Within the past month, Washington City Paper and Washington Post articles have served as the harbingers of bad tidings for DC landmarks Bohemian Caverns and the Howard Theatre, two of the most iconic musical venues in the history of both African-American culture and American society overall. Certainly venues open and close all of the time and nothing is meant to last forever. However, given that Washington, DC is in the midst of a radical era of complete redevelopment, the need for the city to retain any segments of its historical essence are ultra important. Thus, this article exists in order to outline a VERY feasible multi-tiered strategy to re-imagine the spaces in DC at-present in an effort to preserve their legacy and the legacy of African-Americans in DC as well.
This all starts with DC actively and successfully courting the Red Bull Music Academy’s travelling series of workshops to Washington, DC for 2017 or 2018, using the vibrant musical history of DC’s U Street Corridor as well as available spaces at Howard Theatre and Bohemian Caverns as the main draws. Foremost, courting Red Bull to be the company to absorb the lessee debts accrued by both venues is smart. Red Bull certainly has the capital on hand to be able to wipe the slates clean at both facilities. Also, given their successful history of executing musical events, giving them oversight to come into these spaces is ideal. Furthermore, providing them the aid of a team that could include locally-based yet globally-respected sound designers like ITI Audio and recording studio like House Studio to ensure that the Theatre, as well as Bohemian Caverns, LIV and Tap and Parlour were ideally treated for live sound or musical instruction is possible. Red Bull’s been an active participant in DC’s arts revival for a decade now. Actively courting them on a more entrenched level in DC’s revitalization is key.
The RBMA itself is a month-long series of events, workshops, studio sessions and lectures where a group of musicians from around the globe are selected to come to a city and partake in these activities that also include open-to-the-public special, signature concerts and club events. As the RBMA website states, “[T]his is your chance to dive deep into the local music scene – and hit the stage with some of those who have shaped today’s music. The result is an exchange of inspirations that is as unpredictable as it is hard to define. Ideas are bounced around 24/7, refreshing new sounds emerge and true bonds are forged beyond music.” If we’re still talking about #savedcarts in a few years and we’re still believing that a top-down trickle effect of commerce and creative inspiration is the best solution for the city’s creative class, the idea of having the RBMA in DC makes all of the sense in the world. The idea of putting a month of world class concert experiences featuring a blend of local legends and global icons would be magnificent.
Post-RBMA, there’s the idea of retaining the Howard, Bohemian Caverns, LIV and Tap and Parlour as music education spaces. The idea of Red Bull alongside say, a school like American ($600 million endowment), George Washington ($1.6 billion endowment) or Georgetown ($1.5 billion endowment) University, GRAMMY Pro, and a series of wealthy African-American “Friends of Black Broadway” and a real estate developer contributing to create an elementary-to-college music education program on U Street would be amazing. We’re already well aware that artists including Questlove, Q-Tip, Wynton Marsalis, Beyonce and heck, what about ex-President Obama and family, love DC. There’s certainly a way to be able to reach out to many communities both locally and worldwide who would be interested in the idea of preserving the legacies of both music and black people in Washington, DC via this concept.
Booking music that draws crowds and failing at providing services that allow for repeat attendance has been a boondoggle for the Howard Theatre and for Bohemian Caverns in the modern age. However, the real worth in both of those venues is in their historical legacy and not their current failings. Turning the basement kitchen at the Howard Theatre into a lab where established producers can teach young producers is an idea. Also, teaching instrumental and vocal lessons at Bohemian Caverns and maybe even opening LIV, Tap and Parlour and the Howard itself as venues for Red Bull, GRAMMY and elementary-to-college age musicians to have shows that could produce revenue would be ideal.
As for the teachers here? There’s a ton of “starving artists” in DC who could easily hold those jobs. From musicians to marketers, all positions could easily be locally sourced. Moreover, mirroring the RBMA’s “rotating teacher” model, there’s still a ton of amazing guest lecturers who could be sourced, too. From learning vocals from an Alison “Ace Ono” Carney or Carolyn Malachi, to learning dance production from Nadastrom, Tittsworth, Alvin Risk, One Love Massive artist collective members Nag Champa and many more, getting help as a songwriter from Kokayi, and so on and so forth, these are ideas that are actually not too difficult to make happen.
To be completely honest, it’s hard to be a venue of the size of any of the spaces in the Bohemian Caverns complex or the Howard Theatre and compete for the dollars of DC residents in an era where 9:30 Club owner Seth Hurwitz’s IMP has a booking hand in not just the 9:30 Club but Columbia, MD’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, NE DC’s Echostage, U Street’s Lincoln Theatre and U Street Music Hall, arena shows at the Verizon Center and Fairfax’s Patriot Center plus Vienna, VA’s Jammin Java and a 2017-opening space at SW’s Waterfront. Thus, there exists a need for DC to think outside of the box when it comes to both spaces and how they need to be both preserved and re-imagined in a redeveloped Nation’s Capital.
As DC evolves, the city should ideally be able to maintain it’s classic flavor while embracing modern times. While we may see an era where the people in the city change, it may be in maintaining the edifices that created the legacy of those who leave that we find where they actually remain an integral part of the city forever.