Rock On in Columbia Heights

By Karmah Elmusa
Friday, June 6, 2008

Guitar Hero isn't just a game. Well, technically, it is. But it has also become a phenomenon worthy of media attention, a "South Park" episode and, now, a designated night at Wonderland Ballroom.

Every Tuesday, the top floor of the Columbia Heights hot spot is transformed into a wannabe-rocker's dream den. Lights are down, a projector is up and the speakers are at full tilt, creating an intimate two-player paradise for Hero junkies and their groupies.

While Guitar Hero night is a fledgling operation (it started in early May), the potential for a cult following is there. There are, of course, the standard draws of Wonderland-on-a-weeknight: a beer selection that's extra cheap before 8 p.m. (Delirium is popular here), friendly staff and that off-the-beaten-path feel that disappears when the weekend crowds roll in.

Then there's the game itself.

Wonderland is working with Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s. The self-explanatory program leaves the room reverberating with tunes such as "Heat of the Moment" and "Turning Japanese," but several other editions are working their way into the rotation. For those of you unfamiliar with this pop-culture sensation, you can play alone, in a guitar-bass duet or attempt a guitar-guitar duet. Players use a guitar-shaped controller with buttons instead of strings to play along.

The stage, normally home to the DJ, houses a screen that will dwarf any at-home setup. A dry-erase board allows single players or pairs to sign up and ensures that everyone gets a turn. Thankfully, the game's difficulty level can be changed, making for an all-experience-levels-welcome environment. Finally, players can create a Mohawk-sporting, tattoo-clad alter ego -- the sort who would make your grandmother weep.

Because this is a fairly new undertaking, now is most likely the time to make it your crowd's new Tuesday night activity. First-timers would be well advised to bring a few friends for moral support, but again, the beauty of the thing is that it's at Wonderland. If you need a break between sets, you can step downstairs for a Delirium and some quiet time before rocking on.

Free. 7:30 p.m.-close. The Wonderland Ballroom, 1101 Kenyon St. NW. 202-232-5263.

The District

Today

ON STAGE: "Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical" Once upon a time, a cute, naive girl named Debbie Benton headed to the big city in search of fame as a "Cowgirls" cheerleader. To get there, however, she'd have to pay her own way, so she and her friends concocted interesting ways to raise the cash. Stop us if you've heard this one. It's the plot for the 1978 porno "Debbie Does Dallas," which was adapted into a spoof musical back in 2001 by Susan L. Schwartz -- this version loses the overt sex in favor of teasing and innuendo. The focus is on the girls' loss of self (and virginity) in the hunt for fame. Presented by Landless Theatre (which did the musicals "Bat Boy" and "A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant" this season). $18. Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. through July 5. District of Columbia Arts Center, 2438 18th St. NW. For tickets and information, visit http://www.landlesstheatrecompany.org. 202-462-7833.

Tomorrow

FOR FAMILIES: The Dupont-Kalorama Museum Walk Weekend You could head to R and 21st streets NW and just start wandering, or plan to visit two of the free bigger events as part of the 25th annual museum walk this weekend. The Phillips Collection is hosting the Jacob Lawrence Family Free Festival, celebrating the exhibition of Lawrence's 60-panel set of paintings chronicling the migration of Southern African Americans to the North. The afternoon festival features Joy of Motion's DanceFusion Jazz Project, performances of 1940s jazz, tours of the exhibition and films about Lawrence. It's from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. tomorrow, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. 1600 21st St. NW. 202-387-2151. At the Textile Museum a few blocks away, it's the 30th annual Celebration of Textiles, with 30 hands-on activities and artist demonstrations (create a blue-dyed textile and more), sheepshearing demonstrations tomorrow, and bluegrass performed by Blue Daze. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. tomorrow, 1-5 p.m. Sunday. 2320 S St. NW. 202-667-0441.

Sunday

CONCERT: The Cool Kids This Chicago rap duo is of the new breed, the one that simultaneously channels the retro rhymes of Rakim and the fuzzy beats of today's electronica. (Others operating in this genre-blending world are M.I.A., Diplo and Santogold, though the Cool Kids sound a bit like Clipse to us.) How cool are they? Chuck (real name: Evan Ingersoll) and Mikey (Antoine Reed) released their first album a couple of weeks ago, and already they're booked for dates with M.I.A, Lollapalooza and the Rock the Bells mega-tour (another case of MySpace and blog buzz, it turns out). See them before they're huge when they play the Black Cat on Sunday. $18; $15 in advance (recommended; pick them up at the Black Cat box office and save fees). 8 p.m. 1811 14th St. NW. 202-667-7960 or 202-397-7328.

Maryland

Today

FILM: A Reggae Opening to the D.C. Caribbean Film Festival This latest fest at the AFI Silver opens tonight with "Africa Unite," a doc following the family of Bob Marley (if you don't know much about the other Marleys, they're just as musical) as they journeyed in 2005 to Ethiopia, a nation vitally linked to Rastafarianism. There, the family (plus Lauryn Hill, Angélique Kidjo and Danny Glover) celebrated the 60th anniversary of Bob Marley's birth with concerts. The film is tonight, with a reception beforehand. $15; students, seniors and members, $12. Reception at 6:30, film at 7:30 p.m. AFI Silver Theatre, 8633 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring. 301-495-6720.

