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Local rock scenesters and followers of indie-pop-obsessed DJ Will Eastman were probably pretty surprised to read the Washington Post’s report about the recent sale of D.C.’s Black Cat.
But probably not as surprised as the club’s owner. “It was awfully weird,” says punky proprietor Dante Ferrando, whose corporate entity, Circle I Productions Inc., opened the venerable 14th Street NW venue in 1993. “And it sucks,” Ferrando says, “because now there’s definitely a rumor that we are sold.”
Just a rumor? Not according to the Post, which cited official city documentation as its source of the juicy music-scene gossip.
More of a typo, actually. According to Ferrando, the documented sale never took place.
In a story about the recent rent-hike-related shuttering of Farid Ali’s Dupont Circle dance den Red, Weekend-section nightlife scribe Fritz Hahn took the opportunity to report on the housing situations of other area pubs and clubs, including Ferrando’s. Writing in the Oct. 21 issue, Hahn noted: “The Black Cat’s Dante Ferrando didn’t want to comment on the Black Cat’s status—‘I like to leave that behind-the-scenes business stuff quiet,’ he says—but real estate records show the bar was sold for an undisclosed amount in May.”
A stunning revelation, albeit one the Post chose to bury way down in the article’s 25th paragraph.
Forget about the more exclusive but lesser known Red. This was far bigger news. A monument to the city’s underground music scene, founded by former Gray Matter and Ignition drummer Ferrando and other rocker investors—most notably, Alexandria native and Nirvana member–turned–Foo Fighters–frontman Dave Grohl—the Black Cat has long challenged the formidable 9:30 Club for the title of D.C.’s top rock venue. Its Web site–stated motto: “[B]ringing you the best in local, national, and international independent and alternative music.”
In keeping with the indie ethos, Ferrando & Co. have been masters of their own domain since 2001, when the group put up more than $1.8 million, according to city records, to purchase its present 15,360-square-foot building from longtime D.C. club mogul Nasser Zolfaghari. (The Cat originally opened in a smaller space, just a few doors down the street.)
If someone else has acquired the lot, as the Post reported, what will become of the Cat’s “established identity as an alternative/independent music venue”? Will the club be converted into condos?
The news of the Black Cat’s purported buyout comes at a time of many changes for the 12-year-old D.C. institution. “We’re doing a bunch of new stuff,” says Ferrando. The club is investing about $50,000 to upgrade its main-stage and Backstage sound systems, he says. And managers are racking their oft-banging heads to come up with a way for the venue to earn an exemption from looming smoking-ban legislation.
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Ferrando says those efforts are indicative of a managerial strategy bent on better adapting for the future—not on boosting the club’s sale price. “I wouldn’t be putting this kind of money into the sound system if I was trying to get rid of it,” he says. “And I wouldn’t be so freaked out about the smoking ban.”
Yet the Post’s reporting was correct. Just log on to the District’s searchable property-sales Web site. Enter the Black Cat’s address, 1811 14th St. NW. Sure enough, the computer shows that the spot, now valued at nearly $3 million, was sold off back on May 18.
Also legit was Ferrando’s cloak-and-dagger quote about not going public on the “behind-the-scenes business.” In hindsight, the club owner says, that statement “must have sounded cryptic” to the Post.
If Ferrando is indeed out as owner, then who’s the club’s newest top rocker? The city’s electronic database doesn’t say.
For that, S&T checked with the District’s Recorder of Deeds. On the basis of the club’s assigned square number (0238) and lot (0821), the lucky indie-crowd impresarios appear to be a couple of local entertainment-industry no-names, Laverne Canady and David Canady. (Attempts to contact the Pasadena, Calif.–based couple for comment were unsuccessful.)
In addition to identifying the new owners, city records also reveal an even more stunning development in the Black Cat’s proprietary mystery: a new location. According to the Canadys’ deed to the property, the rock club has moved far away from its origins just below the bustling U Street NW party corridor to a rather quiet residential area along 31st Street NW called “Clouin Course” in the District’s Hawthorne neighborhood.
To Ferrando, who also tracked down the deed, something was obviously amiss with the city’s record-keeping system. “I flipped out on the D.C. government,” he says. “I was like, ‘Get this person’s name off of here.’”
But don’t blame the system, employees at the city’s deeds depository told S&T last week. Blame the title company.
