Those who stop by the Amphora Diner Deluxe in Herndon, Virginia, most Tuesday nights might think of it as a typical spot for burgers, drinks or desserts, but it is much more.
Roots musicians from around the region — sometimes from across the U.S. — gather there for the weekly “listening room” hosted by The Folk Club of Reston-Herndon.
This English club in Herndon has been around for almost three decades, ever since Rose Haskell returned from two years of living in Henley-on-Thames, England.
A roots musician herself, Mrs. Haskell set out to recreate what seems impossible to duplicate — an English folk music club where members enjoy good food, spirits, camaraderie and an indefinable vibe.
Joined by her husband, John, friends Beverly and Jack Osburn and others, Mrs. Haskell founded the folk club in 1985. It made its home at Herndon’s Tortilla Factory for 27 years, until the restaurant closed in 2012.
As she settled in to watch local performers at a special performance last Wednesday — the group meets Tuesday nights as a rule — Mrs. Haskell smiled as friends stopped to exchange stories, ask questions or share news.
“It was a lot of work, but it’s really just become such a major part of our lives,” she said. “We love music, of course, but it’s also been a way to bring like-minded people together.”
She spoke of members who started playing at the club and went on to form bands, record albums and establish careers that have taken them to Nashville and beyond. It’s a given that friendships have developed, but some members who met at the club also have wed.
Perhaps friendships kindle so quickly because of the club’s flat, organizational structure, much like that of its English counterparts such as the Nettlebed Folk Song Club at Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire. The leadership avoids hiring anyone to officially “work” for the club, choosing instead to allow members to steer its direction.
“It was all volunteer, and it still is,” said Mrs. Haskell. “We were only a few years into the club when we had people lobbying to take jobs doing publicity, booking and whatever else needed doing. It’s still that way.”
In an English folk club or listening room, you’re in for the shushing of your life if you talk when a roots musician is performing.
The Brits and many of their European counterparts take folk-roots music so seriously that they will ask even the most softly spoken audience member to leave. And musicians love how the audiences absorb their music.
“I love going to England. I love playing there,” country performer Darius Rucker told The Washington Times recently. “They really love music over there. You can play the deepest album track you think no one has ever heard, and you look down and see the whole audience is singing along. They really appreciate music there.”
Last Wednesday in Herndon, a capacity crowd of 100 filled the diner’s private room, which the folk club calls home. One flushed-faced organizer breathlessly rearranged chairs, repeatedly asked members to make room for other guests, including one in a wheelchair, and hustled through the narrow aisles among the tables, dodging servers carrying heavy trays.
But the overall vibe was cool and friendly, with longtime members warmly welcoming newcomers.
That warmth is what enticed club President Ben Hamblin to join in 1999, not long after reading a short story about it in a local paper.
“It is really a group of music lovers,” he said before covering a song by Canadian singer/songwriter Ian Tyson before the sold-out crowd. (Tickets are sold to members and non-members alike.) “It’s just about the people who are up there playing. The listeners are every bit as important as the musicians. It is so rare to find a room like this, and we have people from all over the region, even the country, play here.”
Wednesday’s headliner was John McEuen, a founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. He was joined by D.C.-area resident Les Thompson, an original Dirt Band member, for a few songs.
Mixing story-telling with his musical performance in his 90-minute set, Mr. McEuen offered renditions of a variety of songs, from “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” to the 19th-century American folk tune “Turkey in the Straw.” He even led a brief singalong to the Kingsmen’s classic rocker “Louie Louie.”
The easy banter between Mr. McEuen and Mr. Thompson sprinkled between their virtuoso playing only added to charm of the evening.
“This is a village — my village,” said Barb Keeler, who joined the club about seven years ago and has since become a performer and listener. “I would say come and listen You may find it becomes your village, too.”
That’s just what happened to Kim Melton, who recalled mustering her courage to join a bluegrass jam hosted by the club. She had only played when she was alone or in front of family or close friends before joining the circle 11 years ago.
“I was so impressed with the people there. [They are] all so very welcoming and just down to earth,” said Ms. Melton, who is now a songwriter and regular performer at various venues. “That day changed by life.”
• The Folk Club of Reston/Herndon meets Tuesdays, 7:15 p.m. to 10 p.m., at the Amphora Diner Deluxe, 1151 Elden St., Herndon, Va. Doors open at 6 p.m. for open mic sign up, dinner and socializing. For more information, visit RestonHerndonFolkClub.com.