By Chris Richards
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, February 5, 2006
There's a wolf in Scott Verrastro's dining room, and his guests are craning their necks for a better view. And for good reason: This wolf just finished honking on the sax and now he's brandishing a guitar.
We're talking about Little Howlin' Wolf, a blues musician with a gravelly voice and a live show bordering on incoherent. He's made his name busking in the streets of his native Chicago, but tonight Verrastro has invited the traveling bluesman to perform in his small rowhouse off U Street NW. It's one of many shows Verrastro has hosted under the banner of Clavius Productions, an entity he founded to bring weird, wonderful, experimental music to Washington.
Clavius promotes gigs at local clubs, namely DC9 and Warehouse Next Door, but the best stuff seems to happen under Verrastro's roof. He's hosted performances by saxophonist Paul Flaherty and drummer Chris Corsano (a duo specializing in improvised clatter), Six Organs of Admittance (Californian Ben Chasny's psychedelic folk project), Michael Chapman (an overlooked British folk legend) and a gaggle of other fringe-notables you might read about in magazines such as Arthur or the Wire.
Tonight, most of Little Howlin' Wolf's audience is standing in the adjoining living room, watching his set through the doorway. Sonic Youth and Ghost posters drape the walls, while a Stan Brakhage film flickers on a TV in the corner. As the Wolf huffs and puffs on his harmonica, one onlooker asks a friend, "Is this not the coolest thing you've ever seen?"
611 Florida Ave. NW. Visit the Web site at www.claviusproductions.alkem.org .
The Mansion on O Street
Sure, it's an upscale hotel where touring rock vets rest their weary bones -- but the Mansion on O Street feels more like a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame garage sale. Music memorabilia clutters every nook and cranny of the hundred-room Dupont Circle abode, making it hard to walk down the hall without tripping over something signed by Bob Dylan.
And let's not forget the living, breathing rock stars.
If you're lucky, Emmylou Harris might be staying in the next room. If you're really lucky, Emmylou Harris might be performing during brunch -- when the guests are feeling inspired, the Mansion hosts impromptu concerts. Whether these intimate shows are announced days or mere moments ahead of time, the audience of 75 is in for a treat. Along with Harris, past guest-performers include blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, songwriter Paul Williams, Al Kooper and Buster Chambers of the Chambers Brothers.
Scoring a seat to one of these off-the-cuff performances can be tricky, but the Mansion's Web site and its mailing list are good places to start. And if you're just curious -- and hungry -- it's open for lunch every Monday from noon to 2.
2020 O St. NW. Call 202-496-2000 or visit http://www.omansion.com/ .
Don't let the name fool you. Wonderland Ballroom is actually a cozy corner bar with a dance floor barely wide enough to moon-walk across. But that doesn't stop the bar's clientele -- a mix of bike couriers, rasta dudes, punks and young professionals -- from dancing their respective nights away.
Downstairs, a jukebox provides the soundtrack. Upstairs, DJs spin everything but the kitchen sink. Hip-hop nights, Brazilian nights, new-wave nights, ska nights, disco nights, anti -disco nights -- Wonderland hosts it all. Thursdays, local musicians squeeze onto a tiny stage where a bevy of home-grown talent has performed, from rapper Head-Roc to rock quartet Monopoli.
1101 Kenyon St. NW. Call 202-232-5263 or visithttp://www.thewonderlandballroom.com.
The path there is literally pretty beaten. Take Half Street SW past the warehouses, past the cement mixing yard, past the salt storage dome. By now the pavement is pockmarked and dusty. But keep your eyes peeled for the windowless brick cube adorned with a glowing green sign and bright green door.
From there, the Lime doesn't look like much, but inside there's a two-level nightclub where veteran go-go powerhouse Rare Essence cranks it every Friday night. Saturdays are dedicated to reggae and calypso, with DJs spinning the hottest new riddims.
1824 Half St. SW. Call 202-479-2222 or visithttp://www.thelimedc.com.
Lamont's Entertainment Complex
For the older crowd looking to cut a rug, make the trek out to Lamont's Entertainment Complex in Pomonkey, Md. The old-school roadhouse off Indian Head Highway in Charles County serves hot meals and sizzling soul Thursday through Sunday.
R&B groups Hardway Connection and Gridloc Band perform regularly here. When the weather heats up, the concerts move to the outdoor picnic area, where national acts including Percy Sledge, Bobby "Blue" Bland and the Chi-Lites have drawn huge summertime crowds. But why wait till June? Check out Jim Bennett & Unique Creation when they perform at Lamont's tonight.
4400 Livingston Rd., Pomonkey, Md. Call 301-283-0225.