Photos by Nicholas Karlin, Words by Jose Lopez-Sanchez
The Miracle Theatre is Washington D.C.’s oldest movie theatre, and as of today, its newest music venue – at least until The Anthem opens next week.
As you likely know, the DMV is spoiled for choice when it comes to music venues. Even with the Iota Club in Arlington closing last week, plenty of options remain – and even more are on their way as finishing touches are put on The Wharf. This begs the question: do we really need another converted space for live music? On first evidence, the 350-seater Miracle Theatre is a welcome addition to the city’s live music landscape – big enough to draw acts of renown, but small enough to preserve a feeling of intimacy.
Originally opened in 1909 as a vaudeville theater, screening silent movies, it showed films until the early 1960s, when it was purchased by the People’s Church, who owned the building until 2011. After a sale to the National Community Church, and an eventual renovation, the Miracle reopened its doors in 2014 as a mixed-use building, hosting second-run and classic movies on the weekend as well as regular religious services. Starting tomorrow, it will also be host to a concert series presented by Union Stage – another new venue opening soon in Southwest, brought to you by the Brindley brothers, the same sibling trio that has run and operated Jammin’ Java in Vienna for sixteen years.
Luke Brindley is convinced they’re onto something special by organizing shows at this historic venue.
“This is some diamond in the rough kind of stuff. The sound is incredible, and a place of this size, with the experience of an old theater, just doesn’t exist in D.C. The Miracle Theatre itself, in our view, is a draw. It’s just a cool place to see a show – it’s a different space with plenty of history, and it’s not simply another club.”
Brindley is right – there aren’t many spaces with aesthetics like the Miracle’s, its walls draped in thick red velvet, each of its 350 seats upholstered in red vinyl, and the ceilings covered in intricate metallic trim. It doesn’t hurt that even the worst seats in the house – in the far back corners of the second floor balcony – have a clear line of sight to the stage. There’s not a bad view to be found in the building; very few venues of this size can make such a claim.
The concert series will premiere with a performance by Sun Kil Moon, accompanied by Magik*Magik Orchestra, and in many ways it’s the ideal act to get this collaboration underway: delicate, dramatic music that demands the listener’s attention and doesn’t let go. And although Mark Kozelek’s is not a particularly cheerful man, and nor is his music, it doesn’t diminish from the power of his performance. The singer-songwriter paints bleak, wrenching portraits of his life and that of his extended family back in Ohio – stories filled with tragedy, death, and plenty of black humor.
Despite the sombre themes, or perhaps because of it, Kozelek is a magnetic presence on record and on the stage. His voice is gravelly and rich, his guitar playing subtle and nuanced, and the characters in each track multidimensional and compelling. His last record, 2014’s Benji made many end-of-year lists, and remains a moving, deeply gorgeous piece of art. Kozelek will be joined by the Magik*Magik Orchestra for the very first of the Union Stage team’s shows at The Miracle Theatre. If they continue to book acts of this caliber in this room, it will be a successful run for this joint venture.