ON BEHALF OF the faculty and staff here at Weekend University, a fully accredited higher-education fabrication, I'd like to welcome you to our annual end-of-summer, back-to-school seminar: "Music and Nightlife in D.C. -- What Is It, How Did It Get Here, Where Do I Park?"
I'll be leading this year's session, which focuses primarily on original live-music clubs, concert venues and the local music scene. My experience spans years of first-hand study of the club and music scene around Washington, most of it on foot. I cannot yet say I've been in every club and seen every act in town, but still -- I have not been home for six months. I am largely deaf in one ear. I have one of the world's largest collections of hardcore rockabilly folk-new wave go-go r&b-bluegrass zydeco funk records. After class, I will be accepting organ donations. I am tired.
But, well, anything for the art -- for music, love, future generations of the after-dark adventure-prone. And for the industry.
What "industry?" you may ask, skeptically. Well, there is a clubs-and-concerts-and-music industry in Washington -- not a particularly unified, solvent, world-renowned or even consistently cheerful industry, mind you. Sort of a cottage industry -- with about 18 different cottages, none of which is within walking distance of any other.
The local music scene is fragmented, but worth pursuing. And the club and concert circuit is fitfully, but genuinely, formidable.
As always with these nightlife seminars, there will be some homework -- or, rather, some away-from-home work. If your thirst for knowledge has already taken you, say, to see REM or Squeeze at Constitution Hall this week -- or Manhattan Transfer at Wolf Trap or Tony Rice at the Birchmere last week, or even Barry Manilow at Merriweather Post -- you have a head start on the assignment.
The rest of you might want to check out local guitar legend Danny Gatton at the Gentry this Friday, say. Or if rock and blues isn't your thing, acceptable substitutes include seeing Sonny Okosun at Kilimanjaro this Sunday, Luther Vandross at Capital Centre Saturday or organist Jimmy Smith at Blues Alley this weekend. Furthermore, those of you who missed Charles Fleischer at the Comedy Cafe last month are also in luck: there is a make-up date -- Rich Hall, at Garvin's Laugh- Inn -- in December.
You get the idea. After the evening rush, we here in the nation's capital can be pretty dang hip -- both as fans of worthwhile out-of-towners, and as a community of performers. Let me illustrate further with two significant dates: one is August 5, just past; the other is September 29, coming up. AUGUST 5: SPRINGSTEEN IN SUMMER
Some people will tell you that everybody leaves Washington in August, and every club owner will tell you that the four or five people who do stick around don't leave their homes except to take out the garbage.
August 5, however -- a Monday night, and garbage night in my neighborhood -- was the night that 52,886 stay-at-homes snuck out to see Bruce Springsteen at RFK Stadium. It was the same night that 15,226 people showed up at the Capital Centre to see Tina Turner and Glenn Frey, and another 10,000 saw Crosby, Stills & Nash and The Band at Merriweather Post, and another 1,400 saw Nina Hagen and Trouble Funk at the Warner Theater, and another 500 apiece saw Jonathan Richman at the Saba Club and Simon Townshend at the Bayou.
That's about 80,000 people who not only were not absent in August, but who also didn't take out the garbage until very late.
I don't know what this means to you, but it was a nice change of pace for someone like me, who always seems to be listening to those in the aforementioned industry -- musicians, managers, club owners, booking agents, cab drivers -- complain that people aren't as interested in venturing out for live music in this town as they used to be. All in all, August 5 did some good for our collective reputation as fans. SEPTEMBER 29: WAMA JAM
If nothing else, this date should do some good for the collective reputation of the local music industry. It is the night of the Wammies. This does sound a little like the title of a bad sci-fi flick -- and there are those who think the first-ever Washington Area Music Awards could come dangerously close to "Day of the Triffids" in terms of lasting impressions -- but nobody ever said it was going to be easy to turn a good idea into a good show, or into a living, working organization.
It is a good idea. And it should be a heckuva show. And it will cost you $17.50 to see it, at Lisner Auditorium.
The proceeds go toward the permanent operation of the Washington Area Music Association -- currently a loose-knit, uncharacteristically cooperative band of local booking agents, managers, entertainment lawyers and others. The creditable aim here -- aside from maybe getting a group health insurance gig for area artists and possibly a scholarship program -- is to make the fractured, uneven music scene a little less so.
