‘Just for art’s sake’: Students host nonprofit concerts in off-campus house

Media Credit: Ari Golub | Staff Photographer

Money from ticket sales at the DIY concert venue Mystery, Inc. goes directly to the performers.

Every weekend, dozens of people pack into the basement of a student’s home to listen to bands from across the country – and the students don’t make, or want, a profit.

Senior George Bowles and their four roommates host concerts in their home almost every weekend, welcoming local bands as well as groups from cities like Nashville, Tenn. and Austin, Texas. The concerts are part of DIY, an underground network of people from across the country who book bands to play in their basements or warehouses for no profit, they said.

“It’s just art for art’s sake,” Bowles said.

Bowles said they wanted to get involved in DIY to avoid the “gatekeeping” that comes with playing at a traditional concert venue like the 9:30 Club. Bowles said they host concerts in their home for free and aim to promote the work of queer people and people of color.

“We try to make it more of a space for art itself, rather than going to a concert venue where anyone can show up,” Bowles said. “And it’s a safe space. We operate out of the mic, our byline and all of our Facebook events are like, ‘no phobes, no bigots, no bullies.’ And that’s a mantra we run off of, and that’s why we run the show.”

Their roommate, graduate student Rob Cline, knew people involved with the New Jersey DIY scene and established their house as a venue named “Mystery Inc.” in 2018, Bowles said.

Bowles said audience members are invited through word of mouth. They connect with students from American University through AU radio and Georgetown University students through GUCCI – Georgetown University Collection of Creative Individuals, which one of Bowles roommates is involved with.

They added that on some nights, Mystery Inc. brings in 25 guests and other nights the venue maxes out at 150 people. Bowles said they moved off campus last academic year into a house with a large basement located next to a construction lot, which helps them avoid noise complaints when dozens pack inside for a concert.

Mystery Inc. hosts house concerts in the summer, fall and spring seasons, welcoming three or four groups per weekend. Bowles said they host every three weeks during the summer, every two weeks in the fall, and they currently have a show booked every weekend from now until their lease is up in the spring.

Bowles added that they have lost count of how many bands have played at their house over the past two years.

“We have a banner in the back of the gig space that says ‘Mystery Inc.’ on it,” Bowles said. “And every band has signed it that’s played at our house since the beginning. And honestly, I don’t think I could produce a number.”

Bands reach out to the roommates’ art collective – Lumpy Space Collective – through their Facebook page and book shows at least two months in advance. On the day of a show, Bowles said they and their roommates scrub the house clean before bands show up at about 6 p.m., guests arrive at 7:30 p.m. and the music beats on until about 10:30 p.m. Bands are provided with a space to sleep if they need it, they said.

“We have bands that sometimes come from Connecticut, Nashville, et cetera, so they come a long way, and sometimes they don’t have connections in D.C. for a place to sleep, or they can’t afford a place to sleep like at a hotel or something,” Bowles said. “We provide that.”

Mystery Inc. asks for a $5 donation from guests at the door to help the bands pay for food, gas or other accommodations. Bowles said all of the money is split up between the bands at the end of the night, and most of the funds go toward the touring band because they rack up the most expenses to travel to D.C.

“At the end of the day, it’s a net-zero for most of these bands, right?” Bowles said. “But they can afford to go out that night and play without a loss of money or loss of resources or anything.”

Bowles said the community they have found through DIY concerts is unlike anything else they have experienced in the District.

“I think just the community DIY provides to D.C. is unlike anything else because right now my closest friends aren’t from GW,” Bowles said. “They go to AU, they go to Howard, they go to Georgetown. And I wouldn’t have met them without DIY.”

Rachel Armany contributed reporting.

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