Reunion for 1969 Led Zeppelin concert in Wheaton

By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 9, 2009

Some stories sound preposterous, if delightfully so -- like the one about the night Led Zeppelin played the Wheaton Youth Center.

Robert Plant doing a whole lotta lovin' on Georgia Avenue? Jimmy Page climbing a stairway to suburbia?

No ticket stubs, posters, pictures or news clippings of the gig are known to exist. Yet some people passionately insist they saw the performance. Zeppelin-in-Wheaton is Washington's own rock-and-roll Loch Ness Monster. Could it possibly be real?

Yes. No way. Depends whom you ask.

To appreciate the monumental improbability, you had to be there Saturday afternoon, amid the motley crowd of graying Zeppelinheads -- with their T-shirts, ticket stubs and precious original LPs -- gathered for an earnest experiment in the nature of truth, myth, memory and dreams.

It was a reunion -- a reunion of people who attended an event that may not have occurred.

Apparent eyewitness testimony was recorded for posterity. Skeptics were listened to. In the absence of physical evidence, any totemic link to the fabled show was deemed potentially worthy. Then veteran local musicians took the stage and everybody totally rocked out.

"They were definitely here," said Anne Marie Pemberton, a computer systems engineer who was 17, she said, when she saw the show. She paced the gym floor Saturday, marking specific spots, occasionally wielding an air guitar.

"Page was over here. John Paul Jones was over there. Plant the showman was right here. And right behind was John Bonham with his hellacious drum set."

Tom McAleer, a liquor salesman who grew up near the center, carried a grocery bag containing the battered white Chuck Taylor high-tops he says he was wearing that night 40 years ago when he and a friend sneaked in to see Led Zeppelin. "My girlfriend gives me a hard time because I save everything," he said.

But Sharon Ward Ellis, the former director of the youth center, who can recall telling Iggy Pop to stop smearing peanut butter on his chest during his Wheaton concert, has no recollection of Led Zeppelin. And former teen center fan Ruth Lynn Youngwirth brought her scrapbook documenting scores of concerts from 1967 to 1972. Curiously, the log does not include the Wheaton Zeppelin show.

"If Led Zeppelin was here, I don't remember," Youngwirth said.

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