5 Historic Music Venues in Washington D.C.

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We're getting closer to the low temperatures of winter, and you've conquered the best outdoor activities DC has to offer. Now it's time to figure out how to keep yourself entertained all winter long. 

The good news is that DC has tons of indoor fun to offer, from the dozens of museums to the bustling nightlife. This week, we're here to rock your world with our guide to historic DC music venues!

You've heard of them. You've passed them on the street. Your friends have raved about the concerts they've seen there.

Let’s dive into the history behind these popular DC music venues. If the amazing acts they bring in every night aren't enough to draw you in, the rich culture and backstory surrounding them will! 

9:30 Club

The 9:30 Club has been one of DC's most popular music venues since the grand opening in 1980. Real estate mogul Jon Bowers made his music promotion dreams come true when he turned a room known for its rats and weird smell into a hopping nightclub. It was originally located on F Street, which had yet to recover from the 1968 riots and was known to be a sketchy area.

In spite of its low capacity and location, the 9:30 club attracted big acts like Nirvana and Red Hot Chili Peppers! This was in no small part thanks to the music booking group, IMP, which would later buy out the 9:30 Club.  

In 1996, ten years after the IMP buyout, the club moved to a bigger venue on V Street, where it remains today. It's not just for punks anymore, hosting a wide variety of alternative and popular musicians! 

Blues Alley

If you're looking for a relaxing evening with some Creole cuisine and jazz music, Blues Alley is the place for you.  

Blues Alley is America's original jazz and supper club and markets itself as a "listening" club. In other words, Blues Alley isn't a place to chatter but rather a place to dine and appreciate the twists and turns of jazz music! 

Blues Alley was founded in 1965 in an 18th-century brick carriage house located in the center of Georgetown. It may be the product of the turn of the century, but the owners have always worked hard to keep alive the feeling of 1920s jazz houses with their specially crafted ambiance.

Back in the day, you could have caught big acts like Dizzy Gillespie, Nancy Wilson, and Charlie Byrd playing and improvising for hours!

John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts

More commonly known as the Kennedy Center, this venue has its roots in both Eisenhower and Kennedy's presidencies. 

In 1958, Eisenhower signed legislature for a National Cultural Center that would feature American performers. 

Kennedy was also an advocate of arts and culture, and after his assassination in 1963, Congress made the National Cultural Center a living monument to Kennedy and changed its name accordingly. 

Located on the Potomac, the renamed Kennedy Center was officially opened to the public in 1971 with a massive memorial service that attracted visitors across the nation. 

To this day, you can visit the Kennedy Center for acts ranging from hip hop to ballet to theatrical performance. Not every event is formal, but it's not uncommon to see concert-goers decked out in tuxedos and ballgowns!

Howard Theatre

Howard Theatre is one of the oldest historic DC music venues on our list. It opened all the way back in 1910 and became a hub for African American musicians during a time of deep segregation.

In its early years, you may have caught a speech by Booker T. Washington one night and a vaudeville performance the next!

Before desegregation, Howard Theatre was one of the places in America where you'd find concert-goers of all races enjoying music together. 

In the mid-20th century, musical legends like Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, graced the stage. Sadly, in the early 1980s, Howard Theatre closed its doors and shuttered its windows, a closure that devastated DC until its 2012 revival. 

Check out Howard Theatre now for gospel choirs, reggae bands, jazz, and more! 

Black Cat

While the 9:30 Club brought big names in grunge and punk to DC in the 1990s, the Black Cat focused its attention on the local underground scene. 

The Black Cat opened in 1993 on the U Street Corridor, determined to give local musicians a place to get their name out there. For some, like Stereolab and Rancid, the Black Cat was one of their first stops on the way to national renown!

In 2001, the venue's owners and investors decided that with the explosion of indie music across the country, they would need more space to host DC's alternative music seekers. Fortunately, they found that space only three doors down from their original location.

Since then, they've brought in an impressive lineup of alternative acts, from Arcade Fire to Modest Mouse. And, of course, you can still catch local and up and coming musicians because the Black Cat never forgot its roots. 

Spend an Evening at One of These DC Music Venues

Whether you're a music fanatic or a history buff, DC music venues offer something for everyone. DC has long been a hub of music and culture, and you can find anything from jazz to pop to underground grunge, as long as you know where to look for it! 

At The Vintage, we're happy to be your guide to all things DC. Check out the rest of our blog posts for more insider information on the best spots in the city!  

Looking to make DC your home? Contact us about our available apartments! We've got studios all the way up to three bedrooms, and you're bound to find something you love at The Vintage.

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