We all have our reasons why we love this city. Perhaps it’s taking in some art at the Hirshhorn or seeing a free show at the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center. Whatever your reasons are for enjoying the nation’s capital, we at DCMD have our own (albeit obvious) reasons. We love the local music scene, but we were also curious to know how touring bands feel about D.C. and see the city from their perspective. To find out more, we asked some of our favorite out-of-town acts why they love the District’s music community so much, and what keeps them coming back.
Zula from New York – Zula just wrapped up their second LP and are looking forward to hitting the road again at the end of the summer.
We love the fans in D.C. The last three times we’ve played in the District, the energy of those shows have been some of the very best of the tours. The positivity and energy in the room has been awesome and people actually dance! My general impression is that there is a thriving community of people who are excited about supporting live music and bring an air that is open-minded and unpretentious. On the flipside, I try to resist judging a city by a bad show. It’s easy to think “this town is lame, cold and weird” when your first time playing there is some bleak show where no one shows up and the people that do don’t seem to care. I feel like a band’s experience in a given city comes down to who they meet and who helps them out with their first shows there. Shoutout to Alex Tebeleff!
We love the DIY venues like Paperhaus and Above the Bayou. They are two of the most legit and righteous house venues I have ever come across. Some people might think of house shows as inherently casual, but there is a real sense of dedication and professionalism at those spaces. The sound is top notch, and the people in charge work hard to make sure things run smoothly. They always hustle to collect donations for the touring bands, and the fans tend to be generous as well. The amount of cash you walk away with from a show with certainly isn’t the most important thing, but the hospitality we’ve received speaks to the general ethic to support the artists, and it is really encouraging to see.
Vundabar from Boston – Brandon Hagen from Massachusetts’s Vundabar filled us in on the band’s current status. The trio has been busy with their latest album, a new video, and a forthcoming U.S. tour that keeps them on the road until the end of June.
Paperhaus is one of our favorite venues to play, for sure. We know Alex, and he’s a great fella. Well run and a great environment. It also has no leaning as to the genre of music, which is great. We’ve never been to 9:30 club as fans – but you hear all over the country about it. I hope to check that out soon.
The fanbase in D.C. is pretty mixed, as far as we can tell. There’s people of all ages and backgrounds there, which is cool compared to a place like Boston, which is predominantly college kids.
D.C. definitely has the same situation as Boston: it’s such a transient town. All college kids doing four years of school and then moving away. There’s a core group of people sticking around, but the audience always seems to be changing. I can see how that hurts the music scene, but one good thing about this is because no one is from Boston, they spread the word about your band to where they’re from when they head back. That aspect has helped us to get shows all over the country, so ya know, the Cranberita is half full/half empty.
Sleepy Kitty from St. Louis – Sleepy Kitty has been working on a theater score and new videos with a forthcoming album on the horizon. They’re still most excited for their upcoming tour and to get back to D.C.
D.C., to me, has one of the most confident, ambitious, yet unpretentious scenes. There’s a directness that a lot of people have there, and it seems like no one is interested in wasting time. If you want to do something, you go for it. Our experience with D.C.’s DIY/DIT scene is that everybody’s ambitious in a good way: playing in each other’s bands, getting out on tour, releasing music constantly, mixing media and supporting each other’s projects. It might be because it’s a place that people move to every day with goals of literally changing the world. I really respond to that energy. It’s very motivating and inspiring, and gives me a ‘what are you waiting for?’ feeling.
After playing in D.C. quite a few times, it now feels like there’s a whole network of people and friends that we want to see that grows every time we go there. We’ve had a chance to actually get to know some people and their bands so it’s always great to come back and check in.
I feel like we’ve been lucky to have very attentive audiences. People aren’t afraid to come up to the front and dance, which is a great thing. We’re all for abolishing the rock moat — you know, that 10 or 20 foot gap between the band and an audience standing still. There are fewer rock moats in D.C. as far as we can tell. When we played The Dunes, we got to our song “What Are You Gonna Do When You Find Bigfoot?,” where we make a bunch of swamp sounds and Bigfoot calls at the end, and the audience jumped right in with us, calling back with their own Bigfoot voices. That had never happened before!
PHOX from Wisconsin – Matthew Holmen gave us the low-down on how they feel about D.C. and what’s coming up for them. After rolling through D.C. last month to headline 9:30 Club and film an NPR Tiny Desk Concert, they are set to play Bonnaroo and Firefly this summer.
We love the 9:30 Club because it’s one of the best clubs in the country… maybe the world? Also, fans have been outrageously supportive. Y’all have been especially partisan! Haw haw!
We did get to watch the Head and the Heart at DAR Constitution Hall, as fans, when we were on tour with them, and that was like being in an intimate arena which was quite baffling. That’s another cool venue in this city.
D.C. is very similar in Madison, where we were reared (as a band). It’s a harder audience to capture, because it’s a transient group. Much less like Baraboo, our original hometown, which can be a bit hard to move out of (most of us are living there now). It certainly doesn’t help the music or culture scene, I’ll say that. Madison is working on getting stickier, so to speak, to keep young folks like musicians and artists in town for longer. It really is beautiful and that’s the best way to build community, via arts and entertainment (and it doesn’t hurt if your city is built on industry or politics, as are Madison and D.C., respectively).
When we toured here, only one of us checked out the tourist-y stuff. We had a tourmate named Dan who is an absolute history fanatic. He made all of us feel like we were in the dark about a lot of what we are seeing around this country when we tour, because as soon as we finished soundcheck, he bolted out the door to take a loop of all the monuments while we ate Pringles. Next time I’m going into that shadow illuminati government building. The one with the triangles and eyes and stuff.
Sun Club from Baltimore – Sun Club just wrapped up a new album, due out later this year, and will play 9:30 Club and Sweetlife Festival at the end of this month.
All the venues in D.C. are all really sick. Black Cat, Rock and Roll–they’re all great. And 9:30 Club is obviously the best. We’re playing 9:30 club soon and after that we’re playing Merriweather for Sweetlife Festival. We’re so pumped– it’s all the venues we’ve wanted to play our whole life.
Since we’re based out of Baltimore, we’re close enough and don’t really go to visit the city when we tour it. We just usually go straight to the show. It just doesn’t really feel like we’re on tour, since it’s only a 45 minute drive. But, something sick about D.C. is Sweetgreen, which I just found out about recently. They’re giving us free food because we’re playing their festival. And we just ate it the other day when we were there and it was phenomenal. It really is my new favorite spot.