What we love: Early starts. Sometimes it’s nice to go to a concert and be home in time for “The Daily Show.” With shows here starting at 7:30 p.m. and rarely running much past 10, even people who live in the Maryland suburbs won’t need to call in late to work the next day.
What we don’t: Eating during a show. There’s a legend onstage. Maybe Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris or B.B. King. Audience members watch in awe as musical royalty performs just a few feet away then pause to chomp on their chicken fingers. We understand that the Birchmere is a sit-down dinner place, but something just doesn’t feel right about eating Applebee’s-style food while taking in a show.
--David Malitz, Sept. 16, 2011
You will listen! Of course, it's never that stern, but folks who come to the Birchmere know it as the best listening club in America; and artists love the venue's excellent sound system and artist-focused ambiance. This ain't no disco, and it's no nightclub. It's a concert hall where you can eat and drink -- and listen.
From Mount Vernon Avenue, the Birchmere doesn't look particularly imposing: a nondescript industrial building. Only the great names on the marquee at the entrance to its parking lot suggest the sonic feast inside. The club offers acoustic folk, jazz, rock, country and bluegrass artists for a musically fluent audience. Most of the offerings are in the Music Hall, but some, particularly dance-oriented shows, are in the Bandstand, which can hold as many as 1,000 people. The dinner-theater-style Music Hall, which seats 500, has a decidedly down-home, populist feel, and every table offers a clear view of the stage with no standing room and no dancing.
Who goes? From college kids to longtime fans who've gracefully aged with the artists they've loved for years.
What to eat and drink? The bar and kitchen open for business at 6, offering standard American fare: burgers, seafood, dinner salads, etc. Waiters serve food and beverages throughout the show -- quietly, of course.
Tickets: From $20 to $45; rare shows approach $100. At the Birchmere box office (with a $3.50 service charge per ticket) and through Ticketmaster (with a higher charges).
Getting there: There's free parking in a lighted, secure lot next to the club, with overflow parking across the street.
Here's a tip: The Birchmere is general admission, with first-come, first-served seating. The box office opens at 5, and seating begins at 6, with shows generally starting at 7:30 (you'll almost always be out by 10). Make use of the deli-style system: From 5 to 6, you get seating numbers that will be called sequentially starting at 6. So you don't miss any of the performance wherever you are, the sound is piped through speakers in the bathrooms and in the lobby, where you can sometimes catch the action via a video monitor.
-- Richard Harrington (Nov. 2, 2007)