The 18th Street stretch in Adams Morgan is famous for its hybrid music venues. Madams Organ (both incarnations), Bossa, Bukom Café and others provide an energizing mix of all types of cuisines and sounds nearly every night of the week. But Songbyrd Music House and Record Café, the new aural eatery and avenue of entertainment (open at 2475 and 2477 18th Street) offers an entirely new attraction to one of DC’s cultural centers.
Opened in April of this year, Songbyrd occupies a space that has significant meaning and history for Adams Morgan and the wider DC music scene in general. The performance space attached to the music house at 2477 was the site of District Underground, one of DC’s favorite underground, intimate dance clubs, and was also the site of Showboat, one of the premier jazz clubs in DC (and favorite of guitarist Charlie Byrd). Other owners and developers might have been intimidated by such tremendous shoes to fill, but not Alisha Edmonson and Joe Lapan, the visionaries who brought Songbyrd to roost in AdMo.
“The idea was always to create something that was a different kind of listening experience,” Edmonson tells On Tap. “We used to talk about music in terms of ‘Where you were when you first heard it. But now, it’s such an isolated experience in so many ways that you don’t listen to it in the same way. And what you listen to is different – compressed audio files through headphones. So we wanted to bring it back to a more communal, listening feel.”
To that end, Songbyrd Music House and Record Café is three spaces under one entity, united by a love of needles, wax and grooving tunes. There is the two-part music house, made up of a 200-person, standing room capacity and newly refurbished performance and entertainment space; the upstairs bar and restaurant, featuring gatefold record menus and dishes designed by DC favorite chef Matthew Richardson; and then there is the Café, featuring brews, biscuits and a bounty of new and vintage-inspired music paraphernalia. The 40s, 60s, and 70s aesthetic café has shelves of new and used records — many of which are from artists who perform at Songbyrd, listening stations that feature Songbyrd’s LP selection and curated playlists, vintage music gear and furniture, and a 1947 Voice-o-graph recording booth, the same type that Jack White has at Third Man Records in Nashville ($15 and you can record yourself straight to vinyl).
Songbyrd wants to be so much more than the chillest place for music lovers to hang-out in Adams Morgan: it aims to be a community center for shared audio experiences.
“We think of it as a space where live performance can be acted out,” Edmonson elaborated, “Music is something that joins communities. Art is something that joins communities. We are trying to bridge a lot of gaps. Whether a DJ-dance party where you kick your shoes off, a rock show or an art show, we really are trying to do all of it.”
As more and more people yearn for the human connection and communal power of art and music, Songbyrd Music House and Record Café seems to be in the right space, in the right place and in the right time.
Songbyrd Music House and Record Café: 2477 18th St. NW, DC; 202-450-2917;www.songbyrddc.com
For those new to buying vinyl, here are a few tips to recognize the quality of the wax you’re buying and guidelines make sure you’re getting a good deal.
- How to Handle the Record: Try as much as you can to not touch the vinyl/grooves directly, reach into the sleeve and only touch the label at the center. Generally, hold the record with hands perpendicular to the edge.
- Check for Fade: Ideally, you want your used record to look like it was just produced yesterday. A subtle, tricky flaw to look out for is fade from age and overplaying. When you hold your vinyl, hold it under light. If the material is shiny and glossy, it shows that it’s been taken care of; if it looks like a layer of dust has permanently sunk in, it will hiss like a snake when you put the needle to it.
- Scuffs vs. Scratches: Your vinyl will, almost inevitably, incur some markings as it goes through life but often these are cosmetic scuffs caused by the paper sleeve and often do not affect listening. Scratches, caused by any one of a number of things, are wounds in the record and, when the turntable needle passes over them, create pops, cracks, and, at worse, a repeating loop. Check for the difference by lightly running a finger across the surface at the point where there is a mark; you will feel the jagged, out of place nature of the scratch.
- Listen Before Buying: Most good record stores will have a turntable or two set up so you can hear the quality you’re getting. Buyer beware, so do not pass up the opportunity.
- Do not be afraid to barter: Some places, especially at the DC Record Fair, will be willing to barter with you for a reasonable price. If you notice a scratch, weird damage, warping (when the record warps out of shape), or any other red flag, bring it up with a fair retraction price. You’d be surprised by how many record stores are willing to work with you!
- Grading System: Some stores use the Goldmine Grading system, a shorthand way of expressing the vinyl’s damaged or undamaged status. While there is too much to put here, check it out at www.goldminemag.com.