By Chris Teale (Photo/Christine Halsey)
For 10 days, Alexandria’s thriving music scene was brought to the forefront in the city’s first Live Music Week, presented by Visit Alexandria as a showcase of all that is on offer year round.
A total of 30 venues played host to a number of artists and bands from various musical genres, with the likes of newcomer Blackwall Hitch joining established music spots in the city like The Birchmere, Murphy’s Grand Irish Pub and Daniel O’Connell’s in hosting performances. Organizers said it followed a similar model to the city’s Restaurant Week, which raises awareness in a short period of time of what is available throughout the year, and was a key way to showcase all that the city has to offer after dark.
“One of our goals was to extend people’s stay in Alexandria,” said Patricia Washington, president and CEO of Visit Alexandria. “Many people, they love our restaurants, they come for dinner and then they go home. Live Music Week was an opportunity to encourage people to come for dinner and stay longer, go to more of our restaurants and venues that have music after the dinner hour and spend more money and even stay the weekend, stay overnight.
“It’s another impetus to get people to stay longer and spend more in Alexandria. We have the infrastructure for that now. The King Street Trolley is running later so that it can take people from the restaurants to the [King Street] Metro [station], so it’s just an extension of our restaurant scene and an extension of our experience that we have here.”
Washington said the event was in planning since the start of the year, and evolved organically thanks in part to the efforts of local musician Scott Fallon, who had the idea to promote live music in the city and also performed himself. He said the week was a success, especially as it brought so many new people to the city for an evening of entertainment.
“I think Live Music Week was a tremendous success,” Fallon said. “I was most impressed with the entrepreneurial spirit of all of the local business owners and their level of enthusiasm for participating and promoting the event.
“As someone that performed every night during the week, I overheard so many people say that the reason they came to Alexandria on a particular night was to check out the bands and Live Music Week. I met a woman Saturday that came down from Brooklyn to visit the city specifically because of Live Music Week.”
In addition to the local acts that performed, Live Music Week was capped by a performance at The Birchmere by The Bacon Brothers, the band that features film star Kevin Bacon. That star appearance capped off a period in which Washington says the community embraced the new promotion.
“I think what made it so good was the community embracing it passionately,” she said. “We have a really strong core group of restaurants that offer live music, and that list of restaurants that offer live music is growing all the time. Then, the fact that the musicians, the quality of bands and the quality of the musicians who are playing in those venues is high.
“The music is very interesting, it’s very diverse genres. I did the scene this weekend and I heard everything from jazz to Celtic music to rock to pop music. The Bacon Brothers were in town at The Birchmere, which is our premier music venue and that just created a great culmination to the week and great buzz all around the city.”
Adding to that community was the likes of Blackwall Hitch, a new restaurant and music venue on the waterfront, where booking manager Sunni Ray believes Live Music Week was an effective way for them to showcase what they have to offer.
“Alexandria Live Music Week was a huge success at Blackwall Hitch,” Ray said. “As a new restaurant on the waterfront, it was a great opportunity to introduce ourselves to the amazing Alexandria community. Quality live music is a huge part of our culture and this event helped us showcase and celebrate that. Blackwall Hitch featured mostly acoustic acts, neosoul/jazz artists, and local singer-songwriters who have made a name for themselves in the greater D.C. area.”
Currently, Visit Alexandria is undertaking a formal review process for Live Music Week, as they do for all their other promotions and collaborations over the course of the year. The organization surveys each participating restaurant to evaluate how effective the event was in increasing revenues, and expects to release more formal data later this year. But officials believe it is something that could easily be repeated next year.
“We’re going to do a formal debrief with all the partners, but I think given the enthusiasm and strong community unity around the idea and then the response from the audience and from the press, I think we’re looking at how we will do it again next year,” Washington said. “A lot of people, when they think of Alexandria, they don’t think of nightlife. This demonstrated that yes, Alexandria does have an authentic and rich nightlife in its music scene.”