Looking to discover live music in Washington DC? Don't limit yourself to just weekends. With its diverse music scene, the nation's capital is home to plenty of great venues that host amazing live shows throughout the week. Photographer Julia Keane is no stranger to this vibrant scene and she recently shared her experiences of catching five nights of live music back-to-back in the District. Through her lens, she captured the electrifying energy and eclectic sounds that make DC's music scene one of the best in the country.
Despite not being a musician myself, I've always had a deep passion for music. My father introduced me to the magic of live performances when I was 14 and took me to the legendary 9:30 Club, and ever since then, I've been hooked. When I moved back to the DC area, I found myself drawn to the cozy neighborhood bars that hosted live music performances after long days at work. I basked in the anonymity and the soft jazz. Pretty soon, you get to know who likes to play where. And although I know about my neighborhood spots, I began to realize there was a whole world of live music in DC going on every night of the week.
After discovering the DC Music Live app, the city suddenly lit up with possibilities. It helped inspire me to take on a challenge I had been wanting to do for a while: catching live music every night for a week.
Over the course of that week, I was blown away by the breadth of talent that was right at my fingertips. From jazz performances to grunge, the city came alive every night of the week. How could anyone ever say weekdays were dead when you could see legends performing at your local dive! Through it all, I was fortunate to have the company of friends that I had made through the DC music scene.
I knew DC Music Live would understand this need to shed some light on weeknight shows when I approached them with this story. No matter what day of the week, D.C. music comes to life under the lights of your local venue.
Disclaimer: In no way does the inclusion (or exclusion) of any venues or artists imply favorability. This story is meant to highlight the incredible variety of live music across D.C., but I also had to work around my own schedule. This is one snapshot of what your own week of live music could look like. Luckily DC Music Live has over 100 venues to explore, so find what works for you!
Day 1: Monday at The Artemis on 14th Street
Have you ever gotten emotional at a drum solo? This has happened to me multiple times at The Artemis during Monday After Dark Live Sessions. The Artemis attracts the elite of D.C., a rotation of some of the most talented musicians I’ve ever heard. Monday crowds can be tough anywhere you go, but these musicians play to a room full of their friends with new ideas, eagerly waiting for the next guitar lick.
@dave_manley_music led the stage this Monday with a variety of drummers, guitarists, pianists, and bassists. Even a saxophonist stepped in to show us how it’s done. Although Monday After Dark technically starts at 8:30, I showed up at 9 and didn’t feel like I missed a second of great music. Musicians drop in as they please, like any good jam session, and Dave gets them in line. Monday night quickly became one of my favorite nights with a few pedal tricks and the pure magic that happens when everyone is in sync.
Day 2: Tuesday at The Pocket in Eckington
The Tuesday Open Mic at the Pocket is always buzzing with brave souls trying their hand at their first open mic, hosted by @openmicghp. But it’s also a foundation for musicians trying out new stuff for the most supportive crowd. As a non-musician, I stand there in awe of everyone on that stage. This Tuesday was especially filled with newcomers and new songs. When you walk up the stairs of @7drumcity, you’re enveloped by the soundproofed walls of @thepocket_dc. Sandwiched between the bar and the stage are mingling musicians in what feels like a hub of creatives. Each artist is given 2 songs. This Tuesday there were bands who had never performed together until now, songs that were inspired by heartbreak, and old beats for a new era. 22 musicians took the stage as the night ebbed and flowed. The Pocket was one of the first venues I found in my solo night adventures and it’s become a staple in keeping a pulse on the up and coming artists in D.C.
Day 3: Wednesday at DC9 near U Street
Wednesday took a turn. I showed up to the venue I was originally planning on visiting after work at 11pm and it was closed. Luckily there is never a shortage of karaoke in this city, and @DC9club hosts the best around. Khaos Karaoke held true to its name when I walked in at 11:30. Whether it was Shania Twain or Mulan, the crowd commanded the stage with mic in hand. I’ve been to DC9 for concerts upstairs, but this karaoke was on a more intimate level. You were never alone, supported by a chorus of your own background singers. I wasn’t surprised when the bar top turned into a stage and the vintage microphones hanging from the ceiling became a part of the show.
My friends and I have a saying, “Wednesday is Friday,” and everyone at DC9 that night seemed to agree.
Day 4: Thursday at Bossa Bistro in Adams Morgan
Thursday was going to be a tricky one because there are too many places to choose from. Thursday salsa is my go-to but thanks to DC Music Live’s filters, I saw that one of my favorite local artists, Elijah Jamal Balbed (@ejbjazz) was playing at Bossa. Elijah was one of the first D.C. musicians I followed after a surprise @jazzmobdc performance in Lincoln Park.
I’ve only ever been to @Bossadc on a crowded night with top tier dancers gliding across the dance floor. But when I walked in on this Thursday evening, all eyes were glued to the stage. Surrounded by Bossa’s brick walls and candlelit tables, I could feel the jazz seeping into our bones, controlling the muscles in our tapping toes and bobbing heads. Elijah’s group of world class musicians from all over performed a tribute to Wayne Shorter, a legendary saxophonist and composer. After a few late nights, I was grateful for the relaxed atmosphere.
Day 5: Friday at Comet Ping Pong near Chevy Chase
I reserved Friday as the day I would try a new spot. I recently learned @cometpingpong hosted traveling bands. So I gathered a few friends, grabbed some last minute tickets, and drove the long stretch of Connecticut Ave until we saw the iconic neon sign. One of the best things about live music at local bars and restaurants is how it transforms the space into something magical. What I initially thought was just a ping pong back room turned into a cozy and intimate concert venue where everyone had the best seat in the house.
Walking into a crowded room filled with seasoned grunge fans, I had no idea what to expect from the three-band showcase. I didn't even have time to research the bands before grabbing our last-minute tickets. But as the first notes from @savakband filled the air, I knew we were in for a great night.
The moody alt-rock tunes of @savakband glowed under the purple lights, while the unapologetic drums from @wildpowwers had me under a spell. The lyrical journey that @continuals_dc took us on was the perfect way to wrap up my week of live music. As the set drew to a close, I put away my camera, closed my eyes, and just listened, soaking in the sounds of the night. One of the reasons I love this city so much is the ability to stumble upon nights like these where unparalleled musicians take to the stage and electrify audiences.
This vibrant music scene is filled with talented musicians just waiting to be discovered, and thanks to tools like DC Music Live, exploring the many venues to find them has never been easier. Ultimately, supporting local musicians and small neighborhood spots that provide incredible sounds throughout the week was the goal of this story. I hope to see you all out there, getting lost in fantastic live music across the city.
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