Rock Legend: Misfits, new wave icons and giant rats: A history of D.C.'s 9:30 club
On May 31, 1980, a Worcester, Mass., jazz-punk band known as the Lounge Lizards performed at 930 F St. NW, in decaying downtown Washington. The opening act was Tiny Desk Unit, a local new wave group. Don't worry if the names don't ring a bell. Just know that they made a little bit of history that night in the sweaty, peculiarly shaped, black-walled club on the ground floor of the century-old Atlantic Building: It was the very first concert at the 9:30 club, which would become one of the most famous, successful and celebrated live-music clubs in the United States.
The 9:30 club instantly became Washington's primary venue for alternative music, just as alternative was beginning to blossom. R.E.M., Simple Minds, Modern English, A Flock of Seagulls, the Go-Go's, Violent Femmes, Cyndi Lauper and 10,000 Maniacs played there, as did seminal bands from Washington's hard-core punk and go-go scenes. The funky club in a forgotten section of town became a station of the cross for ascending bands working outside of music's mainstream. Let the Bayou in Georgetown have the spawn of REO Speedwagon; the 9:30 club's bookings included the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Green Day and Nine Inch Nails, making for a pretty impressive alt-rock yearbook.
The 9:30 operated in the 1880s-vintage building at 930 F until it moved, at the beginning of 1996, to an exponentially larger space at 815 V St. NW. Since then, its following and reputation have continued to grow: The landmark venue has been named Nightclub of the Year four times by Pollstar, and it regularly tops that industry journal's annual list of the top ticket-selling U.S. clubs.
With the 9:30 turning 30 next month, here's the tale of the storied club's roots, told by some of the people who lived it.
Note: Please upgrade your Flash plug-in to view our enhanced content.