I went to my first Red Shed show two years ago, on a humid June afternoon. Some old friends from high school had a metal band, Within the Lich Gate, and over the course of that year, they began leaving the comforts of their damp basement practice spaces to play in damp basements at house shows. Through the small house-show circuit in Northern Virginia, they found out about a place in their town, Annandale, called the Red Shed. Run by Ted Gordon, now a student at George Mason University, the place was as advertised: a red tool shed in the heart of suburban NOVA.
The space itself always threw some performers and spectators off, but it had the charisma of any other DIY venue. With one dim lightbulb, two small fans, and a wall of amp combos, it resembled any other basement or house-show setting: a small space jam-packed with swirling, sweating, moshing headbangers. Even though I’d been to metal and punk shows quite frequently, I felt somewhat out of place in flip-flops and a summer dress. The guy-to-girl ratio seemed to be 5:1, and everyone was either shirtless or sporting a metal shirt in some obscure, hard-to-read font.
After Within the Lich Gate played, I caught the other two bands, Gifts from Enola (Harrisonburg) and Irrepress (Boston). They had a much more instrumental and melodic sound than the harsh metal acts, so I stayed, and ended up mingling with the crowd. Soon I didn’t feel like an outsider, and found myself listening to tour stories from the bands as they dismantled after their sets. It seemed everyone else was lingering, too.
And that’s just what Gordon wanted to see happen at the shed. In 2008, Gordon took to booking shows in his backyard after one of his favorite venues, Strangeland Records, went out of business. Besides providing bands with a place to play, Ted wanted the shed to be an intimate place for people to establish friendships over music. At other area venues, like Jaxx, Ted always felt a disconnect with his fellow audience. “I felt separated from what was going on,” he says. “I would sit up against the wall. Check my phone. Let a beautiful, heart-wrenching song pass by without reacting in a way that is true to the self. I wouldn’t get to know anyone, because people have their own groups of friends and it was not my place to intrude. I wasn’t being honest with what I really wanted out of the experience.”
During the shed’s two successful years, Gordon discovered exactly what he wanted out of musical experiences. The shed’s small size immediately delivered an intimate environment, and its strange, off-the-grid location brought out people who were curious about the venue, as well as those who were dedicated to see the performing bands. Gordon had grown tired of “scenes” at shows, where groups of hardcore kids, punk kids, or metalhead kids formed. He wanted anyone to come out to the shed, and believed that individual musical tastes don’t have to get in the way of having a good time. “Music belongs to everyone and it’s not an exclusive club that you get into with the right motions,” Gordon says. Therefore, without discrimination, he booked all sorts of music. Although many events skewed toward loud hardcore and punk acts, there were also acoustic shows and folk events. Sometimes folk and hardcore genres shared the same bill.
“Embracing people for who they are and respecting and understanding the differences leads to a diverse group of people bonded through a common love,” Gordon says. “It leads to deeper, more meaningful friendships and you’ll quickly realize there are no heroes, no rock stars, and no demons. Just people, acting out.”
The first time Richard Miller, from the band Juvenescent Beat!, played the shed in 2008, there were about 15 people there. “But all 15 of those kids danced their little hearts out, got into it, and generated tremendous energy,” Miller says. “It was a nice change of pace, especially since we were used to playing for mostly disinterested kids who were too cool to enjoy themselves at local shows”.
Over time, the shed grew into popularity. Miller says that for Juvenescent’s second show, “the shed was completely packed when we went on, and kids were even spilling outside into the yard. And once again, they got just as into it.”
Gordon never wanted the shed to be an exclusive venue, but with popularity, it sometimes brought the wrong crowd. Last winter, the well-known local band In Alcatraz 1962 played, bringing along a questionable entourage. Many attendees disregarded the shed’s three simple rules: “No drinking, No drugs, and No jerks,” Cars blocked neighbors’ driveways and people tracked mud all throughout Gordon’s home, even though the inside was off-limits. His parents debated whether to allow any more shed shows. Nature also had an opinion. During one of this winter’s snow storms, a tree fell onto the shed, severely damaging the exterior.
Gordon took all of this as a sign to put an end to his shed shows. He hosted a final one on July 3, a BBQ where people helped fix the shed up before bands played. The diverse lineup consisted of Gordon’s band, Solomon Solomon, and Suis La Lune, a band on tour from Sweden. The turn-out was massive.
“House shows come and go,” Gordon says. “And on their own, a shed, instruments, and people, are not enough to do anything significant at all.” But sometimes, obscure DIY spaces can mean something more to the communities that grow around them. The shed bridged music and friendship without passing judgement.
That’s the crux of Gordon’s philosophy: “You deserve as much love and respect for who you are as the musician does, or the people who ‘run’ a show. There is no one who should be unapproachable.”