When I was in college, I was really into seeing live music. In those five years (yes, five) I saw, I’d say, about 100 shows. And though I lived in California, a lot of those times were on the east coast during school breaks.
As many venues as I’ve been to—probably 20 or so—my forever-and-always favorite is the 9:30 Club in DC.
The club is on the corner of 9th and V Street, a few blocks from the U St / African American Civil War Memorial / Cardozo Station (Green Line). The club’s capacity is 1,200 and is, if you ask me, the absolute perfect size. Shows are mostly of the alternative/rock variety, but they host all kinds of music.
Originally, 9:30 was located at 930 F Street, NW, and so the name reflected both the address and the time most shows started (I never knew that until JUST now when I wikipedied it). In 1996 the club reopened at it’s current, larger spot.
Minus a few bar stools on the balcony, 9:30 is standing room only. Lucky for me I’m tall. With that said, back in the day it didn’t matter because my friend and I would wait for hours in line to be among the first people let in. I remember two distinct times in the winter when it was indescribably cold and we were out there for like four hours. My dad, bless his heart, bought me those little packets that you crack to make warm. They were futile. The suffering was worth it though because nothing is like being on the rail at the 9:30 Club. Catching a guitar pick, a lead singer sweating over you, locking eyes with a bassist—oohhh, the memories.
Because the club is iconic and bands like to play there, you’ll often be able to see performers that normally play larger venues. Billboard Touring Awards gave it the Top Club award in 2007 and 2009.
The sound quality at the club is excellent, there’s four bars, they offer food (though it ain’t cheap) and there’s a merch booth. And almost all of the shows are all ages. They’ve got a parking lot ($12 in advance, $15 night of), but don’t get there too late because it definitely fills up. And the neighborhood isn’t the safest area, so walking multiple blocks at night isn’t the most ideal scenario.
A couple years ago an underground hip hop artist that I LOVE, Saul Williams, was playing at the 9:30 Club. I was sooo excited. I was going by myself, but normally that doesn’t bother me. So I drive over there, and before I park I see a bunch of hipsters standing outside. It’d actually been a few years since I’d been to 9:30, and for some reason I got really intimidated by the hipsters. So I turned the car around and went home! How stupid is that?! Anyway, the moral of the story is that yes, there are a few hipsters at 9:30, but you’ll generally find the crowd inside to be low-key and diverse.