Live Entertainment Venues in Washington, DC
The Warner Theatre was built in the 1920s as a venue for silent films and vaudeville acts. It continued to serve as a movie house for many decades, but like most old movie palaces, it fell into general disrepair (even switching to pornographic movies for a few years in the 1970s). Now beautifully restored, the Warner's opulent decor and excellent acoustics provide added enjoyment to any show. The Warner Theatre generally shows mid-sized acts like popular comedians, touring musicals, and concerts. Performances of The Nutcracker by The Washington Ballet are an annual highlight. A short walk from the Metro Center or Federal Triangle Metro stops, or there are many paid parking garages in the area.
The Birchmere is an unusual place to see a concert. In a good way. The space is relatively small, with seating at long shared tables covered in checkered tablecloths. Wait service offers food and drink until showtime. Though the refreshment options are a bit pricey and there's no minimum, most people take advantage -- there's just something extra enjoyable about savoring a barbecue sandwich or a brownie sundae while listening to your favorite singer. The lineup leans toward folk, indie, country, and jazz, with a few big names in rock from decades past. Seating is general admission, so arrive early if you want a front table. Free parking makes up for a lack of Metro accessibility.
The Atlas Center for the Performing Arts began life in the 1930s as a 1,000 seat Art Deco movie palace. Closed in 1976, it sat empty and graffiti-covered for decades until the current owners renovated and re-opened it as one of the first pillars in the revitalization of the H Street Corridor. The Atlas is a community-centered venue, home to several local performing-arts organizations. Performances include theater, dance, spoken word, and music of all sorts, plus film series and special events. There's a small cafe on site, or visit one of the many excellent restaurants and bars on surrounding blocks of H Street. Parking in the area can be limited; during events, the Atlas offers some paid parking in the church lot across the street.
Sometimes there's nothing like seeing a live performance in the great outdoors. Every summer, Rock Creek Park's Carter Barron Ampitheatre offers a series of free and paid shows with an emphasis on musical performances. Run by the National Park Service, the ampitheater was established in 1950 in celebration of Washington, DC's 150th year as the Nation's Capital. Free highlights include an annual blues festival and a series of jazz, soul, and reggae concerts sponsored by The Washington Post. All seats are outdoors and general admission. Most shows offer a concession stand, or visitors are free to pack a picnic (alcoholic beverages are not allowed). Rock Creek Park is not easily Metro-accessible, but there is a free parking lot adjacent to the Ampitheatre.
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is the grande dame of DC performing arts venues. Home to the National Symphony Orchestra, Washington National Opera, and Suzanne Farrell Ballet Company, the Kennedy Center also hosts a massive roster of performances in all areas of American and international dance, theater, opera, and music. The complex is the nation's busiest performing-arts facility, with three auditoriums of over 1,000 seats (the plush red velvet Opera House is a particular favorite) and several smaller stages. Millennium Stage puts on free concerts at 6 pm every day. The rooftop terrace, which is free and open daily until midnight, offers expansive views of downtown DC and across the Potomac River. There is paid parking onsite, or a free shuttle runs every 15 minutes from the Foggy Bottom Metro.