After 5 years the Brindley brothers have done more than keep Jammin Java fresh. They’ve made it a live music mainstay. The Washington D.C. area has its fair share of signature music venues. There’s the hallowed 9:30 Club, with its remodeled warehouse feel, just outside of a revived and thriving U Street Corridor. There’s The Birchmere, with its honky tonk appeal and iron skillet charm in Alexandria. And of course, there’s the Wolf Trap Center for the Performing Arts, set in the midst of a National Park.
Then there’s Jammin’ Java, located at the end of a strip mall, next to a flower and garden store, in suburban Vienna, Va. But neither the nightspot’s innocuous location, nor a name its owners have contemplated changing “every day” since taking hold of the establishment five years ago this month, has stopped it from appearing in the No. 4 slot of The Washington Post’s “Best Bets: Reader’s Choice Awards” for the past two years.
In trying to explain Jammin’ Java’s popularity, one could point to the variety of talent that has graced its stage over the years. Those names include everyone from former Beatles and Monkees (Pete Best and Peter Tork) to Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave’s Tom Morello, Citizen Cope, Butch Walker, Charlotte Martin and the Black Crowes’ Rich Robinson. Then there are the up-and-comers like Teddy Geiger, The Alternate Routes, Joe Purdy and Ashton Allen. And last, but certainly not least, there’s the home-team talent of musical act, and Jammin’ Java’s owners, the Brindley Brothers.
Their dedication to their family-owned business is truly what has turned into one of D.C.’s hottest nightspots.
“It’s always been all about the music,” says Daniel Brindley. He, along with his brothers Luke and Jonathan, assumed control of the operation when they purchased it in October 2001 and moved down from their home state of New Jersey. Back then it was an overly-ambitious, and failing, Christian-themed coffee shop, complete with a studio, record store and live music stage. While the Brindleys kept the name, they streamlined the layout, removing the merchandise racks, playing up the bar and shifting the space’s primary focus towards live music.
“One of the coolest things about having been a part of Jammin’ Java for so long has been witnessing its evolution first hand,” says musician Shane Hines, who played the venue before the Brindley takeover, and now, in addition to performing there, teaches guitar lessons out of Java’s upstairs offices. “It’s transcended the ‘pretty cool local place to play’ to a legit club that attracts national, as well as regional and local acts. The sound is huge and the stage is awesome. It’s set up for music. That’s great for the bands as well. You aren’t sitting in the corner jamming away under a TV screen with ESPN on while the manager keeps asking you to turn it down. People are there to see music and that makes it a great place to play.”
“Jammin’ Java’s name is incredibly deceptive. We’re definitely not a coffee shop first,” Daniel Brindley says. “If we tried to compete with the 15 Starbucks within a few miles of here, we’d fail miserably. It’s about the music first.”
Since finding their footing as business owners, the brothers have seemingly pushed all the right buttons, acquiring a liquor license, adding a fully stocked bar, and negotiating a few minor hurdles with their neighbors in Glyndon Plaza (parking is apparently an issue). They’ve also surrounded themselves with a staff that’s as passionate about music as they are.
“When I dropped off my application I saw that Chris Whitley was playing, so I wrote ‘Big ups for getting Chris Whitley,’” says Corrine Ferrell, who joined the staff in 2004 and now works as the night manager. “I think that helped them figure out that I was in it for the music and not just a job.
“We get some of the most awesome bands that no one has heard about,” she adds before rattling off names like Joseph Arthur, Glenn Tilbrook and the Alternate Routes. “This rockabilly guy Chris Scruggs. He’s better than 90-percent of the people alive.”
Ferrell and Java’s other employees certainly get plenty of exposure. The Brindleys have packed their calendar with everything from children’s performers to folk singers to all-out rock bands.
“We’re just like whores for acts,” Jonathan jokes, before Daniel finishes the thought. “As long as there’s people, we’ll do it.”
Jammin’ Java’s stage wasn’t always packed however.
“We were absolutely, 100-percent desperate,” Daniel says of their initial efforts five years ago to book acts. I took home boxes of press kits and I would just call and hope they’d say ‘yes’ to play. But you get one semi-big act in and it raises your profile a bit, and there’s a constant build on top of it and people start talking.”
Both Daniel and Jonathan point to different shows as “the one” that put Jammin’ Java on the map (respectively, Butch Walker and Leon Russell), but regardless, today the club’s slate is jam packed, sometimes with as many as 15-20 shows a week. It’s also rented out for private parties that go anywhere from $500 to $8,000 a pop.
As with most businesses, success breeds success, and the Brindleys’ hard work (“We know what we’re doing now, but five years later, it’s still seven days a week,” Jonathan says.) has been noted, not only by their customers, but by bands as well.
“It’s kick-ass,” says Stephen Kellogg of nationally-known Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers. They passed through the doors for the first time when the group opened for Voices on the Verge, and now they’ll be returning for a pair of shows Dec. 1 and 2.
If you want another endorsement, how about one from the President of the United States? A few years back, George W. Bush met Luke and Daniel Brindley and used them in his pitch for how tax cuts can help family-owned businesses. The quote was even replayed on David Letterman: “We’ve got the Brindley boys here from Vienna, Virginia,” Bush says in the clip. “I’m going to say something about them a little later on. They started what they call ‘Jammin’ Java.’”
“We went in to meet the President and that was trippy,” Daniel recalls. “It’s the craziest weirdest thing ever because he’s the most famous person on the planet, even more than like a movie star. All the sudden he’s walking down to us and he’s like ‘Hey, guys. How’s it going?’ And I did one of these ‘Hey, what’s up?’ things that you’re not really supposed to say to the President.
“But it was cool, the Washington Area Music Association even added us to their timeline. Like ‘2002: Brindley Brothers meet the President.’”
Meeting the President has been just one in a handful of happy memories for the Brindleys since taking over Jammin’ Java. Daniel recalls being floored by his completely inconspicuous meeting with Tom Morello, while Jonathan rattles off a story about hanging with Pete Best and his half-brother Roag. As the night proceeded, the duo fed him countless of candid stories about the most famous four-man group in music history.
“It’s cool building relationships with these acts, sometimes even personal relationships with artists that come through here,” Jonathan says. “And it’s to the point where you’re like e-mailing them or calling them up and just saying ‘hey, buddy,’ then they come back and it’s like this big reunion, year after year. In five years there have been people from California that have come through 10 times that we know pretty well.”
As with most things rock and roll, they’ve also had their fair share of peculiar moments as well. Such as the one act who demanded an iron and ironing board delivered to her dressing room before taking the stage.
“She wanted to iron her hair,” Daniel says. “So we drove home and got an iron and an ironing board.”
With five years under their belts running the place, Daniel and Jonathan are looking ahead to the next five. They’d like to continue the stream of top-flight talent to Jammin’ Java, and even incorporate a few surprise shows by bigger draws like Pat McGee to the calendar. They’ve also been thinking about buying a new property and launching another live music venue in the D.C. area.
For right now, they’re content with what they have and they’ll be celebrating with a blowout party for the club’s fifth anniversary all day this Saturday, Oct. 28. The festivities begin at 10 a.m. with children’s performers Oh Susannah, Mister Don, Rocknoceros, Banjo Man and Mr. Knick Knack. The big-kids party kicks off at 7 p.m. with shows by Java-faves Hines, The Echoes, The Getaway Car, Welbilt, Brainfang, and, naturally, the Brindley Brothers. The children’s portion of the day is $5, while the nighttime slate is $10.