“Boring.” That’s the word many teens apply to Arlington, Virginia—home of the Pentagon, Fort Meyer, Robert E. Lee’s House, and Arlington Cemetery. With attractions as stodgy as these, it should be no surprise that this growing county of 300, 000 often receives sneers from the younger demographic. But such an unflattering description is not for a lack of activities, but rather a plethora of poorly organized ones. Since Arlington shares a border with Washington, D.C., inarguably one of the most happening cities in the country, it’s hard for Arlington teens not to harbor the “grass is always greener” mentality when they compare their county’s offerings with what lies across the Potomac. Arlington has a fair share of teen sporting events, clubs, and concerts—certainly more than the average suburban town—but few of these activities are planned well enough to draw a huge middle or high school audience. Thomas Jefferson Community Center’s Teen Band Night (or just TJ band night for short) is depressing evidence of Arlington County’s failing teen outreach.
Every now and then, TJ decides to hold band night in order to squelch teens’ constant complaints and prevent them from venturing into the District for weekend entertainment. Of course, since these band nights are so badly advertised, they have become more of a cult ritual than a fun and inviting event that unites kids from both sides of Route 50. Sadly, sometimes there are more band members performing at band night than there are teens in the audience. What is even more embarrassing is that most of the bands come from neighboring Fairfax, Alexandria, or Falls Church, resulting in an audience severely lacking in Arlingtonians. Even more humiliating—if that is possible—is how almost half of the bands that agree to play at TJ inevitably cancel last minute, sometimes only an hour or two before the event. The show almost always starts half an hour later than originally scheduled and there is too much downtime (usually as long as fifteen or twenty minutes) between each band’s performance for impatient teenagers to hang around until the end of the concert.
The question is, why are TJ band nights generally so dismal? Why do so few Arlington teens decide to come? The most obvious answer is that the event is hardly advertised at all. TJ’s Teen Office may design a couple of flyers to put up at the adjoined Thomas Jefferson Middle School and relatively nearby Arlington County Central Library, but beyond those two locations, there is virtually no word about the event at all. There tends to be a communication gap between TJ’s Teen Office and Arlington County’s teen website, Teen Portal; if TJ fails to inform Teen Portal of an upcoming band night, Teen Portal cannot possibly help advertise the event. Local newspapers, such as the Arlington Sun Gazette and the Arlington Connection, and Arlington County’s local TV channel, Arlington Independent Media, never mention TJ band nights, either. The handful of teens (often no more than 40, including the members of performing bands) who do come to TJ band night generally vow never to return after witnessing how chaotic the show is. The teens that frequent the event tend to be die-hard Indie music lovers, but students outside of the art scene too often conclude that visiting Dupont Circle would be a far better use of their time.
All in all, if Arlington County wants to improve Thomas Jefferson Community Center’s band nights, the Teen Office will have to begin with a fresh agenda and a stronger sense of logistical details. TJ should hand out flyers advertising the event to all middle and high schools, community centers, and libraries. The Teen Office must also be more aggressive in recruiting Arlington bands to perform at the event and find enough of them so that if one (or two or three) of them cancels, there is still a strong show with no awkward transitions between bands.
Arlington has great potential to be a hot teen hang-out, but right now it remains more cold than cool.