The Sea Life at one of D.C.'s top DIY venues, Babe City. Photo Credit: Sam Segal

The DC Music Bucket List

By Katie Bowles | Features

Pictured above: DC rock band The Sea Life performs as one of DC’s rising DIY venues, Babe City. Photo Credit: Sam Segal.

Recently Condé Nast Traveler listed DC as one of the best city’s in America for music lovers, and if you’ve been here a while, it’s definitely not a surprise as to why. To highlight a few of the gems that can be discovered here, we asked some our trusted friends in the music scene and DCMD staff to put together a DC bucket list of their top venues, bands and big events that every newcomer to the area should at least see once while they’re here.

 

Bryce Rudow, writer at Brightest Young Things 

Top Venue 

Paperhaus or Babe City are the easy answers, but my number one venue for a few years now has been DC9. They do a great job supporting local talent while still somehow booking some of the best up-and-coming acts in the country, the sound and lighting set-up are impeccable given the size, and they are cool enough to allow everything from stage-diving (Diarrhea Planet’s infamous show there is the most potent example I can think of) to whatever you call that one show with Stepdad and Rich Aucoin where the audience of under 20 played with a Gymboree rainbow parachute and took turns screaming into an industrial lightbulb/microphone combination. Plus that rooftop…

Band you must see live

While my heart wants to say Typefighter — my favorite local act and the current kings of pop-punk in my book — I fully admit that part of loving seeing them live is knowing the words and the quirky twists and turns that make that band great. But if you’re going to just see one performer, therefore just one performance, I have to go with John Di Lascio (of Johnny Fantastic) and his new group Stronger Sex. They’re David Bowie meets Rufus Wainwright meets something truly unique and no one commits to his live performance better than Mr. Fantastic. Honorable Mentions: Black Clouds, Drop Electric, ACME (if you can ever catch them!)

Big music event you must go to

DC has a really interesting phenomenon with festivals going on right now. In terms of BIG festivals, we lost the usually-phenomenal Virgin Freefest and unless this year’s lineup announcement proves differently Sweetlife is starting to trend younger and more mainstream (ie crappier), so I’d avoid that one. However, on a slightly smaller but more localized level, people are making huge strides with their ‘big events.’ All Things Go’s inaugural Fall Classic was a massive success and I’m really intrigued to see what they do with the rumors I’ve heard about a Spring Classic in the making. You also can’t go wrong betting on the exponentially growing Trillectro Festival put on by Modele Oyewole and his DCtoBC crew.

 

Christopher Naoum, co-founder of  Listen Local First 

Top Venue 

Obviously everyone is going to say 9:30 Club and they should.  To go beyond that, I think if you are a music fan in this town you need to check out at show at Bohemian Caverns.  If you love history, music and especially jazz, you need to check out a show there. If you prefer indie up and coming acts traveling through town you can always count on the small rooms like DC9 and Black Cat backstage for an awesome intimate show.

Big music event you must go to

Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival and the Funk Parade.  I feel that these two festivals highlight and focus specifically on DC’s most talented local artists.  These are the best DC festivals because they feature the largest number of DMV musicians.

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Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival

 

Alex Schelldorf, photographer for D.C. Music Download

Top Venue 

For me, it’s a toss-up between Paperhaus and Babe City. BC has really torn out of the gate as a newcomer with some incredible lineups lately. Sound is good for the space, but the vibe and mural are what really does it for me. Meanwhile, Paperhaus is the well-respected veteran of the group. The best sound for a DIY venue in the city and some of the most eclectic groups coming through. It’s a rite of passage for DC DIY.

Band you must see live

Three bands I’m watching this year are Baby Bry Bry & The Apologists, Witch Coast, and Polyon. Baby Bry Bry could hit it huge this year, and their upcoming show supporting Perfect Pussy will be a monster. Even though it’s just a side project of Jon and Jordan from The Sea Life, Witch Coast put out one of my favorite tapes in recent memory. Ryan Florig’s video for “Dopesick” still has me in shambles. Polyon is equally as new as WC, but guitarist/vocalist Ryan McLaughlin is in 30 other bands and drummer Brandon Korch is a veteran as well. Their live shows are so impossibly loud, but Adam Lake’s keys are totally sinister. Very much here for that.

