I have been seeing shows at the various Birchmere locations for over 30 years. The Birchmere started as a bluegrass only club located in Shirlington back in the 70s. Upon moving to its first Mt. Vernon Avenue location, the owners began to expand on the genres of music the Birchmere presented. When the Birchmere moved to its current location in the 90s, the transformation into one of the DC's area best music venues was complete.
Recently, I have been to shows by Bruce Robison & Kelly WIllis in main concert room and Todd Snider and Elizabeth Cook in bar/flex stage area. First, the Birchmere's good qualities. Both rooms are relatively small, so the sightlines are great and you feel close to the performers. The sound system in the main concert room is excellent, maybe the best in the area, and the flex stage sound is very good. The Birchmere has a reputation for treating performers quite well and the audiences are usually attentive, so most performers seem to love playing there. Also, the wait staff is usually quite good and quick, which is somehwat surprising given the size of the crowds and the rush when the main stage doors open at 6:00.
Unfortunately, there are a couple of things about the Birchmere that preclude me from giving it a 5 star review. First, is the first come, first serve general admission seating arrangement. It can be quite frustrating when you buy tickets, often at over $50 each, for a show months in advance only to know that you often have to the be at the club prior to its main doors opening at 5:00 pm in order to get a seat near the stage. When the club opens at 5:00, the staff begins giving out line numbers for entering the main stage room when its doors open at 6:00. Most shows at the Birchmere begin at 7:30 and the staff usually stops allowing the saving of seats around 7:00 when a show is sold out. Second, the food is exremely average to not very good, but this somewhat understandable seeing the kitchen often has to prepare 400-500 meals within an hour of the main stage doors opening at 6:00.
Some additional notes...If you like to have a few adult beverages during a show and need a way home, public transit service to/from the Birchmere consists of only a couple of bus routes. So, plan on having a designated driver or taking a cab. Finally, a word about ticket prices at the Birchmere. Many shows have ticket prices of over $50 after service charges and some shows are over $100. Often this seems quite pricey, but there are few other venues that give you the chance to see performers such as B.B. King, Merle Haggard and Lyle Lovett in such an intimate setting with such great sound.
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