The Venues – The Hamilton Live

While bluegrass festivals are rightly credited as being the salvation of bluegrass music and have for decades provided the highlights for each summer, there are thousands of accommodating venues throughout the world that provide work for bluegrass bands during the winter months as well as at other times of the year. 

This series puts the spotlight on some of those venues. 

The HamiltonPicture this, if you can, it’s July 9, 1790, Congress has declared that a location on the on the north bank of the Potomac river would be the permanent capital of the United States. George Washington was the first President and Alexander Hamilton has been the first Secretary of the Treasury for about nine months.

Eventually, Washington commissions French-born American Pierre “Peter” Charles L’Enfant to plan the layout of the city, the White House was built and another government property, The Treasury Building, was built on Pennsylvania Avenue.

In 2016 there is one more attraction for visitors to Washington D.C., The Hamilton restaurant and music venue.

Keith Berquist, Marketing Manager, explains how The Hamilton got its name ….

“We are located in The Hamilton Square building, which dates back to 1929, and we are in downtown DC only a block from the National Treasury building, which was founded by Alexander Hamilton. When the restaurant and venue opened, it just seemed like the natural choice!”

Katy Daley, notable DJ at WAMU’s Bluegrass Country who recommended that we talk to the people at The Hamilton, responds to the suggestion that the venue has only recently started promoting bluegrass shows …..

Katy Daley - photo by Ted Lehmann“No, in fact they’ve had live music — jazz, Gospel brunches, some bluegrass shows, Americana, Irish and more for a while. The Clyde’s Restaurant Group have a long history in DC and they are well acquainted with the DC music scene. They reached out to us to see if we would be interested in co-presenting a bluegrass series.  Of course, we were.

Our collaboration is a recent development and we have so far co-presented: The Gibson Brothers, Frank Solivan’s CD release party, We Banjo 3 and Charm City Junction. Mountain Heart and Darrell Scott are this month and Dailey & Vincent in July.”

Berquist shares a bit of the history and the developments that led towards the increase in the number of bluegrass shows ….

Keith Berquist“The Hamilton Live opened its doors to the public in early 2012. At the time, the venue was booked and managed by the Austin-based promoter C3 Presents. Throughout the venue’s history, The Hamilton has always booked bluegrass and Americana acts, although for a long period only sporadically. In June of 2015, the venue discontinued its agreement with C3 and Rick Cady (our talent buyer) came on-board. Rick spent a large part of his life in the music industry as an agent and then later as the general manager for a rock club, in Nashville. As a result, he has a great appreciation for bluegrass and country music. In January of this year, I came on-board as the marketing manager for the venue. I spent the last six years prior living in Nashville, and like Rick, am a big bluegrass fan.

When I started a few months ago, Rick shared with me some information about the history of bluegrass in DC, particularly the history of WAMU and what is now WAMU’s Bluegrass Country. There were some earlier talks before I joined the venue team about working with WAMU in a regular capacity, but Rick asked me to spearhead co-ordinating and solidifying a monthly concert series in conjunction with the station. The goal is to raise a flag signifying our commitment to programming bluegrass and Americana music at The Hamilton Live, and to work closely with the staff at WAMU’s Bluegrass Country to keep the tradition of DC bluegrass alive. This Tuesday (April 26th) will be our third official show in this concert series, with We Banjo 3 coming to our stage.

Our current booking strategy is a combination of nationally recognized touring acts, along with developing local bands. Although our WAMU concert series only features one show a month, we have certainly been booking more than that in recent months. Using the term bluegrass loosely, this month alone we have had multiple jam-grass bands, a folk duo, a co-bill with two emerging Americana outfits, a traditional Irish and bluegrass quartet, and a local Alt. Country singer-songwriter’s album release show. This month’s featured show is Mountain Heart and Darrell Scott, but we are also excited to be bringing the legendary Nitty Gritty Dirt Band here for their first performance at our venue. The band is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary tour.”

Berquist goes on to speak about the general amenities at the venue …

“Our venue has two configurations, and can fit anywhere between 560 to 700 people. The venue is set up in a ‘supper club’ type format, with tables and chairs. Additionally, we have two bar areas located stage right and in the rear of the venue. In our 700 cap configuration, the first row of tables and chairs are removed to create a dance floor at the front of the room with additional standing area.

We have a full service kitchen downstairs in the venue, and feature dinner and drinks at all of our shows. Table service is available for our seated guests, and standing guests are welcome to eat at the bar or at a number of high top tables in the back of the venue. Our menu was designed by the Hamilton restaurant’s executive chef Anthony Lombardo, and features rotating specials and craft cocktails for each show.”

The Hamilton Live, 600 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20005. Tel: (+1) 202-787-1000.

If you manage a venue that supports bluegrass music, or have a favorite one where you attend shows, please contact us so that we can consider it for our The Venues series.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.