WMUC's DC Concert Survival Guide

by the WMUC Community

Here at WMUC, we thrive on music. But in particular, live music. The energy and atmosphere created by concerts and festivals are unmatched, but it can be overwhelming to newcomers, especially in a busy city like our neighbor Washington D.C. Post COVID, you may feel like a stranger to the scene, but no need to fret. WMUC has your back. Read on for some of our favorite concert venues, food recs, and insider tips from the eyes of DC locals.

Merriweather Post Pavilion

Columbia, Maryland’s Merriweather Post Pavilion is hands down my favorite concert venue in the DMV. A short 25-minute drive from UMD, host of the annual (and upcoming!) All Things Go festival, and inspiration for Animal Collective’s eponymous album, it has featured some of the best alternative rock artists of all time.

I’ve watched Twenty One Pilots roll around in a hamster ball mid-set from the seated rows and sheltered in my car during a flash flood (they truly are rain or shine) before heading to their lawn, where sound and picture carry perfectly, to see Cage The Elephant. Their GA pit, however, from where I’ve seen acts like The National, Vampire Weekend, Saint Motel, and Alt J, is what holds my heart. It’s the perfect size: more room to breathe than 9:30 Club, but more intimate than The Anthem. The advantage of an outdoor venue–– with a large roof sheltering the pit and seated rows–– is experiencing the unmatched feeling of watching the sun set on a breezy summer evening as you listen to your favorite artist play a live set.

The rest is typical concert venue fare. Food is overpriced but does the job, parking is free but reserve a spot in advance, and while the venue opens 90 minutes before showtime, I’ve always been able to get a GA spot up front as long as I arrive before the openers (this is artist contingent, of course, as teenage girls are more dogged than the dudes in their 30s who spend the entire concert holding a beer in one hand and pumping their fist every few minutes with the other).

By Kanika Mehra
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Black Cat DC
The best show I’ve ever been to is easily AJJ and Kimya Dawson at the Black Cat. After X’s were drawn on my hands (because I was, regrettably, 17), I headed up the stairs and was met with an industrial-meets-speakeasy-meets-immaculate vibes bar and concert stage dripped out with black and white checkered floors. It’s a small venue, too, so you can really get up close and personal (within COVID-19 restrictions) with your favorite artist. Something about hearing the “Juno” soundtrack followed by a white guy with a standup bass yodeling about his problems in this setting was transformative to my crunchy girl coming-of-age arc.
It’s not just a folksy venue by any means, though. Some upcoming shows at the Black Cat:
Liz Cooper, Oct. 4
Wavves, Oct. 22
Jeff Rosenstock, Dec. 1 (I’m going to this one, say hi if you’re there!)
Indigo De Souza, Jan. 22
They also host fun community events, like an 18+ comedy night and pop-punk vs. emo dance party.
Black Cat is in the Cardozo neighborhood of D.C. on 14th Street NW, right around the corner from the U Street Metro stop on the green/yellow line, just six stops from the College Park stop. If you find yourself driving to this lovely venue, they have a SpotHero page to reserve a parking spot for relatively cheap by D.C. standards. Should you be famished from your long journey, Busboys and Poets is just two blocks up the street.

By Molly Szymanski
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The Songbyrd

Washington D.C.'s finest music house is located on 540 Penn St NE, less than a mile away from the NoMa Gallaudet Metro station, and even closer to a bus stop if that's more your style. The atmosphere of the venue is very comfortable, with exposed brick walls, colorful chairs, and a friendly staff ready to serve you appropriately priced food and beverage (currently outdoors) Thursdays through Sundays from 5 to 9pm. Additionally, if the menu of the Songbryd isn't satisfying you, definitely check out the Union Market for a great bite to eat that's right around the corner.
The real fun begins in the basement where the concert hall is located. It’s perfectly sized for a small concert, akin to Kyle Scheible's basement concert in the movie Lady Bird. The basement provides a very intimate performance from one of the many incredible artists that the Songbyrd has lined up this season, such as punk/metal rapper Nascar Aloe on September 25th. The Songbyrd will also be hosting MIKE, who combines elements of jazz-rap with experimental production for an amazing and impactful show on October 14th. I will be at the George Clanton on October 17th, so if you're into vaporwave and shoegaze artists, definitely grab tickets and say hi to me there!

By Aidan Appelson

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9:30 Club

The 9:30 Club in DC is the most attended club of its size in the world according to their website, and has been a central location for the DMV nightlife and concert scene for over 40 years. Located on the corner of V Street and Ninth Street (right next to Howard University), 9:30 Club has the benefit of being on the fringe of the U Street Corridor -- a historic neighborhood full of great dives to grab a bite to eat such as Ben’s Chili Bowl along with a number of authentic Ethiopian restaurants. There’s also no shortage of bars here, with a new one opening up seemingly every other week.

