Post Magazine: D.C.'s 9:30 club turns 30
When the 9:30 club opened its doors 30 years ago, it wasn't just hosting its first concert. It was changing the landscape of music in D.C.
With the club turning 30 in May 2010, Post writer J. Freedom du Lac chronicled its storied history, from misfits to new wave icons to giant rats, in a story for The Washington Post Magazine, "Welcome to the club." He took questions with Seth Hurwitz, current owner of the 9:30 club and co-owner of concert promoter It's My Party (I.M.P.), on April 19. The transcript is below.
Arlington, VA: The old 9:30 Club always had someone high on a pole recording the show. Where are those tapes?
Seth Hurwitz: when we moved, they were given to someone to keep at their house
the house burned down
true story, but I don't know if the tapes were saved
Fairfax VA: I was up in the dressing room a couple of months ago, being friends with a band I won't name. What's with the cupcakes?
Seth Hurwitz: I spend a lot of time in Austin, TX, and they have this amazing cupcake trailer (they have a lot of food trailers) and, one day after eating one, I decided we had to have cupcakes, and not just OK ones...the best
so we taste tested for a long time
unbeknownst to me, there was actually a cupcake trend going on, but I didn't know that until we were petty far in
I probably wouldn't have done it if I thought I was being like others
Purcellville, VA: Washington, DC is a pretty long drive for all of us living in the western suburbs. Would you consider expanding - eg opening another location - in Loudoun County? I would spend a lot of money there, if you did.
Seth Hurwitz: we could've expanded the 930 to a lot of places
but it wouldn't be the 930...not really
Detroit: Where does your 1996 Suzanne Vega concert rank on your list of all-time great shows? I was there, and I gotta tell you: It was pretty awesome.
Seth Hurwitz: I'm not sure I remember that one...you know...I don't get to all of the shows...harder & harder these days
I get up early and work all day (from home) and then it's nightime, dinner, wine...
a lot of times I meant to go...
J. Freedom du Lac: Greetings, folks. Let's talk 9:30, shall we? No moshing, no stage-diving, no flash photography and no more than three questions about branded cupcakes.
Washington, DC: Great piece regarding a great venue. However, in an effort to feature known acts, the article missed really exploring the local scene. DC was hardcore punk - Black Market Baby and so many others - and the 9:30 was it!
J. Freedom du Lac: Tiny Desk Unit, Urban Verbs, Trouble Funk, Dain Bramage/Scream and Ian MacKaye's various bands aren't local enough for you? (Plus: Bonus shout-out to Wootton High School.)
I do regret, however, that I didn't get Mark Noone into the piece, as the Slickee Boys played the 9:30 a ton.
Las Vegas, Nevada : Great article. I grew up with the 930 in my blood. I do have a question. In the article you state the Smashing Pumpkins opened up the new club in 96. Im pretty sure I saw them there much earlier with Swervedriver when they were touring off Siamese Dream. Billy Corgan still had hair.
J. Freedom du Lac: The Pumpkins played at the original 9:30 (Seth can dig the dates out of his database if a] you really need it and b] you ask nicely). But they were the first band booked at the new club, at least for the official public opening. There were some private preview events in the new 9:30 before the Pumpkins shows.
Bethesda: J. Free,
Got any good stories about the club that didn't make it from your notebook/audio recorder into the final piece?
J. Freedom du Lac: Tons. Be happy to put them in a book, if somebody wants to give me a publishing contract.
Actually, Malitz has agreed to rent me some space on the Click Track blog this week, so I'll be posting a few extras there.
Washington, DC: Do you ever feel bad about moving acts to the far less superior DAR? I've always wondered, why not just do TWO nights at 9:30? That other place is the pits.
Seth Hurwitz: I feel bad if you feel bad...we don't like to do shows where people don't like to go
right now, there aren't a lot of options
but I'm always working on it...it's just really hard to find a spot that a developer hasn't locked up and is sitting on
bands like to feel like they are growing...they don't like to think they're not getting any bigger...playing the 930 over & over bothers them sometimes
doesn't bother me
Chantilly, Va.: Did Elvis Costello ever play 9:30? If so, did they do an unheard of encore set?
