Around Town: DC’s Empty Stages by Ben Eisendrath

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The Lincoln Theatre stands in silence in this stark photo by Ben Eisendrath. (Photo by Ben Eisendrath/ Instagram+Twitter: Insomnigraphic/ GrillworksBen)

Ben Eisendrath has one of the greatest assets of a photographer: a persistent curiosity.

When Ben carries a lens, he is intently searching for something to capture. You can see it in his eyes: What’s that guy’s story? What’s happening here? Or in this case, what’s behind those closed doors?

My friend Ben was asking that very last question one afternoon after he’d had a chance look inside Madam’s Organ, one of his favorite neighborhood haunts during normal times.

As I edit this blog, which touts our local music scene, I loved when his idea expanded to capturing as many of these spaces as he could, to shed “light” on empty stages of our city’s celebrated music halls while darkened due to the threat of the novel coronavirus. We even helped connect Ben with some of the venue owners, who were happy to open their doors for the project. Those nightclubs are largely able to open tomorrow at 50 percent capacity, although I don’t believe any of them have plans to do so. They can reopen at 100 percent capacity in a full return to pre-pandemic operations, albeit with a mask requirement, on Friday, June 11.

Ben produced a series of photographs that simultaneously exhilarate with the thrill of seeing well-loved spaces once again *and* spook with the realization that these favored locations were never ever meant to be this empty and for this long.

So, Ben photographed Madam’s Organ, which may have fit the concept for a dive bar series but also serves as one of our city’s most enduring performance spaces for blues, country, and bluegrass. He also shot the empty stages of 9:30 Club, The Anthem, the Black Cat, and DC9, and he developed a stirring piece for The Washington Post about visiting those vacant nightclubs and how they occasionally have still seen life since falling silent in mid-March 2020. Some places, like 9:30 Club, closed voluntarily once its owners realized the coronavirus was out of control. The others agreed with a city mandate to close for the foreseeable future as per mayor’s orders on March 16, 2020.

Here, we continue to show you a bit of what Ben saw when he witnessed those empty stages, visiting also Songbyrd Music House, Lincoln Theatre, and Showtime. Take a look and contrast these poignant images with memories of crowds roaring to beaming musicians. Revisit Ben’s feature in The Washington Post and get his firsthand perspective on standing inside these places for the first time in more than a year.

And celebrate with us as we welcome their return.

9:30 Club (815 V St. NW, DC) hosted its last show to date on March 11, 2020, with the Dead Kennedys. At the moment, 9:30 is scheduled to host its next show on Aug. 28 with Luttrell. 9:30’s Backbar is a popular pre-show destination also renowned for its post-show DJ parties.

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The Anthem (901 Wharf St. SW, DC) apparently hosted its last show prior to lockdown with Dermot Kennedy on March 4, 2020 (although we last reviewed The Revivalists on Feb. 29). The Anthem is currently scheduled to host live events again starting on Aug. 29 with the Deftones.

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The Lincoln Theatre (1215 U St. NW, DC), operated by 9:30 Club owners IMP, last hosted Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Jonathan Richman in a double bill on March 7, 2020. The Lincoln tentatively returns to action on Sept. 20 with Dashboard Confessional.

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Black Cat (1811 14th St. NW, DC) last hosted club favorites Algiers on March 12, 2020, although it has also hosted a few streaming only performances on its stage since that date. Parklife DC last reviewed Destroyer on March 9, 2020. Black Cat is scheduled to reopen with live music on Aug. 6 with Between the Buried and Me.

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Songbyrd Music House (2475 18th St. NW., DC), a beloved neighborhood music venue and gathering spot, eyes a return to concerts on Sept. 24 with Stephen Day. I believe he last show it hosted for the public to date was James Supercave on March 11, 2020. (Parklife DC last covered Lower Dens there on Feb. 14, 2020.)

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Showtime (113 Rhode Island Ave NW, DC), the nationally recognized dive bar, was shot for the original concept for the city’s shuttered bars. It too however is a performance space, best known for hosting house band Granny and the Boys.

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