Struck by illness, two D.C. musicians get help from their peers this weekend


When the sign for the now-closed Remington's bar on Pennsylvania Avenue SE was pulled down, it revealed a sign for the Golden Garter, a former club on the spot. (Emily Heil/The Washington Post)
John Kelly
Columnist July 16

There are a handful of albums that are pretty much perfect. I mean that, to me anyway, they don’t have a bit of filler. “Come on Come on,” released in 1992 by Washington’s own Mary Chapin Carpenter, is one of them. It’s a record that can still give me goose bumps.

John Jennings is responsible for some of those goose bumps. He produced the album, which was recorded at Bias Studios in Springfield, Va.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

“A producer is kind of like a foreman on a job,” John told me. “They do everything from help you select material to configure a budget to help you find the right cast of players for the project.”

Chief among that cast was John himself, a talented multi-instrumentalist (guitar, mainly) as well as a singer, songwriter and collaborator with acts such as Janis Ian, Beausoleil and the Indigo Girls. He’s been responsible for a lot of great music, and you can hear some of it Sunday at a fundraiser at the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club (www.bethesdabluesjazz.com).

In March, John was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma. He’s had two surgeries, one to remove a tumor in his spine, the other to take out a kidney.

Hearing the news made me reflect on the difficult spot many local musicians find themselves in. They bring us great joy, but many don’t have “normal” jobs, which means many have never had decent health insurance.

“Something like cancer, like heart disease, any major illness, can take you out of the game for a while,” said John. “These are not inexpensive things to have, even if you have health insurance, which I do.”

And so musicians often come together for events like Sunday’s, where Eddie From Ohio, Jon Carroll, Pete Kennedy, the Mary Ann Redmond Band and others will perform to raise money for their stricken friend. Everyone knows they might need similar help one day.

John is a Washington music fixture. He’s done jingles (he sang on the memorable “Whatever you want, think Belmont” ad), played in Bill Holland’s Rent’s Due and fronted Big Yankee Dollar at places such as Mr. Henry’s and the Psychedelly.

He had great success working with the lightly country Mary Chapin Carpenter. Aside from a five-year stint in Nashville, he’s lived most of his life in this area.

“My heart keeps drawing me back to here,” he said. “Plus I fell in love with a woman in Potomac.” (That would be Tamara Meyer — “my chief lifesaver,” John calls her.)

“The amount of support I’m getting — spiritual, material, medical — is overwhelming to me,” John said. “And I am deeply and profoundly grateful for everyone who’s doing anything.”

For someone on the ropes, John is in great spirits. “You can curl up, or you can keep going,” he said. “I prefer to keep going.”

A state of Grace

Another example of musicians helping each other: Local folk singer Grace Griffith will celebrate the release of her new album, “Passing Through,” Sunday at Alexandria’s Birchmere (www.birchmere.com). This is quite an achievement when you consider that Grace was diagnosed in 1996 with early-onset Parkinson’s disease. The CD took two years to painstakingly record, with producer Chris Biondo working at Grace’s pace.

Among those who will perform with, and in tribute to, Grace are Tom Paxton, Al Petteway, Marcy Marxer, Cathy Fink and Lisa Moscatiello. Tickets are $25 and the show’s proceeds will go toward physical, occupational and speech therapy not covered by Grace’s insurance.

Rabbit stew

More music with a local beat: Sunday night will also see a rare performance of “The Legend of the Bunnyman,” the rock opera by Alexandria’s Mantua Finials. It takes its inspiration from Northern Virginia’s creepy urban legend.

The show, at Jammin Java in Vienna, starts at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance, $13 at the door. For information, go to www.jamminjava.com.

A different go-go beat

The city is a palimpsest, its old history overwritten daily by new history.

You could see an example of this earlier this week at 639 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, when the sign for Remington’s, a gay bar that closed in April, was taken down. There, in old-timey letters, was another sign: “Golden Garter.”

The Golden Garter wasn’t the immediate predecessor of Remington’s. That was Equus, also a Western-themed gay bar. And it wasn’t the first nightspot at that location. I found references to what was called Joe Boyle’s Restaurant in the 1940s and 1950s. In the 1960s, the building was home to Roaring Twenties East — “Where the Businessmen Meet,” according to an ad in The Post — part of local nightlife magnate Robert Zanville’s empire.

And for a while it was the Golden Garter, or “Big Mac’s Golden Garter,” as it was described in a 1968 help-wanted ad. The ad was under “G,” after dozens of listings for Girl Fridays. It read: “Go-Go Girls. Attractive Go-Go girls, day time and night.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean strippers — lots of D.C. clubs had girls in short skirts and fishnets dancing in cages back then — but it does suggest that the Golden Garter was a lot more fun than what’s reportedly going in at 639 Pennsylvania Ave. SE: a food and beverage venue, and a Sprint outlet, according to the Capitol Hill Corner blog.

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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