J. Freedom du Lac: Yes. But what exactly do you mean by "unheard of"? Like: So incredible that it melted minds?
Arlington, VA: Besides the bar downstairs mentioned in the article, what else from the old club is currently used in the new one?
Seth Hurwitz: Lisa White
Rockville, MD: I just to go to the club in the mid 80's when it has punk shows on the weekend, is there plans for a 30th 9:30 club reunion type event? i think it would be awesome to see some of the folks who used to hang out there (d.j's/bar tenders etc)
Seth Hurwitz: well now what do you think
Washington, D.C.: Hi Seth, I understand that you yourself used to manage a few bands? Who were they?
Seth Hurwitz: Tommy Keene
working with Justin Jones now
Chapel Hill, North Carolina: During shows at the old 9:30 location, there was usually a person with a video camera up in a little crows nest at the top of a support pole. Did that person videotape the shows? Do the tapes still exist?
J. Freedom du Lac: Seth already addressed this. I'm just going to add that it's a question that's come up repeatedly in emails since the story was posted online Friday. Big Tony from Touble Funk also wanted to know what became of those videos. I'm sure there are many, many other bands interested in those archives, too.
J. Freedom du Lac: Malitz tells me that "that dude talking about the Pumpkins saw them at WUST in fall of 93." So there you go.
Silver Spring: I enjoyed the article about the history of the 9:30 club. J. Freedom, what happened to your music reviews? It seemed like that one day that you stopped reviewing music. What is up with that?
J. Freedom du Lac: The short answer is: One day I stopped reviewing music.
I was invited by Marc Fisher to join The Post's new enterprise reporting team, and I accepted. "Enterprise" is really just a fancy way of saying "general assignment features reporting." So I left one amazing gig for another -- only now, I don't have to write about Justin Bieber. And music isn't exactly off-limits. The first piece I did for Fisher was on Patrick Hand, the D.C. attorney who decided to dabble in concert promoting last summer, with the ill-fated California '66 Revue. And, of course, I got to launch on this 9:30 club piece.
Washington, D.C.: One important fact that was missed was that in the early days of the 9:30 Club, bands would play two shows in a night. If you were there for the first show you could frequently hang around for the second one which usually proved to be a better performance because the bands were warmed up and looser.
Seth Hurwitz: bands REALLY hated playing two shows in one night
used to be the rule...not sure how it started but, one day, we thought "hey bands would like it more if they didn't have to do that"
Petworth, DC: Hello... Congratulations on a well-done multimedia presentation. But, I'm wondering if either of you could comment on the greater significance of the 9:30. I mean, we've all heard these same stories bunches of times... tell us something about the 9:30 and where it fits into American Culture we don't know yet...
J. Freedom du Lac: You must've missed the part about the club providing a home for alternative music, just as alternative music was really beginning to blossom. It's all there at the beginning. Go ahead and re-read it and check back in when you're done. There will be a quiz.
Fillmore : Seth, how worried are you about the club that's opening in Silver Spring? Is it going to do what the Black Cat did the first time?
Seth Hurwitz: I wouldn't be worried if it was opened by a competitor using normal economics
but when it's Live Nation, which buys shows just to add cash flow to cover debt, with no regard to the net...and subsidized by the government on top of that...it's just not a level playing field
we compete every day against Black Cat, Birchmere, Wolf Trap...those people do a great job and compete under the same real world economics that we do...it's all very fair, and we're all friends
Sierra Madre, CA: Could you talk about some of your favorite early shows - particularly the pre-9:30 days?
Seth Hurwitz: Ten Years After at Baltimore Civic Center (now called 1st Mariner)
ZZ Top opened
Cantone's: I have no excuse, but I've yet to go to the new location. But, man, did I enjoy the old place. ALOT. Congrats on your longevity.
