The Interns' Guide: Live Music on a Budget

By Fritz Hahn Staff Writer
Monday, May 22, 2006 12:00 AM

Think you need to break the bank and pay outrageous "ticket convenience charges" to see a band? Think again.

Bars with no cover and live music abound in the area, although you're expected to buy a few drinks to support the venue (and the musicians, who may get a cut of the sales). JV's, a mid-century Falls Church roadhouse, offers country and bluegrass five nights a week. The Silver Spring branch of Austin Grill alternates between rockabilly, blues, country and singer-songwriter showcases, and offers a great late-night happy hour. Classic rock -- think Hendrix, Cream, Santana -- is always on the menu at Pharaoh's Rock N' Blues Bar & Grill in Adams Morgan. Jazz and blues fill many nightspots, including HR-57 (where you can bring you own liquor), Mr. Henry's, U-topia and JoJo.

The oft-pricey Blues Alley draws some of the top names in jazz -- Eddie Palmieri, Jimmy McGriff and Arturo Sandoval are all stopping by this summer -- and students and congressional staff can see them for half-price Sunday through Thursday when they show a valid ID. Something for the weekend? Try Twins Jazz on U Street; the cover charge is halved with a student ID on Friday nights.

Occasionally, you can find a club that combines drink specials and music. For example, sign up for Juste Lounge's e-mail list (, and you can catch neo-soul and R&B bands without a cover charge and get half-price martinis and food. H2O frequently has a live salsa band on Friday nights; and when you sign up for the guest list on the H2O Web site (, you and a few friends can go dancing for free. Love's Web site ( offers a coupon for free admission on Fridays, and once inside, you don't have to pay an extra charge for the live hip-hop performances. The Roots, Busta Rhymes, Common and Ginuwine are among the stars who have graced Love's stage, though you may have to kill a few hours between entry and when the performers begin. Thursdays find more of an international crowd, and the music reflects this, with international salsa and merengue bands occasionally taking the stage. (See our section on clubs for more tips on getting into the hottest nightspots for free.)

Remember that the lack of a cover doesn't mean it's a good deal. Chi-Cha Lounge, for example, has live bands Sunday through Wednesday, but the drinks are anything but cheap. The live salsa at Rumba Cafe is often exceptional; The mojitos there are decent, but overpriced.

If you're looking for something beyond a dark (and sometimes smoky) club, the free and daily shows at 6 on the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage are a year-round favorite. See Irish pipers, tap dancers, Latin jazz, the Kennedy Center's Opera House Orchestra -- all in one week. Tickets are not required, but seats fill fast. Save more: Instead of parking at the center, take the free shuttle bus from the Foggy Bottom-GWU Metro station.

During the summer, the Washington area's parks and squares are havens for free live music.

The National Gallery of Art offers jazz in its sculpture garden every Friday night; classical ensembles entertain on Sunday evenings in the Garden Court. Fans of local punk and indie rock music often make an evening of Fort Reno, the long-running concert series that presents local indie, alternative and punk bands on Monday and Thursday nights in the shadow of Civil War-era fortifications. Bring a blanket and a picnic. Actually, that's the same advice we'd offer to anyone going to see the classic soul, funk and R&B shows at Fort Dupont; last season's Saturday-night shows included the Dramatics, the Orioles and the local Soundproof and S.O.S. bands.

In Bethesda, reggae, swing, blues and jazz are offered at a series of lunch and evening concerts -- every Wednesday afternoon at Bethesda Place Plaza and Thursday evening in Veterans Park. Herndon's "Friday Night Live" brings modern rock, '80s cover bands and others to the Town Green every week. Reston Town Center offers free rock and jazz concerts on Saturday nights from June through August.

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