Folk Music in Washington DC: What to Expect

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


If you’re a fan of folk music, then you’ll definitely want to check out the scene in Washington DC. There’s a vibrant community of folk musicians and fans, and you can find performances and events happening all around the city. Here’s what you can expect when you experience folk music in Washington DC.


Folk music is a genre of music that typically uses acoustic instruments and focuses on traditional songs. In Washington DC, you can find folk music performances in a variety of venues, from bars and clubs to coffeehouses and concert halls.

There are many different types of folk music, and the scene in Washington DC reflects this diversity. You can find everything from traditional Irish and Scottish music to Americana and bluegrass. There are also a number of singer-songwriters who perform their own original folk songs.

If you’re interested in checking out some folk music in Washington DC, here are a few things to keep in mind.

First, most folk music shows are held in small venues, so it’s often best to arrive early to get a good seat. Second, many performers take requests, so if there’s a particular song you’d like to hear, don’t be afraid to ask. Finally, many shows will have a tip jar for the performers – if you enjoy the show, be sure to leave a few dollars behind.

The Local Scene

Folk music has deep roots in the Washington DC area, with a long history of traditional and contemporary artists keeping the genre alive. Today, the DC folk scene is thriving, with many venues offering live music nightly. If you’re planning a visit to DC, be sure to check out some of the local folk music scene.


There are a few great places to catch live folk music in Washington, DC. The Bottom Line is a great spot for local and touring acts alike. They have a wide range of music, from bluegrass to old-time to singer-songwriter. Another great venue is IOTA Club & Cafe. This place has a more intimate feel and usually has great local talent. If you’re looking for something a little different, try the Rock & Roll Hotel. They don’t have folk music all the time, but when they do it’s always a great show.

Promoters and Festivals

Folk music in Washington DC has a long and storied history. In the 1940s, Washington DC was home to the first nationwide radio broadcast of folk music with the launch of Folk Songs of America. The show was created by Mike Seeger and John Cohen and featured such notable performers as Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, and Pete Seeger.

In recent years, the folk music scene in Washington DC has undergone something of a renaissance. Promoters and festivals are bringing both local and national acts to venues all over the city. You can find everything from traditional bluegrass to contemporary folk-rock at live shows throughout DC.

If you’re interested in checking out the local scene, here are a few promoters and festivals you should know about:

The American roots music festival MerleFest is held every year in April in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. The four-day event features more than 80 acts on 13 stages, including many of the biggest names in folk music.

The Folk Alliance International Conference is an annual gathering of musicians, promoters, agents, media, and fans from all over the world. The conference features hundreds of performances, panel discussions, workshops, and more. It’s usually held in February in a different city each year – recent locations have included Montreal, Kansas City, and New Orleans.

The Old Town School of Folk Music is a non-profit educational institution located in Chicago, Illinois. Founded in 1957, the school offers classes for all levels of students, from beginners to professionals. They also host concerts and events featuring both local and touring artists.

The Washington Area Music Association (WAMA) is a non-profit organization that promotes and supports local musicians in the Greater DC area. WAMA hosts events throughout the year including showcases, workshops, Awards ceremonies honoring excellence in the field

Local Bands

Most nights, you can find a local band playing at one of the many bars and restaurants in the DC area. These bands are usually made up of D.C. residents who have a passion for music and love to play for an audience. You can expect to hear a variety of genres, including folk, rock, jazz, and blues.

If you’re looking for some toe-tapping tunes, head to The Hamilton in downtown DC. This intimate venue is known for its excellent acoustics and lively atmosphere. Or, if you’re in the mood for something a little more mellow, check out Blues Alley in Georgetown. This iconic jazz club has been host to some of the world’s greatest musicians, including Ella Fitzgerald and Miles Davis.

No matter what your taste in music is, you’re sure to find a local band that you enjoy listening to. So go out and explore the vibrant music scene in Washington, DC!

The Music

Traditional Folk

Traditional folk music in Washington DC can be enjoyed at many venues throughout the city. There are several well-known performers who regularly play at local bars and restaurants, as well as at some of the city’s most popular tourist attractions.

One of the best places to catch a traditional folk music performance is at The Birchmere, a renowned music venue located in Alexandria, Virginia. The Birchmere features a wide variety of musical genres, but is especially known for its folk music offerings. Local and national folk acts perform regularly at The Birchmere, making it one of the best places to enjoy this type of music in the Washington DC area.

Another great place to catch a traditional folk music performance is at The Hamilton, another popular music venue located in Washington DC’s trendy U Street Corridor. The Hamilton frequently features local and national folk acts, as well as a variety of other musical genres. Whether you’re looking to enjoy some traditional folk music or experience something new, The Hamilton is definitely worth checking out.

Contemporary Folk

Contemporary folk music is a genre that encompasses a wide range of styles, including traditional folk, acoustic pop, indie folk, and singer-songwriter. While the term “contemporary folk” is relatively new, the music has been around for decades.

The roots of contemporary folk music can be traced back to the American folk music revival of the 1940s and 1950s. This revival was spurred by the release of The Anthology of American Folk Music in 1952, which compiled recordings of traditional folk songs from the 1920s and 1930s. The Anthology sparked a renewed interest in traditional folk music, and performers such as Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Joan Baez began to gain prominence.

In the 1960s, Bob Dylan popularized a new style of folk music that incorporated elements of rock and roll. This “new” style of folk quickly gained popularity, and performers such as Simon & Garfunkel and The Byrds became hugely successful.

The 1970s saw a further evolution of the genre, with artists like James Taylor and Carole King getting massive radio play with their mellow acoustic pop tunes. In addition, the rise of punk rock led to a new wave of punk-influenced folk bands like The Pogues and The Clash.

The 1980s was a decade dominated by singer-songwriters like Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Bonnie Raitt, and Steve Earle. These artists continued to expand the sound and scope of contemporary folk music.

The 1990s saw the rise of indie folk bands like Belle & Sebastian and Neutral Milk Hotel. These bands combined traditional sounds with more modern influences to create a unique blend of genres.

In the 2000s and 2010s, contemporary Folk has continued to evolve, with artists like Bright Eyes, Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, and Mumford & Sons achieving mainstream success. As the genre continues to evolve, it’s likely that we’ll see even more interesting and innovative sounds in the years to come.


The DC area has long been a hotbed for singer-songwriters, with many performers influenced by the burgeoning folk scene in the counter-cultural capital of the 1960s. Today, this tradition continues with a new generation of artists carrying on the legacy of crafting personal and politically charged songs. Whether playing intimate acoustic sets or full-band electric shows, these artists are sure to move both your heart and your feet.


Folk music in Washington DC can be enjoyed at many different venues throughout the city. Whether you’re looking for a traditional folk music experience or something a little more modern, you’re sure to find it here. With so many different styles of folk music to choose from, there’s something for everyone in Washington DC.

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