J. Freedom du Lac: The club's longevity is a pretty amazing thing, indeed. Gary Bongiovanni, the editor of the trade publication Pollstar, said as much when we talked a while back:
"Just like restaurants, most nightclubs have a limited life cycle. They become big and pop, and then it just fades away or changes operators. The fact that they've been consistently successful for so long is pretty amazing. In New York City, the landmark clubs from 20 years ago are all gone, having been replaced by others or just shut down. It's the same with L.A. to some extent. The Roxy and Whiskey and Troubadour are still there. But they don't have the same stature they had in their heydays."
Washington, DC: This is for Seth: I've lived in DC for 10 years and I've seen countless shows at the 9:30 Club. It's an amazing venue and one DC's genuine gems. Having said that, I've never understood why the staff (a few great bartenders excepted) is so consistently rude to patrons. The vibe is like a police state. I understand it's a bar and to keep your liquor license you have to keep order, but the jackboot mentality that pervades the staff is infamous and hurts the club's reputation. Can you guys lighten up a little bit? Maybe a smile? Or a "thanks for coming, have a good time" instead of treating everyone like they are a criminal? It's only rock n roll. Relax.
Seth Hurwitz: I will give them a time out
Gee Street: J. Free, great article.
Seth, are you surprised that the success of 9:30 and its reputation as a top destination for bands to play did not spawn a bigger live music scene in DC? We're never going to be NYC, but how do we compare to Seattle, Memphis, NOLA?
Speaking of other venues, do you agree that Jiffy Lube Live is a terrible name?
Seth Hurwitz: actually, I love that name, but probably for different reasons than were intended
Crofton MD: I'll never forget experiencing Gwar and The Slickee Boys and River Phoenix used to have a band that once played at the old 9:30, and so many great shows at the new spot, which used to be a radio station, right? But that's not my question.....My question is will there be another Virgin Fesival and if so will it be free, thanks for last year by the way?
Seth Hurwitz: Virgin Freefest will be back at Merriweather
we couldn't possibly live life without all those blogs proclaiming this or that band cool or not
Ian Mackaye: Why is he interviewed for every one of these pieces? harDCore was just a small part of the old club.
J. Freedom du Lac: Hardcore was a small part of the club's early days, but it was a part nonetheless. And I think Ian provides great old/new 9:30 perspective, since he spent so much time at the old club, both as a performer and spectator (ask him about P-Funk the next time you see him), and he was consulted informally on the new club before it was built -- and he's spent a ton of at 815 V, much of it visiting with musician friends who are playing the club.
Curious about Capacity, DC: Hi Seth,
I'm a frequent showgoer, frequent meaning I come close to bankrupting myself to get to shows.
Anyhow, I'm wondering if you can answer a question for me. Are there several levels of "sold-out"? Some sold-out shows are bonecrushingly full, while others are less panick-room-like. Thoughts?
Also, any shows this year you are shocked did not sell out, or disappointed they didn't b/c they were so good? The Ben Gibbard/Jay Farrar show comes to my mind--dead crowd, amazing set.
Seth Hurwitz: some crowds are thinner than others
Columbia Heights, DC:: Elvis's 9:30 show in May of '07 did melt my mind, but enough of it grew back that I was able to write about it for This Very Newspaper: http:/
That show would make my top five from the (new) 9:30, and we already got Malitz's top six last week. What're the 9:30 gigs that you recollect most fondly, J. Free and Seth?
Seth Hurwitz: Al Green
Thievery is always great
Dwight Yoakam every time
Squeeze last time
the Radiohead 2AM show
Los Angeles, CA: hey seth,
transplanted Marylander out here in LaLa Land. just wanted to say thanks for many great nights at the old 9th & F space, as well as the new.
especially at the original club it all felt so subversive. like we few hundred people were in on the best secret in the world for a couple of hours.
keep on truckin!
J. Freedom du Lac: Natasha Reatig, one of the club regulars in the early days, had a great quote about that. "There was no sign; just an address. You were going to a place, in the dark, that nobody else would know was happening if they were just driving by."
