WALKING INTO the Garage (1214-B 18th St. NW; 202/331-7123) on opening night last week I had a flashback to more than 10 years ago, when I would periodically haul band gear up all those steps to play shows in the second floor club then known as the Roxy. I was wondering what owner John Boyle (who also owns Nation) would do to make the Garage a different music club from what the Roxy had been.
There wasn't much he could do about the steps (though there is a new elevator just for band gear),and the basic shape of the club remains the same, but now instead of an okay rock club at 18th and Connecticut, there's a very good rock club at that booming intersection, one with character and the ability to have real impact on the local live music scene.
Boyle hired the folks who designed Sesto Senso and parts of the 9:30 club to update the two-story space, and they've incorporated plenty of clever automotive design elements to go along with the club's name. But once Friday night's headliners kicked in (Atlanta power-pop trio Marvelous 3), it was evident they'd concentrated on making sure the bands get presented to their best advantage.
The stage is high (about four feet off the floor) so that folks at the very back can see the performers. And instead of a curtain, the stage is obscured by one of those rolling metal garage doors. What a great way to unveil a band! "Ladies and gentlemen, Marvelous 3!" The door rolls up, the band rocks out. You've taken away the annoyance of watching the stage crew shuffling amplifiers around, as well as the annoyance of staring at an empty stage waiting for the band to come on.
The sound system is world-class (for both the live music and the DJ's tunes) and is easily the best in town for a club this size (capacity 450, falling somewhere between the Black Cat and the Metro Cafe). The lights were splashy and flashy and dramatic, making it seem like a real rock club and not just a bar that books bands. In that way -- and also in its two-tiered design -- the Garage is more than a little reminiscent of the recently torn-down Bayou.
The Garage has lured Joanna Virello away from the Black Cat to book shows, and we should see the competition for interesting bookings heat up between the Garage and the Black Cat, and perhaps the 9:30 club. There's room in Washington for a rock club of this size that takes up-and-coming national touring bands seriously and that also provides a showcase stage for the area's better bands.
There's a rooftop terrace that should be a treat once it's open (scheduled for this week), though the stairs to it will probably get crowded. In fact people flow is the only obvious downside of the club, with narrow passages getting clogged by crowds and making movement around the club (at least on a busy night) difficult.
But that's only if the club is crowded, and for the sake of Washington's live music scene, let's hope the Garage develops a congestion problem rather than a missing patron problem.
LOVE AND LIBATION
Typical Tuesday night at JV's, the neighborhood bar and restaurant at 6666 Arlington Blvd. in Falls Church: Folks were dropping coins in the jukebox, drinking cold Budweisers, playing that tabletop bowling game, getting married.
Yes, it's true. Last week, JV's was transformed briefly into a wedding chapel for Anna Worthman and Gary Etheridge, who tied the knot at the spot they met three years ago to the day, Sept. 7, 1996. "I had just been introduced to JV's a few months prior to that," Worthman says. "They had really good bands, so I just enjoyed going there. Gary started talking to me by the bowling machine one night and I liked him right off the bat."
Two weeks ago Etheridge pointed out that the anniversary of their meeting was coming up. He also mentioned (somewhat casually, Worthman thought) that if they were to ever marry he would like it to be on that date and at JV's. "I told him how romantic that was," says Worthman, "And then he just said, `Let's do it next week.' So we did."
"Anna called me out of the blue to set it up," says JV's owner Lorraine Campbell, "so we pulled something together and brought in a cake. It went very, very nicely." A justice of the peace performed the ceremony, then the newlyweds slipped some money into the jukebox for their first dance, Marty Robbins's "My Woman, My Woman, My Wife."
"There were about 50 people in here," Campbell says. "Most were friends but some were just customers who came in to eat like they always do, and they were enjoying themselves, too." Though JV's has been open since 1947, no one's ever chosen it as the site for nuptials. "Nope, no weddings," says Campbell. "I even checked with my mom [Diane Dross, widow of JV's founder George Dross] and she said this was the first. We've had bridal showers, bachelor parties, bachelorette parties, people coming in here to celebrate after their wedding, but no weddings."
JAMMIN' ALL OVER TOWN
It's that time of year again, when the Washington Area Music Association hosts the annual Crosstown Jam, a multiple club, multiple night, multiple band event to raise money for area charities. This is the 14th year of the Jam, which will feature more than 60 local acts playing at 16 clubs over five nights (Tuesday through Sept. 24). There's been some shrinkage from recent years when the Crosstown Jam stretched over two weeks and included two dozen venues or more, but that shrinkage makes it more manageable, not less important, according to WAMA president Michael Schreibman.
"The WAMA board was concerned about spreading ourselves too thin," says Schreibman, "so we agreed that to have a greater impact we should scale back just a bit." Rock, folk, hip-hop, blues and country are all well represented in the Jam's schedule and anyone who wants to check in on the state of the Washington music scene should do a little club hopping this week.
WAMA is offering a heck of a deal in the form of a pass that will get you into all 16 shows for only $10, available at any of the clubs hosting a Jam concert. If you buy one of those, it'll also get you into the kickoff party being held Tuesday at 6 p.m. at IOTA, featuring Tom Principato and Ron Holloway (a party otherwise reserved for participating musicians and folks with invitations).
IOTA's Clarendon address makes it a good starting point for an evening of music, as there are two outdoor stages in the Clarendon neighborhood with music Tuesday afternoon, and other clubs in that area have shows that night as well: Galaxy Hut, Clarendon Grill, Whitey's and IOTA again, with another Jam concert after the kickoff party ends.
"We thought to have one day where everything was in proximity was a good way to get people to see lots of acts," Schreibman says. "Part of our mandate is to showcase the talent of the region, and we're always trying to find ways to give them more exposure. The Clarendon evening is one way to do that."
For details on the Crosstown Jam's other nights and venues, log on to www.wamadc.com.