you might find something you like.
DC9 is a concert venue, an after party venue and a dance floor all wrapped up into one small bar located on, you guessed it, U Street. A gem often left undiscovered by the 18+ crowd, DC9 is a small, swank place where fans can go if they are looking to get up close and personal with their favorite bands, both local and national. The venue focuses its attention on a barely-elevated stage flanked by old-school projection screens for those stuck in the back; though with the size of the place, they hardly seem necessary. Bands don’t just come here to play, they come here to party. Performers from the nearby 9:30 club have been known to keep the good times going by taking their entourages over the DC9 for DJ sets and dancing. And the dancing is everywhere - on the stage, on top of the tables and underneath the colored strobe light DC9 stole from your high school prom. Always filled with good music and interesting characters, DC9 is a no-fail place to hit up on those “What should we do?” Friday nights.
“You know you live in D.C. when 9:30 isn’t just a time,” goes the joke among music fans in nation’s capital. But the 9:30 club is more than just a local spot to go see a band - it is nationally recognized by bands and fans alike for its ability to host chart-topping performers one night and local groups the next, all piped through its state-of-the-art sound system.
What began as a haven to the straight-edge and punk kids of the ‘70s and ‘80s has now flourished into one of the top venues for live music, as Pollstar, the concert industry trade journal, deemed it. Formerly located at 930 F St., which is where the venue garnered its name, the 9:30 club came to its current location on the corner of Ninth and V Streets in 1996.
Though originally known for their alternative music fare, such as Minor Threat and Fugazi several decades ago, the 9:30 club also welcomed then up-and-coming rock acts such as The Police and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Nowadays, the 9:30 club mainly sticks to more mainstream fare - some notable acts to visit the club include Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Bob Dylan.
Nevertheless, they still make time to foster newer artists and local talent. Local groups such as Honor by August, the Sketches and My Favorite Highway have performed at their hometown venue.
The club offers a menu of vegan- and vegetarian-friendly food, a coffee bar for those needing their caffeine kick and four full-service bars throughout its three floors for those over 21. But beware - their beer is pricey, to the tune of about six dollars a draft.
The 9:30 club is a two block walk from Metrorail using the U Street stop on the Green Line. Free neighborhood parking is limited, but the club also runs a monitored parking lot behind the venue for $10 a car.
Upcoming shows include The Wallflowers on Sept. 3, Motorhead on Sept. 8 and Sondre Lerche on Sept. 11.
-TRACI J. BROOKS
FORT RENO PARK
In the grass barely a mile from campus, a robot wanders through crowds of screaming toddlers, seventy-year-old women and pierced punk rockers alike. This is Fort Reno. Located just across the street from Tenleytown’s Woodrow Wilson High School, this park features open-air entertainment at its best. Run entirely by volunteers, Fort Reno hosts free concerts every June through July on Monday and Thursday evenings. The three-band roster changes every event, showcasing a multitude of acts over the six weeks season. The number of bands and styles that pass through this outdoor bandstand truly rivals the diversity of D.C.‘s music scene with electric trios, acoustic duos, and hard rock solos alike. The only thing more eclectic than the bands is the crowd they draw in. Nights at Fort Reno bring families out together, as well as hordes of students of all ages. Throw in the occasional elderly couple, toss in a few friendly dogs (and, of course, local band Go Home Robot’s sticker distributing robot mascot) and serve it all up on sheets, blankets and a few lawn chairs. This is the recipe for a fun, free and festive summer night.
BLUES ALLEY JAZZ SUPPER CLUB
Tucked away in a back alley off of Wisconsin Avenue, The Blues Alley Jazz Supper Club thrives in the heart of Georgetown. The 18th century red brick carriage house is home to the nation’s oldest jazz supper club. This small, classic venue provides a one-of-a-kind intimate jazz experience reminiscent of the 1920s and ‘30s. Open seven days a week, Blues Alley provides Washingtonians with a little piece of New Orleans through their authentic Creole cuisine. The menu features food selections cleverly named after famous jazz musicians. If a night of listening to a jam session by some hip cats is in your sights, Blues Alley will fulfill your modern day speakeasy desires. Be sure to get there early to get the best seats in the house, as seating is on a first come, first serve basis. But be warned, this blast from the past won’t be cheap. The average price of admission is $25, but can be as much as $60 depending on the performing artist. So save up those pretty pennies and get your zoot suit ready for an unforgettable night of jazz.
ARTS CLUB OF WASHINGTON
If you like your jazz dressed up with a little bit of history and cultural awareness on the side, the Arts Club of Washington is your place. Founded in 1916, the Arts Club is located at the James Monroe House, a National Historic Landmark. The club draws upon D.C.‘s variant cultural resources to bring to audiences acts along the lines of local pianists, jazz guitarists, and harp-and-flute ensembles. The club is also a non-profit organization, as its main goal is to support the arts in D.C. communities. Not only does this mean an erudite air of awareness and education, it also means a pretty good number of free events, so supporting the arts also means supporting your wallet.
THE BLACK CAT
Nestled along historic U Street, Black Cat nightclub is a must-see for those looking to experience the District’s local music scene. The club offers two stages: the Mainstage and the Backroom. Its bar is called the Red Room, leaving little to the imagination as to the décor but offers a fully-stocked bar, pool table, pinball machine and seating areas for those looking to rest their legs made weary from dancing. Just past the bar is the Backroom, open for all ages. It hosts indie, rock and punk performances, as well as local DJ dance nights for the best of ‘80s pop and ‘90s grunge. Upstairs, the Mainstage lends to a much larger crowd, typically hosting the national acts, the likes of which include Arcade Fire, Korn, the Killers and The Donnas. The venue offers a more intimate experience with the band, who sometimes even circulate throughout the bar after sets. It’s a good idea to purchase advanced tickets for the larger shows, since they typically sellout. The Backroom usually asks for a cover charge that can run up to $20.
THE KENNEDY CENTER
The summer’s sweltering heat can leave one aching for the solace of central air and poolside dwelling. For sun-worshipers looking for a reprieve, The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts offers some of the most prestigious talents frequenting our humble city. The Center’s wide range of performances includes the National Symphony Orchestra, Fortas chamber music concerts, comedy shows, world-class jazz, theater, musicals, opera, ballet and book festivals.
The Kennedy Center’s colossal structure is just a short walk or free shuttle ride from the Foggy Bottom-GWU Metrorail station. Set along the Potomac River, the center offers breathtaking views of both downtown Washington, D.C. and Arlington, Va. from its open-air rooftop terrace. Below, culture-seekers of all ages can enjoy performances at any of the three main stages: the Eisenhower Theater, the Concert Hall and the Opera House. The average cost of tickets runs from $42 dollars to $150 dollars, varying with the show’s popularity and seat location. For those of us on a tighter budget, the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage program offers free performances everyday. For tickets and performance schedules go to: http://www.kennedy-center.org.