ON SUNDAY we were at the Carter Barron Amphitheatre for the last of five concerts the Weekend section sponsored this summer, and what a swell time we had! Thanks to all you thousands of folks who picked up free tickets and came down toshare an evening with some of the area's finest musicians.

One of the most energetic sets put on this season was by the opening act on ska night a few weeks back, Skalicious. They perform Saturday at Whitey's (2761 N. Washington Blvd., Arlington; 703/525-9825), and this sextet is worth catching once more this summer before they head off for another year of college. And since you might not be able to catch them that often after this, be sure to pick up a copy of the band's debut CD, "Snacks," one of last year's snappiest local records.

Bassist Ken Barnum explains that most of Skalicious met while attending Chantilly High School, and three of them -- Barnum, drummer Nick Hughes and trumpeter Dave McGraw -- were members of that school's nationally acclaimed jazz band. "We started Skalicious when we were in our sophomore year, and there were no big expectations," Barnum says. The band honed its chops playing parties and all-ages shows in the area, but then graduation came and the band pondered its future. With everyone set to scatter to college, they went to work in the recording studio, wanting to document their musical accomplishments before moving on.

"We started to make our record, and we were pretty much planning to break up when it was finished," Barnum says. "But when it came out, we were all so excited with it we decided to stick it out." That meant keeping things going while everyone headed off to various universities (most just finished their freshman year).

Several of the guys have made music their main course of study in college, and Barnum says that this new musical depth will affect Skalicious. "The music will definitely be progressing. I think you can already hear that happening if you compare our new songs to what's on the record." Having said that, Barnum doesn't think you'll be hearing any free jazz excursions from Skalicious any time soon. "We want to keep it in our style, but just take it to the next level."

Skalicious will go back into the recording studio this fall to find what that next musical level is. It might include outgrowing the name, as more elements -- soul, rock, funk, hip-hop -- get thrown into the mix that already includes punk and reggae. "I think we're almost heading toward being called `ska-influenced,' " Barnum says. "We don't want to feel like we have to write material to fit into a certain style. We've talked about changing the name, but nothing's definite for now."

At Whitey's, Barnum, Hughes and McGraw will be joined by singer/guitarist Andrew Gorski and trombonist Mark Livoti (the band's other trombonist Brian Keegan can't make the gig).

* To hear a free Sound Bite from Skalicious, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8131. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.


Hey swing dancers! Good news: America is not closed. The vast restaurant inside the Tysons Corner Mall (8008-L, Tysons Corner Center, McLean; 703/847-6607) will be open through 1999, and will host the Tom Cunningham Orchestra every Friday. That big band/swing scene has been one of the area's liveliest for the past couple of years, with more than 200 diners and dancers packing the place each week until after midnight.

I wrote in this space a month ago that America was closing at the end of July and would reopen as the Brew Moon brewpub sometime this fall. While the place has indeed been sold to the Brew Moon chain, America general manager Ben Reid says "there was a glitch in the contract that kept the liquor license transfer from going through." So while lawyers work out the red tape, dancers can still go to town, or at least to Tysons.

And if you don't have your swing steps down, teachers Tom Koerner and Debra Sternberg will continue to offer classes on Fridays at 8:30, before the band starts playing.


How happy would I be if Washington's Metrorail system extended its hours past midnight on weekends? Very happy. Sure, I drive most of the time, but late night public transportation would be good for everyone, and Metro's early closing time is an embarrassment to Washington.

After years of saying the issue wasn't even up for discussion, the transit agency says that next month it will consider a proposal to keep trains running until 1 or 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. According to a story in this paper's Metro section last week, if the agency adopts the plan being pushed by D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), the new hours could take effect by the end of the year.

The impact of extended Metro hours on area nightlife is hard to predict, but folks who do business after the sun goes down -- restaurant and club owners, musicians, movie theater operators -- all insist that their numbers would increase dramatically. Though my evidence mostly comes from talking to Nightwatch readers over the years, I suspect that Metro's recent study on projected ridership seriously underestimates the likely number of after-midnight riders. Metrorail says it expects roughly 7,500 people to ride their trains between midnight and 2 a.m. on weekend nights. I say that once word is out, more and more places will stay open late. As more nightlife options present themselves, more people will ride Metro. As more people take the trains to go out on the town, more places will cater to them. A happy late-night cycle.

Tell me what you think of the idea of Metro trains running after midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Would it change your late-night habits? Should they run until 1? 2? Later? Send me an e-mail, to night watch@washpost.com, and I'll pass your comments along to Metrorail. Maybe the voices of people who actually go out at night will be heard.