There's a tradition in Austin that DC clubs would be wise to copy: Free Week. It was started at Emo's and this year a number of other venues picked up on the idea. Now there are dozens and dozens of bands playing free shows over a nine day span (1/2 - 1/10).
The idea make a lot of sense. January is a slow time of year for music venues. So why not start the new year off right with a bunch of free shows? The bands don't get paid, but in return, they play to huge audiences and if they're good they'll gain new fans. The venue has to cover club costs, staff fees, etc. but they make up for it at the bar. Simple concept and from what I saw on Saturday at Emo's, it's a huge success. The place was mobbed. I've never seen it so packed. They even ran out of Lone Star beer towards the end of the night (which should be against the law in my opinion).
With so many bands playing free shows, it's tough to decide where to go. I decided to see What Made Milwaukee Famous, since they were the biggest name playing and I'd yet to see them perform. Emo's has both an indoor and an outdoor stage so they were able to pack nine bands (!!!) onto the bill. I bounced between stages and saw 5 of the bands (in order): Dans La Lune, Amplified Heat, The Pons, Oh No! Oh My!, and What Made Milwaukee Famous.
I began the evening at the inside stage where I grabbed a seat and a Lone Star. Dans La Lune was first up. They displayed a raucous, good time attitude as they kick started the night. Amplified Heat was on next and kept the crowd pumped. They turn it up to 11 with their Texas flavored, 60's inspired, psychedelic blues-rock.
After Amplified Heat's set I headed outdoors meet my friend Callie and to see The Pons (formally Lalaland). They're led by Tommy Mazzi and are known for their stick-in-your-brain melodies and big hooks. Mazzi's songs reminded me of alt-rockers from the late 80's and early 90's, like Paul Westerberg, Matthew Sweet, and Soul Asylum, but better. The lyrics are slightly dark but have a sense of redemption. The set included some noisy forays with Mazzi adopting a gunslinger mentality with his ax. Before I knew it they were announcing their last song. I was disappointed they didn't play longer since they were the best act of the night.
Oh No! Oh My! were up next and were the only disappointments of the evening. I didn't care for their poppy, dance songs. I was clearly in the minority though. They had the crowd was waving their hands, singing, and clapping along. People were having fun while their were onstage but the music did nothing for me.
What Made Milwaukee Famous, an Austin band signed to Barsuk Records, closed out the evening. We talked about seeing them at Austin City Limits but never did. I wasn't familiar with their songs but they give an excellent first impression. The best part of the set were their cover songs. First, they played "Trashcan" by Delta Spirit and then, with the help of a female guest vocalist, "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" by Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks.
I'm hoping to make it out a few more nights of free week. Tomorrow night Peel and Loxsly play and on Saturday Wine and Revolution play. I'd at least like to see all those bands.
So, do you think Free Week would work in DC? Are there enough local bands big enough to get people out to the clubs? Or are people only really interested in touring bands?