Garage Bands No More

The Cana Blessing, a four-man Christian metal band, practices inside an Alexandria storage unit. Drummer Jose Flores, left, and Rich Warren, a friend of the band members, take a breather outside of the 300-square-foot, $460-a-month space, which has no climate control. (Photos By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)
By Jonathan Mummolo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 9, 2007

Amid the rows of windowless self-storage units at one of those places where you pay by the month to stash your stuff, unmistakable sounds are coming from one of the garagelike structures.

Power chords. And drums.

Inside the 10-by-30-foot storage unit, with its door raised for ventilation, the Cana Blessing, a four-man metal band, rehearsed one recent night beneath the light of incandescent bulbs, crunched in a semicircle amid amps and dangling extension cords.

"It's about the only thing around, really, to prevent noise ordinance problems," Ryan O'Shea, one of the Christian group's guitarists, said of the $460-a-month Alexandria storage unit, which his group splits with another band.

Suburban rockers have always had garages and basements. But in the Washington region, where urban sprawl continues to pack residents closer and closer together, noise complaints are nearly unavoidable these days, bands say. Forced out of their homes, musicians have found creative places to practice and jam, including storage units, homemade sheds and places of business after hours.

The Alexandria self-storage facility, whose manager asked that its name be withheld to protect the expensive equipment housed there, is home to about 15 rock bands. With no air conditioning or heat, musicians have chosen to sweat in the summer and freeze in the winter in exchange for a place to stash their bulky gear and a chance to pump up the volume without the fear of police cruising by to hand out citations.

To be sure, uncooperative parents and crotchety neighbors have long been an issue. But veterans of the local music scene, such as Richard Gibson, owner of Barco Rebar rehearsal studios in Falls Church, said they have watched conditions worsen in the past two decades as development has raged.

"The first band I was in was from '83 to '91, and we played in a basement of the drummer's house in Fairfax," said Gibson, 42, of Annandale.

But by the time Gibson formed his next band in 1992, household jams were no longer an option, especially as home prices spiked, he said.

"People pay so much for houses now, they think, 'Hey, I'm paying $500,000 for a house.' Maybe they think they deserve -- and maybe they do deserve -- peace and quiet," he said.

Gibson, who rents rehearsal rooms to bands for $270 a month, said the real estate market has forced him to raise prices about 35 percent since opening in the early 1990s because his leasing costs keep rising.

"If I go much higher, the bands won't be able to afford it," he said.

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