Natasha was tremendously helpful as I was reporting the piece, btw. She was really generous with her time (and photos) and gave me a bunch of leads.
She also had a pretty funny aside about a business that was near the old club.
"They opened a hot tub place around the corner from the club called Making Waves, on Ninth. Very often, people would take a break from the 9:30 club -- I would take a break, during the show and take a newly found 'friend' around the corner. There were private rooms you could rent. We'd make waves, dry ourselves off, go back to the club, thank each other and then dance some more."
This is NOT a Fugazi Concert: Any way you can convince Fugazi to do a reunion show? I really miss them...
J. Freedom du Lac: I think a Skatley Crue reunion would be more likely.
Silver Spring, MD: I have enjoyed more shows that I can count or remember at the club but have noticed lately that you seem to be moving away from the harder rock shows. Are there plans to increase the number of those shows at the club in the future?
Seth Hurwitz: certainly not a conscious effort, one way or the other
I hoep you were there for Steel Panther
Damascus MD: As someone who graduated from High School in the 80's the Old 9:30 club was one of our favorite places to go! We were allowed in underage, just couldn't drink - and 3 bands for $3 was always the best for kids on a budget who loved music and dancing! Now that you're in the bigger space I guess there's no chance of seeing something like that (maybe 3 bands for $15) coming back on a regular basis?
Seth Hurwitz: we have 3 bands for $15 lots of times
3 bands for $20, 3 bands for $25...
It's been too long since the last chat so...: Did Bon Jovi or Tool ever play the 9:30 club?
J. Freedom du Lac: What next, a Starland Vocal Band question? Good recall, though.
the 703: article noted fashion stuff. That's ok, but one reason I loved and love 9:30 is that "fashion" (hair, clothes) was NOT important if you didn't want it to be. It's not a scene that focuses on the silly surface, we're there for the music, man!
J. Freedom du Lac: Wasn't important to you, but it was clearly important to others on the scene, esp the new wave folks.
DC: Great feature and knowing the clubs history as I do it could be a book, I was a member of Black Market Baby, Mike Dolfi, (thanks for the picture), the club was so great in many ways but for me the friendships that are still strong today and the punk scene we had here in DC stand out. From Marginal Man to Scream to Void to Government issue to 20 other great bands who's music made 9:30 as much as 9:30 made the bands. Those days will never be forgotten and I still play 9:30 with Rustbuckit, when we can get in. Thanks to everyone who made the 9:30 club DC's best and thanks to the Washington Post for celebrating 30 years.
J. Freedom du Lac: Since I was just chided for including fashion quotes in the piece, I guess I shouldn't ask you if you still have the leather jacket from the photo.
What Mike mentions here is kind of key, actually. Many, many folks who crossed paths at the old club became lifelong friends. At one point, the aforementioned Natasha Reatig invited me to a dinner party she was giving, saying it might be useful since just about all of the guests had been regulars or employees at the old club, or musicians who performed there.
The Smell: Anytime I smell a combination of leather, cigarettes and spilled beer, I am instantly transported to the original 9:30 club. I don't think there is any other way to get that unique smell, other than years of accumulation.
J. Freedom du Lac: Donna Westmoreland offered to open that vial for me -- the one with the old smell trapped inside. I passed.
"The vial is vile" is one of my favorite quotes in the piece, along with Peter Zaremba of the Fleshtones saying (re the old club): "Every time I went there, I felt like it was my birthday."
Old Location Still There?: I attended a few shows at the old club when I was in high school, and only several years later did I return to the original site. In fact, I walk past it a few times a month on my way to Gallery Place from Metro Center.
Each time I pass, I walk slowly on F St. in the 900 block and look for the 930 address. Is it still there? Has that building been reconfigured to get rid of that address? I never seem to find it. I think there's a 950 on the front of a fancy looking building, and maybe a 920 or 910 next to it. But no 930.
Am I going crazy?
