According to a recent Billboard magazine piece by Nelson George, go-go, Washington's distinctive home-grown funk, has gone-gone. That's a premature obituary, say Washington's go-go bands, five of which will perform in a "Tribute to Go-Go" Friday night at Capital Centre. It won't be the first time Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers, Rare Essence, Experience Unlimited, Little Benny and the Masters, and the Junkyard Band have played in Landover, but it will be the first time Capital Centre has hosted all-local groups without a national act headlining.
No one's denying that go-go has yet to infiltrate the mass pop consciousness, despite an international media blitz two years ago. Only Trouble Funk has signed to a national label (Island), and it seems to be putting as much distance between itself and the go-go community as possible. Island, which briefly looked to be doing for go-go what it did for reggae in the late '60s and early '70s, produced the bomb "Good to Go" film and lost interest. Meanwhile, go-go records continue coming out on small, local labels like TTED and Future, which do solid business within the city. And with the teen-age curfew question, perceived in some corners as an establishment effort to close down the late-starting go-gos, one could be excused for thinking these are hard times for the scene.
"That may be true for some groups," says producer Reo Edwards of Future (Chuck Brown, Hot and Cold Sweat). "Your music has to grow up -- you can't keep sounding like the Junkyard Band on the corner when you've been around for 10 or 15 years. A lot of the problems the bands are having are their own fault for not going in and learning how to produce and refine their music so they can sell it around the world."
Edwards notes that a number of rap artists ventured down to Washington to absorb some of the fundamental "chemistry, taking it back to New York, going into the studio with qualified musicians, refining it and reaping the benefit of hit records by rapping on the groove ... Go-go is just another art form, and there's a certain professionalism that goes along with that, no matter if you're in the studio, on stage or whatever."
As for the curfew, Edwards insists "it doesn't have anything to do with the music. It's parents trying to get the government to raise their kids. They've lost control and can't do anything with them so they are blaming the music and everything else for their failures. Rather than point the finger at themselves, they'd rather say the music is bad, there's too many drugs on the street or at the go-go." In fact, many go-go bands have been in the forefront of local antidrug campaigns as well as teen pregnancy and stay-in-school programs, which may be why Mayor Barry has declared Friday "A Tribute to Go-Go Day" in the nation's capital.
The Capital Centre concert, which also features Go-Go Lorenzo, Hot and Cold Sweat and DC Scorpio, will be filmed and recorded. "If they close all the go-go places down, they can't close the studios down," says Edwards. "I can still go in and create the same thing. So the music is not going nowhere. Anyone thinks they can stop the go-gos and stop the music, they're wasting their time."
Making d.c. space for Art d.c. space, the little downtown club that could, is spending October celebrating its 10th anniversary as "the place where bands trying to get started have a chance." That's Bill Warrell talking. Warrell, who heads up District Curators, was one of the founders of the restaurant-gallery-nightclub, though he's no longer involved in the booking end of things. "The place takes on the feeling of whoever's involved, and it's a whole new generation," he says.
For the last four years, Claudia DePaul has booked d.c. space, recently with the help of Cynthia Connolly. According to DePaul, the club "looks for the most unusual and interesting original music in town of any variety -- performance art, poetry, theater, as well as all kinds of music -- jazz, hard-core, mainstream. Everything, so long as it's original." In recent years the fare has expanded to include cabaret theater, and increasingly original cabaret from the likes of Roy Barber and the D.C. Cabaret Company, whose "A Dance Against Darkness: Living With AIDS" is performed Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. (with a special show this Sunday).
Highlights of the anniversary celebration include the avant poetry of Wayson Jones and Essex Hemphill on Saturday; a Gargoyle fiction reading next Tuesday; the reopening of the art loft next Wednesday with experimental stalwarts Bob Boilen, Jim Sivard and Rogelio Maxwell; artists-musicians Twisted Teenage Plot (Oct. 17); and two jazz concerts with Hamiett Bluiett and Don Pullen (Oct. 24) and Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell (Oct. 30). There will also be experimental films on Sundays and Mondays, Brenda Files' cabaret on Thursdays and an "alumni" art exhibit featuring, according to Warrell, "pieces that have ended up in the collection upstairs and pieces by people who have worked here over the years.