Big music event you must go to

In It Together Fest 2: THE NEXT ONE! Had some of my favorite times last summer at this fest, and it will only get better in 2015. Feels like playing DIY bingo with all the different shows around the city, simultaneously at DC’s myriad of house venues. I’ve never felt more connected to this community than running around DC trying to catch as many shows as possible. Can’t wait for this year’s lineup. Also check out Damaged City Fest for one of the best collections of punk and hardcore bands of any festival in the country.

 

PLOY

Top Venue 

Definitely DC9. The intimacy of the venue, the sound, the staff, the food-it’s an all around great venue. It’s also a great place to catch up-and-coming artists before they hit it big.

Band you must see live

Pleasure Curses. We’ve played a few shows with these guys and they’re always great. The vibe they have for their shows are always on point. They really try to create an experience for the listener.

Big music event you must go to

Funk Parade is an all around great time for any newcomer to the city or long time resident. It showcases the heart and soul of DC,what we have to offer and what we’re all about.

 

Brandon Wetherbee, managing editor of Brightest Young Things

Top Venue 

I’m from Chicago. I mention this in nearly everything I write about music because Chicago concertgoers are spoiled. The closest venue to the glory that is the Empty Bottle is Black Cat Backstage. Tiny, corner stage, cheap beer, good sound. Even when there’s a band above you on the main stage it’s great. Dirty is charming.

Band you must see live

Typefighter. Lead singer Ryan McLaughlin is my favorite frontman in DC. Powerful without being macho. Sensitive without being whiney. Loud without being deafening. I love the guy and Typefigter is my favorite of his multiple bands. If you don’t like this one, try Joy Buttons. If you don’t like that one, try Polyon. If you don’t like that one, try the new band Ryan just formed while you read this paragraph.

Big music event you must go to

Anything at Paperhaus. The house venue is has had comedy shows and punk shows and quiet shows and all day shows and all ages shows and because it’s difficult to get to, it feels like a trip to Merriweather.

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Local punk band BRNDA at the Paperhaus

 

Humble Fire

Top Venue 

Comet Ping Pong is a great place to see some weird bands and eat some great pizza-it’s something of a headquarters for the more arty, punky side of DC indie rock. Well worth the hike to Tenleytown.

Band you must see live

If you go see The Sea Life, not only will you see a cool band play some great songs, but you’re probably at one of DC’s many delightful house venues, where there’s probably one or more other awesome DC bands on the bill, and Jon Weiss will probably hand you a flyer for another great show. Everyone wins!

Big music event you must go to

Shows at The Lot provide everything a big-tent summer festival might, (e.g. brutal heat, slightly over-priced beer, dust), except they are FREE, and they are headlined by your friends. They end early enough so you can still get to Comet (or wherever) afterwards. A lovely Saturday evening indeed.

 

Baby Bry Bry 

Top Venue 

DC’s got some really fantastic *~official~* venues, but the heart of this city’s “scene” (ugh that word) is in living rooms and basements. Every DIY space has its own feel, so it’s hard to say which ONE you should check out, but some dear friends have done the near-unthinkable and opened their home in Dupont (!!) to regular shows. They’ve hit the ground running with some really fantastic bills and each event at Babe City feels like a party. But feels wrong not to mention the Back Alley Theater, Union Arts, Paperhaus, The Rocketship, and The Communiverse (RIP), for being the types of places where you don’t need to know any bands on the bill to know you’re going to enjoy yourself.

Band you must see live

The brainchild of Jamal Gray, Nag Champa is the type of next-level art that feels instantly familiar and utterly progressive simultaneously. Jamal and a rotating cast of musicians meld electronics that would seem at home in LA’s beat scene, with instrumental rhythms that could ONLY come from The District, creating a sound and vibe DC should be proud of. Still waiting on an official release, so Nag Champa is one you HAVE to check out live.

Big music event you must go to

A go-go. Any go-go. Just go to a go-go: It’s downright embarrassing how many folks in my life have yet to treat themselves to DC’s premiere cultural event-the go-go. Now, as a white transplant, I have absolutely no right or qualifications to pretend to play a go-go ambassador, but please just do yourself a favor and check one out. You can watch YouTube clips or pick up a CDR from the Boost Mobile store on Florida and 7th, but the only way to REALLY experience this city’s native sound is live. Sure, it seems like DC’s done its damnedest to outlaw go-go, but there are still plenty of spots inside District lines (and just outside of them!) that regularly host some incredible groups. Don’t know where to look? Check out Take Me Out To The Go-Go’s calendar and stop making excuses.