Seth Hurwitz: I was just there the other day...it's the very old brown facade...I couldn't see an address from where I was
re Fashion: Yes, granted, but it's an inclusive place, an accepting community. I am/was a new wave guy too, but not into haircuts, and I didn't have to do that stuff to be in the scene. That's a good thing.
J. Freedom du Lac: Fair enough.
Joshua Tree, CA: Starting summer 1980, I'd hang out at the club whenever I visited family in McLean. (Whatever happened to Tamara or to Sally from Egoslavia, anyway?)
October '81, I performed at the club with a Manchester, UK band as part of month-long tour. The only thing wrong that night?
My PARENTS and some of their friends plus my brother & sister came to the show. Dad hunkered down at the bar with his cigar, beer & friends while Ma & my siblings stood right up front. I couldn't look up or I'd see my MOTHER.
Once, at a relatively quiet point between songs, while the guys in the band were on the floor fiddling with effects pedals & Echoplex tape loops, tunings, etc, I heard Ma's voice ring out to sister: "Doesn't she look cute!"
Not very punk rock.
Later, my dad said: "That was the best music of its kind I've ever heard."
Sidenote: Also there that night was a guy I met ten years later in L.A. & married.
Thanks for the good times.
J. Freedom du Lac: Great story.
Bertis Downs, REM's attorney and, now, manager, also met his wife at the 9:30. He was working in DC as a clerk at the U.S. Court of Federal Appeals and went to a Love Tractor show at the club, since it was what all good Athens expats were supposed to do.
Anacostia: In reference to the issue of DAR concerts. I remember in the early discussions of the renovation of the Howard Theater, there was a conversation about how big a renovated theater had to be to work in DC. Does DC need another venue somewhere between the 9:30 Club and the Verizon Center?
J. Freedom du Lac: The Warner is pretty nice. But it's a Live Nation venue. So don't expect to see Seth doing any shows there, for the obvious reasons.
Washington,D.C.: fABULOUS ARTICLE!!!! As a third generation native Washingtonian and music industry veteren, I have grown up on the 9:30 Club. (1st show was Bad Brains and Trouble Funk...one I played in!!)D.C. is such an important city musically but mostly goes without recognition on the national scene. 9:30 at least keeps us on the radar. Question to Seth...being a former go-go band member, WUST was the home to many go-go's (and fights). The hall notoriously had sound issues then and is still no better today. While I applaud some of the improvements you have made, the house P.A. still, for lack of a better word, sucks!!! I know it can sound great. When Marilyn Manson played he brought in his own system and the club was the BEST I had ever heard. (even better than F St.) Seth, please help us.....pump up the volume!!! (and take out some of those mid's!!!) S.E.S.
J. Freedom du Lac: You think the sound at the 9:30 sucks? Really? Huh.
Seth Hurwitz: the thing about the 930, with all it's different eras...it is many things to many people
we just like being an an important part of peoples lives
I hope to provide memories of great shows, like I had
Nostalgia Trip: Loved the piece. Back in the early 80's I worked at 6th and E NW and loved the entire funky scene. DCSpace was big back then, the 9:30 Club and a little neighborhood bar called the Cafe St. James aka Church.
J. Freedom du Lac: Do you ever go back to space? I'm told that they make a mean caramel macchiato at the Starbucks that's there now.
dc space is a legendary place, too, btw. If you weren't around then, or never went, just ask around. Or, just wait until I write a piece on Bill Warrell, who continues to do really interesting things.
Derwood: My favorite quote about the 9:30 Club came from my daughter when she was 14. "If the 9:30 Club was a person, I'd marry it!"
J. Freedom du Lac: Excellent
Washington, DC: One of my favorite 9:30 club stories was the Fields of the Nephilim a short-lived band that combined goth style with a hard rock reminiscent of The Cult. A 9:30 club employee told me he walked into their dressing room and there were bags of white and brown powder sitting on their table and he freaked out. It turns out they covered themselves in this material to replicate an American West dusty look. We all remember the B Surfers and their fire cymbal incident. Do you recall any other weird misunderstandings?
