The Lab: Preserving Underground Music in Northern Virginia

The Lab All Ages venue is a place where young people can enjoy music and meet people with similar interests.

By Shelby Robinson

The Magpie String Band at Fest Too June 2013. Photo Courtesy of Heather McPherson 

Right off of Interstate 395, nestled between churches and the Fairlington Park, lies a gem of a venue, among the last of a dying breed. Convergence Church’s The Lab All Ages venue is one of the few of the “all ages” underground music venues in Northern Virginia.

The Lab is part of an underground music movement called “DIY.” Do-It-Yourself music refers to the artist or group’s distance from mainstream production.

Alex Heinz, the Lab’s local bands coordinator, said the Lab offers a unique service to the young, musically-inclined in the area, “An underground music scene provides a venue for a lot of people with alternative interests to make friends and meet each other and share art with each other in a safe and friendly environment.”

The Lab All Ages gives young people the opportunity to help coordinate and run shows, control sound, or play their music in front of an audience.  Convergence’s Arts Initiative is intended to provide the Alexandria area with a place to share culture and the arts. The Lab is considered part of Convergence Church’s community outreach art’s initiative, but does not push Christian beliefs on concertgoers.

Heinz pointed out that although there are many venues in Northern Virginia, there are few that encourage the involvement and participation of newer people, allow kids under 18, and do not tolerate drinking, drug use or offensive behavior.

“All of the shows are all ages and are substance free, which is part of being a ‘safe space,’ and having a dry space ensures that people are gathering and meeting to hear music rather than for other reasons,” he said. “Music is really important to teenagers, so it’s really good to have spaces that are safe for teens and trusted by parents.”

Heinz said although he likes some popular music, he loves having the opportunity to work at the Lab because, “I like to know about the people and bands that are making music and art in my own backyard.” He said that the Lab offers a unique experience, which he refers to as “art for art’s sake.”

Because the Lab is run entirely by volunteers, almost all of the money generated by shows can go to the bands. The only money kept by the Lab is the bare minimum needed to pay the bills.

Heinz mentions that contrary to what some artists and musicians might think, “DIY isn’t an excuse for a lack of professionalism. We work really hard and run good shows.”

The Lab has shows every weekend and also seeks to connect concertgoers and volunteers with other DIY venues. The Lab’s biggest event is their annual Fest Too, which is a three-day DIY festival with tons of local bands and workshops, which takes place in Alexandria, June 26-28. On March 28 there will be a benefit show for Fest Too, everyone who wants to learn more about the Northern Virginia DIY scene or get involved is welcome. 

The Harrison Four at The Lab All Ages. Photo Courtesy of Heather McPherson