 

Honest Haloway

Top Venue 

I’m personally a big fan of DIY spots.  I know DIY spots don’t typically sound the best, but it’s usually free, BYOB, and everyone is there to have just to have a a good time. Some of my favorite shows that I have performed at and attended have been at Gold Leaf and the Dead Kennedy Center, neither of which are currently operating, although I think DKC may make a comeback at some point.  As of right now for someone new to the scene, I would say check out Bathtub Republic.  Honest Haloway hasn’t performed there, but it is certainly one of the spots I would like to play and check out a new band.

Big music event you must go to

Concerning a festival, I would say you have to go Cherry Blast festival.  We were lucky enough to play a couple of them and they are a lotta fun performing or attending.  I think what makes the event special is that it’s always at an different and unique location, and they always offer a wide array of art to choose from.  Especially if you’re new to DC, it’s one of the best events to be introduced to a number of different styles of DC. art in one setting.

 

Sasha Lord, head music booker at Comet Ping Pong

Band you must see live

What makes DC so exciting is that we are home to so many legendary musicians and bands. Fugazi, Kid Congo Powers, Ian Svenonius and Mary Timony. The list goes on and on! You can add Priests to that list as well.

 

Gully Waters

Top Venue 

Definitely 9:30 Club for its history and quality of bands and Union Arts/Mousai is a favorite because of its raw feel, mainstream obscurity, and local highlights.

I’ve seen some of the best shows at DC9 so I’d tell someone to check that out.

Band you must see live

I’d tell them to go see Marlee In The Mixx because the musicianship is top notch and they bring a lot of energy to their performances. Other noteworthy mentions would be Deborah Bond, Baby Bry Bry, Carolyn Malachi and Nag Champa.

Big music event you must go to

Last year was the first annual Sanaa Fest, which is a free arts and music festival that featured a lot of upcoming groups and a few distinguished performers like Jennah Bell and Muhsinah. There’s not a date set for this year, but it’s sure to be bigger and better.

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A show at Union Arts

 

Stephanie Williams, founder and managing editor of D.C. Music Download

Top Venue 

There’s obviously the notable indie rock venues like 9:30 Club and Black Cat, but Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage is such an incredible space that everyone should go to at least once. And, free shows. If we’re talking DIY venues, then definitely Paperhaus although Babe City is also a great place. Even if you don’t know all the bands they’ve got lined up, there’s a certain level of trust that Babe City brings quality acts to town.

Band you must see live

MH & His Orchestra is the first that comes to my mind. They are just so out-of-the-box when it comes to their live performances. Priests is an obvious choice-they are a band that I could watch live at every opportunity possible, and I also love the way Baby Bry Bry makes his performances so interactive for the audience. Give is also a frontrunner-so much for just picking one…

Big music event you must go to

Fort Reno is something you have to experience at least once while you’re here. Also Luce Unplugged at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Damaged City Fest, no question about that.

 

Jon Weiss, The Sea Life

Top Venue 

There’s something special about the Black Cat backstage. Not only is the food and new pinball machines fantastic, but the intimacy and sound of the backstage has stolen our hearts.

Band you must see live

Teen Mom. The bass line in the end of “Kitchen” and jangle of “I Wanna Go Out” has got me obsessed.

Big music event you must see

Young Rapids‘ album release show and Chimes Records’ showcase on March 7 at Rock & Roll Hotel, with The Sea Life, Go Cozy and Den-Mate.

 

The Raised by Wolves

Top Venue 

While slightly far from downtown, Comet Ping Pong is a venue that I love.  The sound is awesome and they host great local acts and touring bands.  Did I mention they provide free pizza and ping pong tables in the back to bands?

Band you must see live

Hot-off-the-press, our buddies started a group called Lighting Fires who are recording their debut release, and played a rocking debut show recently at IOTA Club and Cafe.  We’re excited to see what they’ve got in store.

Big music event you must go to

Perhaps I am biased since we played last year’s show, but D.C. Music Download’s Anniversary concerts showcase DC bands and have packed the 9:30 club the last two years.  Really inspiring for the local scene!

 

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About The Author

recently moved to the D.C. area from Luray, Virginia. When not writing for DCMD, she works as a Digital Marketing Specialist and Promotional Model. In her occasional free time, Katie enjoys napping, hiking, playing trumpet and piano, watching Jeopardy!, and going to D.C. sporting events.
  • Georgie K.

    Oh ho, so you guys delete comments when someone points out that one of your contributors and his band are human/audio garbage? That’s pretty cool.

    • Georgie K.

      P.S. Tim Kratzer is a douche and Honest Haloway are terrible