A few songs into Jay Farrar’s show at Strathmore’s brand-new venue, Amp, last Friday, the Son Volt founder noted how unusual the evening was. “It’s opening night, right?” Farrar said to the capacity crowd. “We don’t get a chance to open very many clubs. Probably closed a few.” Judging by opening weekend, that’s not something Amp has to worry about. The North Bethesda venue — in the nascent Pike & Rose development near the White Flint Metro — has a bright future, says Strathmore CEO Eliot Pfanstiehl: “The excitement is the not knowing what the future will be but knowing that it’s the right place to be.” Here’s a look at the area’s newest concert space.
Pfanstiehl says Amp is the cornerstone of Strathmore 3.0, the next phase of the organization, which runs the historic Mansion at Strathmore (a 100-person concert space) and the 2,000-seat Music Center at Strathmore. Amp (capacity: 240 seated, 350 standing) and gives the organization a new middle ground for performers. “Artists can work their way up as they get bigger,” says Sam Brumbaugh, Strathmore’s director of programming. For now, the venue, which extends Strathmore’s reach up Rockville Pike, is contracted to host at least three shows a week, 44 weeks a year, mostly from Thursday through Saturday. Pfanstiehl envisions the venue also being used as a casual workspace during the day and hosting a TED Talks series or a Sunday gospel brunch. Before its official opening, the space hosted a
Enjoy the view
The concert space (which is a four-story elevator ride up) features floor-to-ceiling windows that encompass nearly two walls. “It’s supposed to be a rooftop terrace-feeling room without being a rooftop terrace,” Pfanstiehl says, adding that the windows can open in warm weather. “I don’t know how you’d keep the birds from flying in.” Though the view right now is mostly of apartment buildings and construction sites, you’ll eventually see what he calls “the village green” of Pike & Rose. “We wanted to have an expansive view, so when you step out there, you feel like you’re at a special place,” he says.
Dinner and a show
Most shows at Amp will be seated to take advantage of the food and drink program, which is run by Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s 550 Events and Provisions. If you’ve ever been to ChurchKey or Bluejacket, then you know what to expect: hearty fare like macaroni and cheese, meals served in Mason jars and a well-curated beer list (opening night featured the best brew selection you can get at a concert venue in the D.C. area). The waitstaff, dressed in black and described by Pfanstiehl as “ninjas,” was still working out the kinks on night one, but was as unobtrusive as one would hope.
Building a community
Amp enters a rapidly developing suburban community. For now, Strathmore is aiming the venue at two groups it expects to move to the area in big numbers: those 50 and up who are still active but want to downsize and 20- and 30-somethings priced out of D.C. “We’re going to throw everything at the wall to see what sticks because we don’t know what this audience will be,” Pfanstiehl says. And he means everything, including jazz, bluegrass, folk, soul, go-go and a reggae Beatles cover band. (See sidebar for more on Amp’s eclectic schedule). Previously, the land Amp is on was home to places like World Market and Toys R Us. Now there’s a movie theater, new restaurants and a Gap. “With Rockville and North Bethesda growing up so fast around Strathmore, we felt like we had to do something to meet that,” Brumbaugh says. “We’re open to give the people what they want.”
Even more shows to get Amped for
The jazzy harmonica master (and Stevie Wonder collaborator) is an example of an artist Strathmore sees moving up through each of its venues. He’s played the Mansion several times; next he’s at Amp. Maybe the Music Center is in his future. March 20,
7:30 p.m., $35.
The Music of Lady Day
A gaggle of D.C. area musicians — including jazz vocalist Lena Seikaly, saxophonist Elijah Jamal Balbed and jazz pianist Mark G. Meadows — are banding together to celebrate the music of legendary singer Billie Holiday, 100 years after she was born.
April 9, 8 p.m., $12-$20.
New York-based stand-up Sheng Wang will be the first comic to take the Amp stage. The observational comedian (and friend of John Oliver’s) will help the venue figure out how the space works for joke-telling.
May 8, 8 p.m., $25.
The Chuck Brown Band
Amp will pull out the tables and chairs and convert the space into a dance floor for the late Godfather of Go-Go’s namesake band. If you prefer dancing to sitting, this is the show you’ll want to check out.
June 12, 8 p.m., $25.
Amp, 11810 Grand Park Ave., North Bethesda.