By MATTHEW LEIBOWITZ
Fredericksburg is known for many things, including the vast amount of history in the area, yet many people don’t realize how many historic and famous music venues are just an hour’s drive away. With Richmond and DC being about equidistant from Mary Washington and Norfolk only a bit over a two and a half hour drive from campus, many students don’t realize they live in a prime area to be an avid concert-goer. Each of these venues surrounding the area has their own history and secrets that make them stand out on a national level as some of the best clubs and concert spots in the country.
The 9:30 Club
Here you will find one of the most famous venues in DC’s modern history. Sold to Seth Hurwitz and Richard Heinecke in the mid-‘80s, this venue quickly rose to the prominence it holds today. Made famous by punk and new wave sounds, this venue is one of the best music landmarks in the country, having won awards for best nightclub in the nation multiple times.
These days, the club on V Street gets acts from every genre and even hosts live podcasts from time to time. Pieces of the original club on F Street can be found, including the shattered 9:30 glass panel behind the second-floor stairwell bar.
The newest big shot addition to the DC music scene, this venue can hold a maximum of 6,000 people. Located in the new Wharf District of DC, The Anthem offers a beautiful experience on DC’s waterfront. Acts that would normally play in stadiums or at Merriweather Post Pavilion can now perform much more intimate shows here while also being able to fit in more fans than they would at a nightclub.
The Anthem is a Seth Hurwitz dream-child, taking the large room feel from 9:30 Club and merging it with an almost theatre-like balcony system found at Lincoln Theatre, this spot instantly becomes a must-see for DC concert-goers. Like the 9:30 Club, the food here is pretty extraordinary with excellent half-smokes, shrimp baskets, crab mac n cheese, and vegan chili dogs with a killer sauce.
With a lobby that is truly breathtaking, one will find a mesmerizing collection of hanging drum symbols and, if they look carefully at the ceiling, they’ll realize there’s a see-through bottom of a pool sitting right up top. During their opening Foo Fighters show from last October, the venue even had people dressed as mermaids swimming around in the pool above.
The Black Cat
Opening in 1993, this is another historic venue from DC. Smaller than 9:30 with a capacity of around 700, this space is big enough to feel like a huge show while capturing the intimate feeling you can get at DC9. The checkered print flooring is iconic
and makes this music spot feel right at home. One of the main investors of this space is none other than Foo Fighters frontman and DC native Dave Grohl. My personal favorite thing about Black Cat is that there is a sweet collection of pinball tables when you walk in. It contains a rotating list of tables and always has a few classics. They even hold pinball competitions and leagues.
My personal favorite venue in the city, DC9 holds a very intimate concert space on the second floor of its three-level bar setup. Smaller than 9:30 Club’s ~1200 person capacity, DC9 offers a truly personal experience with a cap of around 200 people. Despite this, many upcoming and established acts that are rising in prominence will make their way through this spot on tour. It allows for many opportunities to meet those you’ve come to see perform and to feel like you’re a part of the show.
One thing to note here is also that the food offered is incredible. I fully recommend the South-By Burger with garlic salt French fries. Operated alongside its sister-venue Rock & Roll Hotel, this duo presents some of the finest shows found in The District.
My favorite venue in Richmond, Strange Matter is one of the coolest spots to catch a show in Virginia. From cheap beer to their incredible array of vegan and vegetarian food options, this spot is a must-see for anyone wanting to see a band perform in Richmond.
Jeff Rosenstock boasts of their cheese fries being some of the best and many artists often come through here on their tours because of how intimate of a space it creates for their crowds. Strange Matter even has multiple arcade machines in the back, making it fun to come early for a show, play some games, and grab a bite to eat before the music begins.
Richmond’s equivalent to something like the Black Cat or 9:30, The National stands alone in its own historic presence within Richmond. Feeling almost like a theatre, this two-level venue hosts many big level touring acts. Everything from Alice Cooper to Weezer and Queens of the Stone Age to the popular 80’s dance party The Legwarmers, The National always offers a great time to dance, drink and relax.
With a capacity of 1,500 people, this venue captures both small and large acts while offering an intimate, nightclub-like experience for both up and coming artists and artists that could easily play a stadium.
A bit further away than the rest, yet still easily accessible for students, lies Norfolk’s own renowned nightclub, The NorVa. Easily capturing many of the same acts likely to perform at the 9:30 Club or The National, The NorVa is a really fun spot to hit up near the beach.
Named after the abbreviation for Norfolk, Virginia, this music spot used to be a prominent movie theater in the 1970s. With a capacity of 1450, this location offers a fun bit of history alongside a concert experience found at other similar nightclubs. The sound quality is extraordinary and the drinks are tasty.
Regardless of the established music scene, each city also offers a variety of house show venues, thrown together by those in the scene that want smaller bands to be able to play while touring the country. These shows offer very fun, very unique experiences that can be even more memorable of a show than most venues can offer.
Notable mentions for other venues that absolutely deserve to be checked out include Songbyrd, U Street Music Hall and Lincoln Theatre in DC, The Camel Club and The Canal Club in Richmond, and Shakas Live in Virginia Beach.