Investigating the source of the error last week, an agent with downtown real-estate firm District Title, which submitted the Canadys’ paperwork, discovered a heinous omission—specifically, the numeral 4, mistakenly dropped from the end of the couple’s actual square number. Hence, Square No. 2384 erroneously registered in the city’s computers as No. 0238, the site of the Cat.
Alerted to the clerical-cum-reportorial snafu last week, the Post’s Hahn capped his Nov. 4 club coverage with a brief clarification of the Black Cat’s status. “This time, [Ferrando] was willing to go on the record and say that it hadn’t been sold,” notes Hahn.
Ferrando is similarly pressing the city’s deed keepers to set the official record straight, too. “We’re very happy to own the building,” he says. “We’re not planning to go anywhere.”
MINOR THREAT LEVEL: SEEING RED
What a year for Minor Threat. For a band that broke up more than two decades ago, it has been an awfully long half-life, thanks to a couple of multinational corporations.
This past summer, global sneaker-making giant Nike printed up posters that blatantly imitated the artwork on the D.C. quartet’s self-titled 1981 EP in an effort to promote the company’s line of skateboarding apparel—infuriating hardcore die-hards across the District and beyond (Show & Tell, 7/1).
More recently, media baron Rupert Murdoch’s Fox network aired several seconds of the group’s posthumously released “Salad Days” during its Oct. 30 broadcast of a National Football League game between the Denver Broncos and Philadelphia Eagles.
An obligatory pick for local rock aficionados, the song is a rather unusual musical selection for Fox, which otherwise seems to be doing very little to elevate pro-pigskin coverage beyond the sport’s longtime redneck-baiting association with the ever-rowdy Hank Williams Jr. With two minutes remaining in the Nov. 6 contest between the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers, for instance, the network ran a series of video clips from the game, featuring several vicious hits on oft-battered ’Frisco quarterback Cody Pickett, as well as a lecherously lingering close-up of a 49ers cheerleader, to the accompaniment of country icon Garth Brooks’ 1991 hit “Rodeo.”
According to Fox, the clipped Minor Threat song provided the soundtrack for a similar montage of gridiron highlights—or “bumper,” in industry speak—that kicked off the Broncos vs. Eagles game’s second quarter.
Contributors to an Internet message board run by Chicago recording engineer Steve Albini seemed perplexed by the network’s plucking from the anti-status-quo, “Don’t drink/Don’t fuck” act’s catalog and combining it with a game dominated by beer ads and pounding bodies. “[C]ould Minor Threat have authorized this?” pondered one poster. “Are they hard up for cash?” “That’s just wrong,” added another.
Per custom, whenever the legendary band’s image or music gets co-opted in a way that seemingly contradicts its straight-edge ethics, you can bet that the group’s label, D.C.-based Dischord Records, will hear about it. A lot. Sure enough, says Dischord spokesperson Alec Bourgeois, “we got a bunch of e-mails.”
Unlike the prior Nike brouhaha, however, this imbroglio has yet to produce an angry letter from Dischord. At press time, former Minor Threat frontman and label co-founder Ian MacKaye was touring Europe with his current group, the Evens. But Bourgeois says his boss will get on it as soon as he gets back. “Apparently it’s pretty common for some production companies to either ‘forget’ to get permission from smaller labels/bands or figure they are small enough that no one is going to notice,” e-mails Bourgeois. “Apparently we are too ‘difficult’ to track down. (i.e. we’re not on their speed-dial).”
According to Fox, however, network execs didn’t exactly forget. They simply didn’t need the approval of some small-time indie label. “It’s not a copyright violation for one-time use in a live event,” says Fox Sports spokesperson Lou D’Ermilio. “We have the rights under ‘ephemeral use,’ which was codified in the 1972 Copyright Act.”
He’s right. According to federal law, “a broadcasting organization may make ephemeral recordings of works which the organization has the right to use in broadcasting, if the broadcasting organization makes such recordings on its own account for its own use.”
Of course, the act also states that a broadcaster “shall have the obligation to destroy such recordings within six months after their preparation, if there has not been an agreement with the author regarding a longer storage time.” So if Minor Threat fans were upset by the ditty’s initial spin, at least they shouldn’t have to worry about “Salad Days” becoming Fox Sports’ new theme song.
“It was on for five seconds,” says D’Ermilio. “At most.”—Chris Shott
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Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Illustration by Emily Flake.