If you go to Sunday’s d.c. space reunion at the 9:30 Club, you won’t have to walk through a bar filled with scowling bike messengers and jazzbos. Plaster will not fall on your head when people walk around upstairs, and—this is significant—there will be air conditioning.
Other than that, the organizers of the show have conjured the spirit of the former club at 7th and E Streets NW, which closed in 1991, just as the indie-rock touring circuit on which it was an obligatory stop exploded into the mainstream and downtown became a reasonable spot to consider opening a Hooters. Cynthia Connolly, who booked d.c. space from 1986 until it closed, remembers parking her Ford Falcon on 7th Street when she was packing up her office and hearing Nirvana blasting from a Jeep. She says she “realized the whole music world was changing” just at “the moment when all the bands who played there were going to get huge.”
The Starbucks that now occupies the club is a pretty fair analogy to how both revolutions turned out. “For all the nasty things for it to become…” marvels Lisa White, the 9:30’s longtime booking manager who helped organize the reunion show along with Connolly, former d.c. space night manager Jean Homza, Birchmere promoter Michael Jaworek, and Bill Warrell, who co-founded d.c. space in 1977 with the intention of bringing jazz artists like Don Cherry and Hamiet Bluiett to D.C.
Warrell did that, but as the area’s hardcore and indie-rock scenes developed, the appeal of a club with a small capacity (99 as far as the fire marshal was concerned) smack in the middle of downtown was irresistible to bands—well, bands that couldn’t get shows at 9:30 (then located a few blocks away on F Street NW), anyway. “There were no guarantees at d.c. space. You had to work!” says Connolly. As in, you had to do the door yourself. Pay for the sound guy yourself. And pay d.c. space a $30 room fee. Still, for artists with serious underground draw, such as Big Black, such economics were attractive. And the club’s commitment to jazz, dance, and film never wavered. “D.c. space was such an inclusive place,” says White. “Anyone could get a chance there.”
Accordingly, while stalwarts like the re-formed 9353 will play on the 9:30’s mainstage on Sunday, the I Am I film collective will show short films elsewhere in the club, while Warrell, Connolly, and various scene veterans MC. In all, more than 45 folks will present some sort of art at the show, whose proceeds will benefit Tom Terrell, a former WPFW and WHFS DJ who is fighting cancer. “It just seemed like such a natural,” says Warrell of making the 30th-anniversary show a benefit for his friend. “It wasn’t utopia, but it was a really cool place just to do nothing,” says Terrell of his old hangout. “You could always get hippie food, the drinks were cheap, the bartenders were funny.”
One thing that won’t be the same: d.c. space’s iconic T-shirts—featuring the front of the old club, sans Starbucks sign and showing various Warrell heroes (Laurie Anderson, Joseph Beuys, John Cale) walking around the neighborhood or peeking through windows. The silkscreens for printing them disappeared when the their manufacturer went out of business. “It’s one of my old T-shirts scanned,” Connolly says of the new design. “Looks pretty good, though.”
The performances begin at 4 p.m. Sunday, July 29, at the 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW. $20. Call (202) 265-0930 for more information; see 930.com for a complete schedule.