City Paper is not for tourists
It’s Friday night, May 14. Teenagers are milling outside the Electric Maid on Carroll Street NW. They’re hanging out on the sidewalk, in the parking lot, and in an adjacent dark alley. Sometimes they spill into the street. Occasionally, too, they go inside, where there’s a loud punky clamor going on.
Tonight, this intimate (capacity: 49) Takoma, D.C., venue will host a total of seven Maryland-based rock bands. But don’t call it a nightclub. No, the Maid is more of “a community living room,” says organizer Carol Robinson. “A neighborhood art space.”
But Metropolitan Police Officer Kenneth Cummins, speaking with Robinson outside, isn’t buying it: “There’s a fine line between being an art space and a club, huh?”
At 10:47 p.m., three patrol cars and an ambulance are on the scene outside the club…er, art space.
Paramedics are tending to one teenage Maid-goer, who identifies himself only as Josh. He’s being treated for an apparent ankle injury, resulting from a fall. “I landed on it sideways,” he says. Just minutes ago, Josh was speaking with some of the Maid’s voluntary chaperones about how much he’d been drinking. “Twelve ounces,” according to his account. “Liquor.”
Josh’s underage consumption isn’t the only issue, however. He also charges that someone has just assaulted his girlfriend in the parking lot. “This guy walked up, and he punched her in the face,” he says. “Fucking skinhead!”
Moments earlier, the chaperones were responding to reports of young patrons’ pissing in the alley and smoking pot out back.
Supporters of the Maid had hoped for less trouble this year. The venue’s all-voluntary staff has dealt with issues of drug use and intoxicated attendees at events before. “We’re trying to run it as a substance-free community space,” says volunteer Clay Harris, “so we crack down on things like alcohol and cigarettes.”
“Of course,” adds Harris, “we can’t police the kids, you know, in the two or three blocks outside the space.”
And therein lies the problem.
Neighbors have long complained that the Maid’s patrons spill out onto adjacent properties and stir up trouble. “They take over our parking lot,” says Armando Amora, manager of the 7-Eleven across the street. “They drink out there. You can see their empty bottles.” Last year, Amora’s store started restricting entry to teenage customers—limiting entrance to two at a time—on afternoons and weekends. “Otherwise, they come in five to 10 at a time, and we cannot control them,” Amora says. “Shoplifting is very common.”
The Maid just reopened in March after a yearlong hiatus, during which time supporters got the building up to code and secured a permit to run the place. A certificate of occupancy is now posted by the front door. There’s no age requirement and no cover charge to get in. There is a “suggested donation” of $7. Bottled water from the cooler costs $1. Earplugs are 50 cents. “Rock music,” Robinson explains, “is a lot louder than it used to be.”
But the venue isn’t just for rock shows, she says. The space is also available for violin lessons, jazz brunches, and potluck dinners. Members of Maryland’s Green Party meet there regularly. Pointing to a sunflower painting hanging on the wall, Robinson notes, “You can see the beginnings of our art collection.”
“You just happen to be here for punk night,” she adds.
Prior to the punks’ arrival, the Maid faced only minor incidents since reopening, organizers say. “When the kids congregate out there, either one or more neighbors will simply call it in,” says Harris, “and then you’ll see the police cruisers driving by.”
“Shows were tame, clean, alcohol-free,” suggests fellow Maid worker Eric Lofberg, 16. “We even built a reputation that the Maid was one of the safest places to hang out on the weekends.”
Now, it seems, things are getting back to normal.
“My mom wasn’t too pleased,” says 16-year-old Michelle Walters, of Damascus, Md., “having to come pick me up with cops all around.”
Lately, D.C. bands Canyon and Dead Meadow have been making a name for themselves. So much so, in fact, that promoters are now dropping those names while marketing other rock groups.
Recent promotional materials for British band Oceansize’s new CD, for instance, boast that it’s “spearheading the so-called new-prog rock revolution alongside Canyon and Dead Meadow.”
And so, our local prog-rock revolutionaries…wait, Canyon? Dead Meadow? Prog? Talk about false advertising.
“It’s just completely unlike anything we do, or ever tried to do,” says Joe Winkle, guitarist for Canyon, a band more accustomed to challenging its “alt-country” label.
“Yeah, I don’t know if we’re spearheading anything,” agrees Steve Kille, bass player for Dead Meadow, usually typecast as “stoner rock.”
Traditionally, the term “prog” (short for progressive rock) was used to describe the complicated compositions of such geeky ’70s groups as Yes and Jethro Tull—often derided by critics as pretentious, showy musicianship. “[Prog is] about the chops,” says Winkle, “the virtuoso playing, the trickiness to the whole thing….As a band, the last thing we’re about is chops.”
“It’s a weird genre to play around with,” says Kille, “because there are a lot of people who take prog extremely seriously. I think if you’re really, really into prog, and you put on one of our records, I’d bet you’d probably be a little bit let down. You’d be like, ‘Where’s the operatic singing and 13-bar chord change?’”
So what’s up with the mislabeling? Last summer, infamous British rock mag NME published an article crowning Canyon and Dead Meadow as prog’s new King Crimsons. “The highlight,” says Winkle, “was a big picture of us with our faces inside [Pink Floyd’s] Dark Side of the Moon triangle.”
“It was totally fucking weird,” he adds, “to go from alt-country to, you know, being mentioned alongside Emerson, Lake, and Palmer.”
At first, the D.C. rockers found it amusing. But now, it seems, the mislabeling has sort of stuck. Too bad for Winkle: “I’m not a fan of progressive rock really at all,” he says.
ROCK IN AN ART PLACE
Jimmy Buffett is all well and good, but Aaron Carter, it seems, is going too far: After last year’s listless lineup of only 19 concerts, including one by the Backstreet bro, Merriweather Post Pavilion owner Rouse Co. decided to put its foot down. So it dropped the Columbia, Md., venue’s then-manager, Clear Channel Entertainment Inc.—which also runs Bristow, Va.’s, rival Nissan Pavilion—and hired an enthusiastic new boss, Bethesda-based I.M.P. Productions Inc.
I.M.P. has promised major improvements at the beleagured amphitheater: Twenty-five shows, so far, have been slated for this year’s concert season, including appearances by such ballyhooed acts as Kenny Chesney, Norah Jones, and Dave Matthews. I.M.P. is also upgrading the venue’s acoustics, and it canned corporate food-service provider Aramark and signed up the homier Charm City Catering of Baltimore.
Heck, it’s even installing a sculpture garden.
“Fuck yeah, we’re doing a sculpture garden!” says I.M.P. “Director of Ambiance and Atmosphere” Chad Houseknecht, who explains that about 20 pieces of art will surround the performance area when it opens for the Capital Jazz Fest on June 5. Eleven works are already on-site.
“We’ve got this one 17-foot, 2,800-fucking-pound dinosaur called Caterpillarsaurus,” says Houseknecht. “It’s built out of John Deere and Caterpillar tractor parts.” The work of Baltimore artist Derrick Arnold, the sculpture is, according to Houseknecht, “really, really, really fucking cool.”
D.C. artist Robert T. Cole has already contributed three pieces to the project, including his 16-foot-tall, stainless-steel Mother of Peace—No Weapons and Potention—The Legacy, and is busy finishing up a fourth. He also hopes to cash in on his other Merriweather sculpture, The Guitar Player, which he plans to parlay into a line of T-shirts to be sold at the venue.
“Who knows?” the artist says. “They may buy [the image] as a logo. It could become one with Merriweather. ”—Chris Shott
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