Del Ray’s Birchmere Music Hall Shows Its Roots


Music for the masses: The original Birchmere in Alexandria boasts two performance areas and seating for 500, but it will soon have to share the spotlight. Plans are under way to build a larger, two-story location in College Park.

So, the Birchmere Music Hall is not technically in Del Ray, but what’s 1,000 feet?

Only a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier away, the Birchmere is close enough (how many times do I have to write this?) to Del Ray for the heartier of you to walk the distance no matter what part of the neighborhood you call home. Of course, most of you will drive to the venue, so this is a moot point. (Some would argue that my life is a moot point these days.)

Anyway, existential crisis aside, the Birchmere is certainly a highlight for the music lover who wants to call the Del Ray neighborhood in Alexandria, Va., home. And I sure hope a bunch of you do.

[ Related: Del Ray: Alexandria Neighborhood Just Steps From Old Town Nightlife ]

In the last decade and a half, the popularity of Americana (or alt-country) and roots music has helped make the Birchmere a name that is bandied about not only in music circles but yuppie ones as well. As the alternative rock explosion of the early-and mid-’90s started to give out, and as kids and the 20-somethings they would eventually become searched for something else – rap, techno, extreme metal, milquetoast indie rock – people in their late-20s and into their 40s started returning to music’s roots with the help, of course, of magazines such as the now-defunct Paste and Generation X staple Spin. Egads, even indie rock bible Magnet writes about these artists constantly.

I can even remember being in a doctor’s office in 2001 where some chick commented (on a mainstream glossy magazine she was reading) that Alison Krauss was “one of my favorite folk artists,” or something like that. Now I could be wrong, but I think someone got in her ear about what was cool and what was not.

Birchmere Music Hall
3701 Mt. Vernon Ave., Alexandria, VA 22305

Whoever said people are mainly sheep when it comes to aesthetics was unfortunately dead-on; what else could explain Lady Gaga, Katy Perry (OK, she’s somewhat catchy and has nice oops!) or Justin Bieber (who sounds like he thinks he grew up in South Philly)?

Of course, since 1995 Americana/roots has had its own publication in No Depression. But the music, yeah, it was always there, just hard to define and/or pigeonhole to sell to the masses. It’s not quite country, bluegrass, folk, R&B, blues or rock, but what is it? An amalgam of all those plus whatever technology could add to the mix.

[ Related: Adams Morgan’s Bawdy, Bluesy Madam Deserves a Look ]

I’m not particularly a fan of Americana or roots music, but I respect it enough not to mind that it flourishes, even in the hearts of pretty suburban girls who don’t know the Carter Sisters from Jimmy Carter or fully understand the ethos of Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn.

Less of a cynic might think that these types are getting in touch with what at least some of their ancestors had to go through so they could live a cushy, commodity-worshiping life. But most people, including this writer, tend to focus on the here and now a bit too much – out of necessity – so I understand their lack of knowledge to a point. I’ll climb down from my high horse now. More importantly, I’m all for freedom. Do what you want: Just don’t force anything on me.

Anyone still reading and not offended will be happy to know that the Birchmere, which opened more than 40 years ago, has booked the likes of Emmylou Harris, k.d. lang, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Lyle Lovett, Vince Gill and a bunch of lesser-known likewise acts. Not that the Birchmere doesn’t stray from the genre.

For instance, on Nov. 16 and 17, the club booked popular ‘90s R&B act Boyz II Men, and in October, power pop greats Fountains of Wayne graced their stage as well.

They also serve food and drinks during performance, and this cozy little place is just a short walk away once you’ve decided to put down roots of your own in Del Ray.

Check out Apartment Showcase for apartments in the area.

Scott D

Scott D

Scott is a local writer and has been with the Apartment Showcase blog since its inception in 2010.

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