If you doubt this fractured, uneven aspect, check out the Wammies ballot being distributed to the public for mail-in voting. It attempts, as the awards themselves will, to straddle all of Washington's various, and often mutually exclusive, music "scenes": acoustic-bluegrass-folk, rock, pop, rockabilly and blues, go-go, country, funk, hardcore, mainstream jazz, avante garde jazz, noise.
If any one person in town has heard -- or even heard of -- more than half the acts and performers and recordings on the ballot, he or she should contact me immediately about some consulting work.
Furthermore, the ballot has a write-in space for each category, to compensate for the significant pool of local talent that didn't, for one reason or another, get nominated. It's crazy.
I'm going to Lisner September 29 to see what it sounds like.
To give you an idea of the disparate mix, here's a partial tentative schedule of what we're in for that night:
*Emmy Lou Harris, who nowadays needs no introduction but got hers, originally, in Washington. Harris might only appear as an awards presenter, but she might also perform, possibly with:
*The Seldom Scene, one of the most well-known and accomplished bluegrass bands in the Free World, who also happen to be hometown guys who play to packed houses every Thursday at the Birchmere in Alexandria. Sometimes with:
*Jonathan Edwards, he of commanding stage presence and "Sunshine (Go Away Today)" fame, currently shuttling between his Fairfax County home, occasional dates at the Birchmere and songwriting trips to Nashville.
*Singer-songwriter Gil Scott-Heron, D.C.'s politically pointed, jazz-nother formidable stage presence, who paved the way for the rise of socially redeeming rap music.
*The Slickee Boys, Washington's veteran, venerable good- time (and good-natured) psychedelic-punk rock'n'rollers, whose original songs and stage persona lend themselves more to hip- wrenching than hyphenation. In other words, you should be there.
*Tommy Keene, the Washington power-pop songster who made good with a Geffen recording contract a few months back and hasn't been heard from since (mostly because one of the chief requirements of a recording contract is that you record).
*Celtic Thunder, Takoma Park-based purveyors of Irish jigs, reels and all-around resonant, foot-tapping traditional music.
*Redds & the Boys, one of the top go-go bands (along with Chuck Brown, who won't be performing this night but is a Wammy nominee in several categories) here in the city where the go-go scene got its start.
*Flora Molton, a familiar, gritty-voiced street singer -- blues, gospel and bottleneck-slide guitar -- in downtown Washington for more than 45 years.
*The Nighthawks, Washington's longtime-favorite rock- and-blues band, still straight-ahead and together after all those guitar strings.
There will be others -- gospel/pop singer Wintley Phipps, 9353, Catfish Hodge and Paul Barrere, the Junkyard Band, Steppin' Out, one-man-band Bob Devlin on the sidewalk outside, and such awards presenters inside as radio jazz professor Felix Grant and rock's regional gross-out king, Root Boy Slim.
Country's Roy Clark, who is from Washington, and multiple Wammy nominee Nils Lofgren, who lives in Potomac when he isn't touring with Springsteen, could not make it this year.
Fine. Maybe next year. This one's enough of a mix already to give me a headache. NO TIME LIKE THE PRESENT
August has been, by several accounts, an unusually strong month -- mostly for clubs and concert halls bringing in regionally or nationally known rock, pop, go-go, jazz, reggae and acoustic acts.
But September, and on towardsChristmas, should prove even better -- thanks in part to the usual autumnal return of assorted students, beach bums, legislators (including Sen. Bill Bradley, Mr. Springsteen Fan) and other humidity-avoidance types. But also thanks to the Wammies, and the regional booking rush brought about by the annual New Music Seminar in New York and the end-of-the-season crush by those left out of the summer schedules at Merriweather Post and Wolf Trap. And thanks to a fortuitous, local-music wealth of outdoor events and concerts these next two weeks (see the story on page 7).
In other words, the lecture portion of this seminar is over. Rip out the list on the next page, take it home, change your clothes, pick up a Wammies ballot, a fistful of tickets, maybe a date, and study up.
There may be a quiz on this later.