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Let me just state the obvious: There’s no shortage of nostalgia these days for the D.C. music scene’s days of yore. Between the DCPL’s Punk Archive, George Washington University’s D.C. Music Archive, and approximately 1,000 music documentaries featuring Ian MacKaye waxing poetic about the golden years, the District’s storied music scene is perhaps more well documented than the 1969 moon landing. And yet, the 9:30 Club’s World’s Fair—a five-day celebration of the iconic club’s 35th birthday—is nonetheless a staggeringly impressive trip down memory lane, even if it is nothing new.
The only thing that would’ve topped the 9:30 Club’s star-studded 30th anniversary celebration in 2011—wherein a reunited Slickee Boys performed along with Dave Grohl and Scream, Ted Leo, The Fleshtones, The Pietasters, The Evens, Henry Rollins, and more—would’ve been a Fugazi reunion and, well, that’s never going to happen. So instead, Seth Hurwitz and the 9:30 staff turned the club into a pop-up museum of sorts; one that documents the history of its digs at 815 V St. NW and, before that, its humble beginnings at 930 F St. NW. As such, it’s not just a museum of the legendary club, but of the D.C. music scene from 1980 onward.
Entering through the club’s basement Backbar, visitors are immediately bombarded with old concert posters and monthly calendars. There’s a couple TVs playing vintage concert footage from the old 9:30 Club and interviews with Hurwitz. The whole thing is set up like a rinky-dink carnival funhouse, with music memorabilia instead of cheaply made ghouls and goblins. There’s a ton of stuff salvaged from the F St. digs, but what’s most impressive is the overwhelming amount of old setlists, fliers, posters, etc. that chronicle the club’s three-and-a-half decades of operation. Whether it’s stadium-sized bands like The Foo Fighters and The Smashing Pumpkins, legends like Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, or Loretta Lynn, or new and old local favorites like The Dismemberment Plan, Ted Leo, and The Max Levine Ensemble, every artist, band, and musician printed on a flier or poster on display are connected.
Snaking along the balcony, down to the concert floor, where tattoo artists are on-hand to give free 9:30 Club tattoos for anyone brave enough to have that logo inked on their body forever, the exhibition also gives visitors a rare glimpse of the club’s backstage area. On stage, you’ll find musical artifacts like Fugazi’s Brendan Canty‘s drumset and MacKaye’s Marshall half-stack, Trouble Funk‘s Big Tony‘s bass rig, and Thievery Corporation‘s keyboard situation. It is, in every sense, a museum, and an impressive one at that. It’s just too bad it can’t stick around permanently.
Check out photos from the gallery, via Erica Bruce, here.
Tickets to The World’s Fair are sold out, but additional free tickets are available at the 9:30 Club’s box office.