On a recent Friday night the go-go was at the Washington Coliseum in Northeast, and thousands of teen-agers jammed the huge auditorium to suffer an onslaught of funk. The bass and the drums became one giant pulse, and if you stood near the gargantuan speakers you heard almost nothing but instead felt the beat thudding against your chest.
A couple of Wednesdays ago the place to go-go was the Maverick Room at Fourth Street and Rhode Island Avenue NE, where a mirrored ball threw little darts of light onto worn red carpet and folding chairs. The boys were clustered in the center of the room, bobbing and weaving to the beat, while the girls stood in groups on the sidelines, showing new steps to each other.
"You ain't got to dance with anybody," said Elroy Chambers, a lanky 19-year-old from Seat Pleasant, one of about 900 teen-agers crammed into the Maverick Room. He adjusted his straw hat and smiled: "Everybody's here just grooving."
The "go-go" -- a new term to many of its habitues -- is where many of the Washington area's teen-agers have spent their summer nights, rocking to the beat of the cream of D.C.'s musical crop.
Keeping up with the go-go schedule is demanding. On Wednesdays, it's Trouble Funk at the Paragon Too on Wisconsin Avenue NW and Rare Essence at The Maverick Room. There's usually a band playing in the park at River Terrace on Thursdays; something going on at the Howard Theater near Sixth and T streets NW on Fridays; and then there's E.U. at the Paragon Too on Sunday nights.
The Coliseum, at Third and M streets NE, was swollen to capacity at a recent go-go -- 6,000 to 8,000 young people, ranging in age from 9 to about 25, drawn by an all-star lineup: the popular Rare Essence (which had its start in the Barry Farms housing project in southeast), Soul Sonic Force, the ubiquitous Experience Unlimited ("E.U." to those in the know), Redds and the Boys, and the Peacemakers.
"I like Rare Essence the best, 'cause they go-go the most," shouted 16-year-old Dorinda Kenner, who came with a group of buddies who call themselves the "Riggs Park Crew." The trip to the concert was part of her weekend-long birthday celebration, she said.
For an entrance fee of $6 (though some eased in through a back door), the summertime throng had come to see and be seen. The girls were dressed to impress in varieties of shorts and mini-skirts, and the boys just came to be cool, in jogging suits and wide-brimmed hats pulled over one eye.
These massive parties do, however, have their problems. Fights are a regular occurrence at many of the go-gos, and police say drugs usually are plentiful. According to police, the biggest troubles occur outside of these places where crowds of teen-agers and young adults mill around, perhaps not wanting to go in, but not wanting to miss any action either.
Earlier this year, police officials here and in other major cities were concerned that a shortage of jobs and other economic frustrations would create potentially explosive conditions among these teen-agers. Nothing of the sort has happened -- in fact, police officers in the 5th District, whose jurisdiction includes the Maverick Room and the Coliseum, say the number of fights and street crime around the auditoriums actually has declined this year.
"The kids here are too sophisticated" to turn their frustrations into large-scale violence, said Capt. Nelson Grillo of the police youth division. "Most of the kids are there [at the dances] to have a good time. Only a few come looking for trouble."
The concerts at the Coliseum, the Maverick Room and the old Howard Theater are heavily patrolled by both D.C. police and armed guards from the Metropolitan Detective Bureau. The guards frisk concert-goers at the entrance, looking for guns, knives and drugs.
"People have gotten stabbed here [at the Coliseum]," said Lt. Vernon Cooper of the private security agency. Fights at these big gatherings are a regular occurence, he said, but he added that since the word has gotten out about the frisking, fewer weapons are showing up at the door.
Cooper stood in the lobby of the auditorium holding a two-way radio to his ear and directing his 25 security guards. Big crowds like this one are particularly worrisome, Cooper said.
The frequent fights at the Coliseum that night, all of them essentially minor, were a spectator sport, often drawing as much attention as the bands that had to stop playing until order was restored.
12:10 a.m.: A fight breaks out somewhere in the auditorium and there is sudden bedlam. Half the crowd runs to see what's happening, while the rest scamper in the opposite direction. The music stops, the lights come on and the guards break up the fight.
12:15 a.m.: In a dark rear corner of the room, a photographer -- a must at these teen gatherings -- has been snapping $5 photos of kids who want to preserve the night. Someone in the crowd lunges for one of the cameras on a tripod. The photographer's assistant tries to grab him, and a shoving match begins. Spectators gather around the "picture man," who begins arguing with a youth in a blue shirt. The youth, for some reason, is demanding a refund.
The argument gets lost in the din. Suddenly, the exasperated photographer throws up his hands -- and a fistful of dollar bills -- in disgust. There is a mad scramble for the money as the photographer tries to collect his equipment and retreat. Moments later, two of the riot-helmeted security guards dive into the crowd. The teen-agers retreat and the picture man is escorted to safety.
1:00 a.m.: Another scuffle breaks out near the stage; the screaming crowd scatters in every direction. "Go home and put on your Sanyo," shouts a weary M.C.
Charles Johnson, an 18-year-old from the Barry Farms project in southeast Washington, came to have fun and he said he was annoyed by all the fighting. "It makes me want to fight," he said, shaking his head.
Johnson tried to explain the flaring tempers: "If somebody steps on somebody's feet, they get mad. If some boy dances with their girl, they get mad . . . they're on that Loveboat."
"Loveboat," or "Lovely," is a popular drug among D.C. teens. Police say it is usually marijuana or parsley that has been treated with powerful PCP or enbalming fluid, and is smoked by the youths. "When they get that stuff in their veins, they feel no pain," said Rodney Knight, a security guard working at the Maverick Room a few nights ago..
Knight also said that ego and neighborhood prestige are behind many of the scuffles that break out at the go-go. "The bigger young people think they can't be whomped . . . they show off for the young girls and their 'walk-boys' buddies ," Knight said.
Fights have not been much of a problem at the Paragon Too in upper Georgetown, where hefty bouncers are stationed at the door. Unlike at the other go-gos, alcohol is served at the Paragon. However, explained patron Nathaniel Norwood, 19, "You can barely afford the entrance $5 and $6 , that's why not very many people buy drinks."
"When I took over the place, I started out with popular black funk groups," said Leon Peterson, who manages the Paragon, which has attracted to Georgetown teen-agers from the other side of city who will go just about anywhere to hear their favorite bands.
Allison Brown, 17, from Takoma Park, said she has been going to the Paragon since she was a high-school freshman, and like her friend, Charles Deans, is happy to find a place that caters to teen-ager. "That's something people can relate to," Deans said.