J. Freedom du Lac: Lighting round, so just passing this along. Because it's pretty great.
Washington DC: I just have to say Mark Hall was an amazing bartender at the back bar. I don't know if he thought I was cute or what, but I would walk in and he'd look up and make me a gin&tonic. I had friends who also said he always remembered what they liked to drink. It just amazed me how he could remember so many faces and drinks
J. Freedom du Lac: Mark had quite a few fans. Did any of them ever pay to get in? Based on what I've heard, the club was pretty lax with the guest list back in the day.
Somewhere, MD: Seth, when I was about 15 in the mid-eighties, you let me into the club one afternoon to watch Black Flag do their soundcheck. Thanks for that! The music was everything to me then (and to some extent now), and the Nightclub 9:30 was the anchor. I recall many life-changing shows where my friends and I bonded over great music. Seeing the Damned in 1985 was pivotal, as was sneaking into the private Halloween party, all black light and strobes, in 1984. It was a miracle to stumble onto a place where I felt truly at home, and made all the difference for me growing up.
J. Freedom du Lac: Just posting.
Alexandria, VA: Thanks for the great article. 9:30 was an exciting part of life in the 80s - what a creative place in time! I worked for a while upstairs @ Unicorn Times and we'd come down for happy hour during deadline. The local bands were as exciting as the national acts - Slickees, Black Market Baby, Martha Hull, Tex Rubinowitz et al. I still have a cache of calendars, some matchbooks and pins and my Dischord 45s (purchased downstairs). First date with my husband was @ 9:30. We're married 21 years. Thanks for the great music Seth!
J. Freedom du Lac: Ditto.
DC: One item that pervades the 9:30 that is somewhat unique and wasnt touched on too much is the "all ages all the time" aspect. Not sure how unique that is in respect to clubs in other cities, but that certainly speaks volumes about the club, and in todays day and age with everyone litigation happy somewhat answers the post earlier complaining about staff. Thats a damn hard job to keep 18 yr olds standing next to 22 yr olds from not drinking..
J. Freedom du Lac: Good point.
Kensington, MD: Hi Seth & Josh;
Thanks for the article, but just wanted to point out that no history of the 9:30 Nightclub can be complete without acknowledging the tremendous contribution to the club's style, energy and design made by Mark Holmes. Mark (who went on to a higher calling in 1990) was an incredibly talented film director, artist, graphic designer, and photographer who, along with Dody DiSanto, worked with us in opening and establishing the look and approach of the club. He worked closely on the design of the club, and also did the artwork for the advertisements and postcards which announced the concerts in the early days (and can now be seen in the downstairs bar of the new club, as well as in the Experience Music Project Museum in Seattle). Mark's contibution cannot be over-emphasized, and I think it's fair to say that without Mark's input and spirit, the look and attitude of the 9:30 club (and arguably the DC new music community) would be immeasurably different.
John Paige Universal Media, Inc.
J. Freedom du Lac: Thanks, John. This is, in fact, a very important point. Seth said something very similar to me about Mark and his influence.
I did backflips trying to find a way to work Mark into the piece, but we couldn't figure out how to get him in without disrupting the narrative flow. Plus, my editor thought we'd already introduced too many characters early on.
We'd talked about possibly doing a cover that was inspired by Mark's work, but that didn't pan out. Alas.
Alexandria VA: I've sen a lot of shows at both, but my favorite has to be Tony Bennett in 2002 or 2003? What a crowd mix. Mohawked, tatoed and pierced couple dancing check to check, others in furs and heels.
J. Freedom du Lac: Too much fashion talk. Cut that out.
St. Louis, Mo.: Wow - old 930 club. Haven't read the article yet because I'm from out of town, but I remember going their in the late 80s when I was a student at Georgetown. What I remember most was if you stood in one place for too long, it'd take you a heck of a long time to unstick your feet. Good times.
J. Freedom du Lac: Posting.
J. Freedom du Lac: Thanks for stopping by, folks. And for reading the piece. Now go buy yourselves some 9:30 cupcakes.
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