Tomorrow

FOR FAMILIES: Imagination Bethesda The children's street festival (best for ages 12 and younger -- emphasis on the "younger") returns with tents packed with arts and crafts (bubble painting , cookie decorating, maskmaking and more) as well as get-moving activities (yoga, a bike class), food vendors and multi-culti performances by Joy of Motion dancers, Imagination Stage and Upper County Steppers. Best part: The festival is free. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. (but we've always found getting somewhere early has many benefits). Rain or shine. Woodmont Avenue between Bethesda Avenue and Elm Street, Bethesda. 301-215-6660 or see schedule at http://www.bethesda.org.

Sunday

CONCERT: Burt Bacharach Bacharach is the original king of "sun-drenched" power pop and one of the most distinctive songwriters of the past century. His songs ("Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head," "I Say a Little Prayer") have inspired a slew of fans. Now 80, he performs at Strathmore on Sunday with a full 75 minutes-plus worth of hits. Get there early for the summertime "party on the patio" events that begin at 5:30 p.m. $28-$48. 7 p.m. Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. 301-581-5100.

Northern Virginia

Today

ON STAGE: "The Mystery of Irma Vep" Arena Stage is tackling the Charles Ludlam camp comedy -- ideal summer fare -- which features two actors, both men, portraying everything from newlywed Lady Enid to werewolves and vampires (the quick changes are part of the conceit) as they unravel the story behind "Irma Vep." The script includes all kinds of literary allusions, from references to "Macbeth" to "Wuthering Heights." $53-$68 (a limited number of $10 tickets for people ages 30 and younger are available closer to the performance dates; call for details). 8 p.m. today and tomorrow, various times through July 13. Arena Stage, 1800 S. Bell St., Arlington. 202-488-3300.

Tomorrow

THE GREAT OUTDOORS: Arlington & Alexandria Community Bike Ride Check out the trails and neighborhoods of Northern Virginia by bike tomorrow at this event, which kicks off in Crystal City and takes cyclists on one of two routes: a leisurely eight-mile ride along the Potomac; or a 23-mile adult ride along Mount Vernon, Four Mile Run, Custis and Washington & Old Dominion trails, and through the Ballston and Clarendon areas. Advance registration ($18; $34 per family) available through 5 p.m. today. After that, it's $25 ($40 for families) at onsite registration, which begins at 7 a.m. tomorrow. Main ride leaves at 8 a.m., family ride leaves at 8:30 a.m. Start at 2121 Crystal Dr., Arlington. For details, call 202-518-0524 or visit http://www.waba.org.

Sunday

CONCERT: Crystal Rocks This annual outdoor rock show in Crystal City returns for its fourth year with headliner Everclear (remember, those relics of the 1990s, whose biggest hits were "Santa Monica" and "I Will Buy You a New Life"). Art Alexakis and his entirely new band play the festival Sunday to mark the release of their latest record, "The Vegas Years," an album of cover songs originally performed by artists such as Hall & Oates. Flip Like Wilson opens. Bring a blanket (picnics aren't permitted). Free. 2-6 p.m. 2200 Crystal Dr., Arlington. Visit http://www.crystalcity.org, click on Events.

CONCERT: The Summer Spirit Festival After four nights of spectacular shows in March at DAR Constitution Hall, Jill Scott returns in August to headline this festival with such standby favorites the Roots, D.C.'s go-go godfather Chuck Brown (who joined Scott onstage at the opening shows at DAR) and budding British star Estelle (the jazzy, Diana-Ross-esque chanteuse whose single "American Boy" with Kanye West this year was a gem). The festival is at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Aug. 2; tickets go on sale today at 10 a.m. through Ticketmaster. $41-$74. 6 p.m. 10475 Little Patuxent Pkwy., Columbia. 202-397-7328.

ON STAGE: Tony Rock, Brother of Chris Tony Rock's career isn't necessarily another case of one sibling cashing in the popularity of another; though he was a writer for "The Chris Rock Show," he also just got a bump of his own on "Chelsea Lately," not to mention many other roles. But how will you know for sure whether Rock has talent till you see for yourself? He's at the DC Improv for a stint Aug. 7-10. $15-$17 plus a two-item minimum. DC Improv, 1140 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-296-7008.

Save the Date

CONCERT: The Summer Spirit Festival After four nights of spectacular shows in March at DAR Constitution Hall, Jill Scott returns in August to headline this festival with such standby favorites the Roots, D.C.'s go-go godfather Chuck Brown (who joined Scott onstage at the opening shows at DAR) and budding British star Estelle (the jazzy, Diana-Ross-esque chanteuse whose single "American Boy" with Kanye West this year was a gem). The festival is at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Aug. 2; tickets go on sale today at 10 a.m. through Ticketmaster. $41-$74. 6 p.m. 10475 Little Patuxent Pkwy., Columbia. 202-397-7328.

ON STAGE: Tony Rock, Brother of Chris Tony Rock's career isn't necessarily another case of one sibling cashing in the popularity of another; though he was a writer for "The Chris Rock Show," he also just got a bump of his own on "Chelsea Lately," not to mention many other roles. But how will you know for sure whether Rock has talent till you see for yourself? He's at the DC Improv for a stint Aug. 7-10. $15-$17 plus a two-item minimum. DC Improv, 1140 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-296-7008.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company