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Before there was the 9:30 Club and the Black Cat, there was the Bayou. The artists who graced its stage were an impressive lot: Mick Jagger, the Ramones, Kiss—to name just a few. But the 400-person-capacity club’s spot on an underdeveloped strip of land in Georgetown was simply too valuable for a rock ’n’ roll dive. In 1999, the Bayou was demolished to make way for what is now a loading dock for a movie theater.
But six years is an eternity in transient D.C., and these days, it seems that the K Street NW venue has been all but forgotten. Local filmmakers Dave Lilling, 48, and Bill Scanlan, 49, want to revive Washington’s memory with a self-funded documentary tentatively titled The Bayou. “People are bemoaning the loss of CBGB’s in New York, [but] certainly the Bayou had a rich music tradition, as well,” says Lilling, who lives in Dupont Circle and, along with Scanlan, has been involved in the project for seven years. Despite being turned down twice for a grant by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, the two hope to showcase the film on a local public-television station such as WETA-TV.
The Bayou will follow the various incarnations of the establishment: its evolution from Dixieland-jazz club and mobster hangout when it opened, in 1954, to gritty rock establishment. “It kind of morphed through various changes in the music and times,” says Lilling.
“One of the things that appealed to us was its longevity as a club,” adds Scanlan, who lives in Olney, Md., and works as a producer and announcer for C-SPAN.
Other highlights in the venue’s history include performances on Billy Joel’s 1981 live album, Songs in the Attic—though the club is incorrectly credited as “the Bijou” in the record’s liner notes. And the night after comedian Sam Kinison was famously censored on Saturday Night Live during a war-on-drugs monologue, he played the Bayou and gave his side of the story.
All of the footage for the doc has been gathered; it comprises, Scanlan estimates, up to 120 hours of interviews with fans and musicians—including Meatloaf, Joe Perry, and the Pretenders—as well as audio, video, and photographic archives. Ahead of the filmmakers lie hours of editing at Silver Spring’s Metro Teleproductions, Lilling’s film-production firm.
Sifting through countless anecdotes—and charting a course for the film—won’t be an easy task. “What’s the real story here?” asks Scanlan. He says it could be that the Bayou was instrumental in the development of artists—among them Hootie & the Blowfish and the Dave Matthews Band—that had yet to assault the mainstream. Or it could be the Bayou’s transition from jazz club to rock venue. Or it could be “about the memories and emotional meaning that people attach to a place,” says Scanlan.
“I don’t know exactly what the story is,” he admits. “There’s a lot there to work with—that’s our struggle.”
Whatever happens, Scanlan promises, The Bayou won’t be a mindless homage. “We don’t want to candy-coat it and say there weren’t encounters with bouncers or with fans or with managers that weren’t the rosiest of scenes,” he says. One particular sore point was the anticlimactic final show, on New Year’s Eve 1998. The headliner was Everything, a one-hit-wonder known for mainly for the song “Hooch” on the Waterboy soundtrack.
Says Lilling, “It was kind of disappointing.” —