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The late afternoon sun drifts lazily through the large open windows of the Songbyrd Music House on 18th Street NW in Adams Morgan. Bartenders and chefs are preparing for the evening’s business, and owner Joe Lapan and publicist Peter Lillis sit at a high top table drinking coffee from the adjacent Record Café.
This weekend marks the opening of the third piece of the Songbyrd Music House and Record Café—the performance space—and with a capacity to support around 200 people, it brings a new venue to Adams Morgan. Though Songbyrd first opened in April of this year, it did so merely as a place to buy some records, snack on a sandwich, and, uh, record your own vinyl track on a 1947 Voice-O-Graph machine.
“We thought Adams Morgan deserves a decently sized music venue beyond what it currently has,” Lapan says. “You have your venues where you’re going to get live music that are similar size to ours, but not necessarily in this geography.”
But Songbyrd is much more than just a larger venue for Adams Morgan, and all three aspects—record café, restaurant and bar, and music venue—work together as a complete home for music lovers. “Think about your house,” Lapan says, “it has these separate spaces that all function differently, but they’re all where you live.”
Lapan’s metaphor is an apt one. The bar and café are comfortable and feel more akin to someone’s living room than commercial establishments, with cushioned seats, dim lighting, and exposed brick. Records are everywhere. This aesthetic carries even further into the music venue, where deep reds and dark woods have the look and feel of a ’70s basement.
Coupled with the comfortable aesthetic is the emphasis that Lapan and co-owner Alisha Edmonson have placed on sound quality. The desire to provide high fidelity audio across a variety of genres and media led Lapan and Edmonson to have a sound system installed by ITI Audio, the folks responsible for the sound at U Street Music Hall. This sound system allows for everything from DIY punk bands to DJs spinning R&B and Soul to really elevate their sound and performance.
Additionally, Lillis points out that “The beauty of our new sound system is that if there’s a show happening downstairs, you’ll be able to enjoy the music up [in the bar], whether it’s a DJ or a band.” Describing himself as someone very much interested in DJ culture but who doesn’t like clubs, he points out that “this is a great opportunity for someone like me to come and hang up here and get to enjoy that music and experience without having to be in the club.”
Lapan and Edmonson plan to make use of their sound system far beyond live music, though.
“I’ve traveled all around the East Coast and really studied how album listening parties are done. Both as a tool for a band or a label to promote an album and as an experience for a consumer,” Lapan says. “We hope to really present a new experience for a lot of people in terms of listening to new music, or classic music, on a great sound system together, and having an experience around that.”
To that end, Songbyrd has already played host to a listening party, featuring the most recent release from the Jack White vehicle The Dead Weather. Featuring label-sponsored giveaways and band-themed drink and food specials, this represents one of the many unique approaches to music that Lapan hopes the venue can provide.
“Live music is an essential experience to being a music fan,” he says, “but there’s all these other experiences to being a music fan.”