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There’s a small faction of grey hairs in my hometown of Wheaton, Md., who still swear up and down that Led Zeppelin played the Wheaton Youth Center in January 1969.
Evidence seems scant. In 2009, the Washington Post‘s David Montgomery spoke to filmmaker Jeff Krulik—-who helped make the cult documentary Heavy Metal Parking Lot—-about the local legend. Krulik had recently put out a call in search of people who say they saw a young Zeppelin play the rec center on the day of President Richard Nixon‘s inauguration. No photos or ticket stubs from the show have been recovered, and people involved with the youth center say they have no memory of it happening.
In 2009, Krulik hosted a reunion at the Georgia Avenue youth facility—-now the Wheaton Community Recreation Center—-for those who claim the concert really happened. Montgomery reported that of the 100-plus people who turned up to the reunion, about a half dozen reported seeing the band play that night. The legend still seems like a combination of wish and delusion, but Krulik isn’t one of the skeptics.
For four or five years, he’s been working on Led Zeppelin Played Here, his history of the local legend. On Sunday—-the day President Barack Obama officially begins his second term—-Krulik will host a preview screening of the still-in-progress film at the AFI Silver Theatre. He says he’s found some pretty convincing evidence that the show really took place. “I’ve done my best [and] I’m gonna put it all out there,” he says. But he acknowledges not everyone might buy into the local mythology. “There’s always skeptics. That’s just the world we live in now.”
Led Zeppelin Played Here isn’t done yet; Krulik is still editing it. The inauguration just gave him an apropos occasion to show what he’s nailed down so far. Originally, he wanted to host a preview screening at the 2011 Zep Fest at National Harbor, but as City Paper reported at the time, that festival imploded and Krulik’s plans were scuttled.
The film doesn’t just investigate whether the show really happened, though. It’s also the story of a local scene that speaks to one of Krulik’s favorite topics: the early days of a growing rock ‘n’ roll industry. At the time, says Krulik, “rock concerts were held anywhere,” he says, and “the Wheaton Youth Center could [have been] any center.”
Krulik says he’s approached it like he does his other films: from the perspective of an oral-history storyteller. He first wanted to do a film about the Laurel Pop Festival—-an event he calls “Maryland’s Woodstock,” though it took place a month before the landmark rock festival in 1969. But his research took him to the Wheaton Youth Center lore, and his initial idea “turned into something else.” He’s not even a Zeppelin fan. “I like ’em, don’t get me wrong—- I don’t dislike ’em,” he says. But he’s only ever owned one Led Zeppelin record: IV. (He says when he released Heavy Metal Parking Lot, folks assumed he was a metalhead, too. But he’s more of a roots-rock kind of guy.)
The filmmaker will eventually host a premiere for Led Zeppelin Played Here. In the meantime, he’s still looking around for more evidence that Zeppelin played that fabled show on Georgia Avenue. “There’s still more out there which can help tell this story… which is why I can say [the film] is not done,” he says. “But not too much longer, ’cause I want my sanity back.”
The in-progress film shows Jan. 20 at 9 p.m. at the AFI Silver Theatre, 8633 Coleville Road, Silver Spring. $5.
Photo via AFI Silver Theatre’s website