Birchmere Owner Gary Oelze Dies at 80

Gary Oelze. Photo courtesy The Birchmere

Gary Oelze, who owned and ran The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia, died in late January aged 80.

Oelze opened the 500-capacity space, which had operated as a restaurant under its previous owner, in a strip mall in 1966. It’s been at Mount Vernon Avenue since 1997.

A Kentucky native and military veteran, Oelze brought in top acts in bluegrass, country, rock and more. He died of natural causes, according to an obituary.

A funeral service was held Feb. 6 in Alexandria, Virginia, with donations to the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria requested in lieu of flowers.

The venue is a mainstay in the D.C. area, and famously hosted one of Ray Charles’ last public performances. In recent months, the venue has hosted shows by Macy Gray, The Mountain Goats, Ricky Skaggs and many others, according to Pollstar‘s records. The venue was also known for country performances, including by personal favorites of Oelze’s, Mickey Newbury and Rosanne Cash, according to an obituary in the Washington Post.

“I had the honor and pleasure to work with him as his promoter for over 35 years,” the venue’s Michael Jaworek wrote in an email to Pollstar. “In all that time, we never had an acrimonious word about shows. It was always ‘is it appropriate for the Birch, and will we
succeed?’ He was a wonderful employer and a better man. We all miss him, very

The Birchmere ranked No. 21 on Pollstar’s Year End Top 200 Clubs chart, with 68,380 tickets reported sold over the course of 2022.