The venue itself is lively and intimate, with upper loft areas and a standing-room ground floor that lets you get up close and personal with your favorite artists and bands. With the framework for neon spotlights, smoke machines and intricate light sequences, there’s tons of great opportunities for shaky-cam concert videos, too. The best way to get there? The Metro! Ride the green or yellow line to U Street station, and then it's only a five minute walk away. 9:30 Club has a flood of amazing shows coming up over the next couple months, but here’s a few you’ll definitely find me in the crowd for: Tinashe on Oct. 3, 100 Gecs on Dec. 6 and The Aces on Dec. 10.

By Kyle Russo
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The Fillmore Silver Spring

The Fillmore Silver Spring on Colesville Rd is a relatively smaller venue, with a capacity of 2,000, located right across the street from a Dave & Busters and the Ellsworth Mall. The drive is about 17 minutes from College Park. Personally, I have Ubered to all of the concerts I attended there, but if you’ve got the time and it’s a particularly busy Uber night at UMD, you can take the green line at the College Park Metro station, switch to the red line at Fort Totten to get off at Silver Spring, walk seven minutes, and you’re there!

The venue is near a bunch of different restaurants with various cuisines including Thai and Cuban, or you can pregame your concert with the All-American Classic: Panera. The Fillmore has a balcony and room to stand on the floor for general admission. If you’re short like me, I would recommend getting a VIP front-of-the-line pass, which usually does not inflate the ticket price too much, for early entrance and a good view. Or if you’re not looking to spend more money, the balcony can be live-saving! It has a great view of the stage and is not cramped. Some concerts coming up that I’m really excited for are Ashnikko, Mon Laferte, SAINt JHN, 070 Shake and so so much more! I’ve seen Aminé, Yung Gravy and bbno$ there and each concert was such a great experience. Only baddies go to the Fillmore, so get some tickies to any of their events ASAP!

By Taneen Momeni
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The Anthem

The Anthem is a Goldilocks venue – everything is just perfect. It’s located at 901 Wharf Street SW, Washington DC, in one of the prettiest places in the city. Overlooking the water, a long pedestrian street takes you past excellent restaurants, fountains, giant swing sets, shops, and this fantastic concert hall. Before or after your show, be sure to walk alongside the Wharf, take in the sights, and grab a bite to eat. Mi Vida’s Mexican food is crazy delicious, but there’s plenty of options to choose from. Inside The Anthem, you’re welcomed by warm lighting and multiple floors of seating and bars. It has the vibe of a classy club. There’s a large space used as a dance floor and general seating in the center right in front of the stage, while overhanging balcony seats look down – though those seats cost a little more.
The Anthem is also the perfect size. It’s big enough that you can get lost in the crowd, but intimate enough that you’re never far away from the performers. A wide variety of acts come through The Anthem’s doors – I saw Phantogram and Cage the Elephant before COVID, James Blake and Kaytranada play on back-to-back nights in October, and I’ll be seeing Brockhampton there next year. If you haven’t visited The Anthem, check out their website and snag some tickets. It’s easy to get there from the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station, but you can also easily Uber. Trust me, it’s worth a trip to the city.

By Dylan Shulman
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Union Stage

Union Stage is located at The Wharf on Water St SW in D.C. If you’re like me, driving in DC can be stressful, so Metro is my favorite way to get there. Taking the Metro is loads cheaper, and you don’t have to worry about parking. Make sure when taking the Metro to ride with at least one other person and have a fully charged phone. From the UMD area, take the 104 to the CP Metro station and take the yellow line to L’Enfant Plaza, then board 52 heading toward 14th and Colorado, and get off at 7th StSW and Maine Ave. From there, it will take you 5 minutes to walk to Union Stage. Expect to pay around $5 altogether on fares. The trip will take you about 45 minutes from campus so plan to leave more than an hour before the show starts. There are so many restaurants to pick from at The Wharf that I honestly couldn’t tell you which to choose. One upcoming show that I’m excited to see at Union Stage is Men I Trust on October 30th!

By Marlia Nash
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Rams Head Live!

Ram’s Head Live!is a concert venue located at Power Plant Live! in Baltimore, Maryland. Along with your favorite artists, you can also find a ton of other amazing restaurants, comedy clubs, nightclubs, and more in the area. What I love about Ram’s Head is how great its location and layout are. You can watch performances from so many different spots on different balcony levels and railings that there’s really no bad seat in the house! I recommend driving there unless you live close to the venue since there are a multitude of convenient parking locations nearby. Plan to arrive a few hours early so you can avoid traffic and get some time to enjoy the Inner Harbor area for a bit as well. Go to LUCKY’s for a great spot for ice cream and dessert, but if that’s not your thing, there’s everything from classic fast food and cafes to fancy Italian restaurants all within a 20-minute walk of RHL! There’s also a small food service kiosk if you get hungry inside the venue. About five or six bars can be found within Ram’s Head, so you’ll get drinks in a timely manner too (if you’re legally able to order them).
I’ve loved seeing BØRNS and Oh Wonder in the past, and I’m super excited for artists like The Driver Era, Leon Bridges, Todrick Hall, Girl in Red, and more to perform in the coming months! Live, Love, Baltimore

By Joy Lee