I will be relocating to Chicago in August. Reasons for the move are personal, but the advantages for moving out there as a music journalist are many.
DC is a city with a vibrant musical history. But that's all it is, really: history. Every major city in the US is coming to grips with the economic consequences of gentrification, but DC's small geographical size, coupled with how much space is already taken up by "the Hill," means that the cheap rents and independent communities are fading even quicker than in the bigger cities.
A look at the city's historic U Street shows this off perfectly. This street used to be the epicenter of DC's Black Renaissance in the 1920s. Duke Ellington was born just a couple blocks away and played some of his first shows on the strip. Now, the street is filled with trendy wine and martini bars. A condominium complex opened a few years back called the Ellington. A bar called Marvin has opened at the corner of 14th and U named for another DC music legend, Marvin Gaye. Its drink prices can climb to up to $20.
The Bohemian Caverns are still standing near U Street. The Black Cat still soldiers on too. Both host some great acts in jazz, rock and hip-hop. But there's very little soil for a true scene to sink roots. The community centers that hosted a thriving hardcore punk scene have been shut down more and more in recent years.
It would be naive and bald-facedly wrong to say that Chicago too doesn't have the same kind of gentrification encroaching upon it. A look around the artsy neighborhood of Pilsen will reveal several walls with "Save Pilsen" sprayed onto it, in protest against the high-end development taking place there now. However, there is still a good amount of neighborhoods where rent doesn't cost three quarters of your monthly pay. There are still areas friendly to artists and musicians.
Like DC, Chicago has a long history of groundbreaking music. Jazz fluorished there, and it was one of the birth-places of urban blues. That continues today, with a punk and indie scene that has produced some great groups over the past few years. It's also the hip-hop scene that has given rise to Kanye West, Common, and Lupe Fiasco.
Possibly the most telling sign that this is the right move is the difference between each city's main newspapers. The Washington Post doesn't have a music sections, and it rarely reviews albums by new artists. The Chicago Sun-Times does.
DC is a city that deserves a lot more than it is getting. The unfortunate upshot in the meantime is that it's currently not a very good place for music journalists to work from.