In September, the future of the Surf Club was looking bright. The Kenilworth Avenue roots music roadhouse in Edmonston, Md., had regained the right to sell alcohol on nights it featured live music. But Thursday afternoon in an email to members of the Twistlist roots music listserv, Surf Club owner James Byrum wrote:
I want to thank everyone for the awesome years of support you have given me. It is with a saddened heart that I confirm all the rumors and make the news official, the Surf Club is closed forever. The property has been sold and will become a laundromat. I’m sorry I couldn’t keep the Surf Club going any longer. Many of you know the obstacles that I have faced. Hope to see you all around on some dance floor somewhere!
The club’s last live gig on Oct. 29 featured local blue-eyed R&B combo King Soul. There were hints of trouble when the bar’s website didn’t list any events after that date. Byrum has not responded to emails or phone calls since late October.
In August, when I last communicated with Byrum, he indicated that some Edmonston residents wanted him to sell the club in the hopes that a buyer would raze it and build a retail establishment other than a nightclub. Then, he said he had no interest in selling the place that he and his father bought in 2008 from Chick Hall, who had opened the original Surf Club in Colmar Manor, Md., in 1955, before moving it to Edmonston in 1975.
Byrum faced a number of obstacles in trying to keep this Americana music showcase thriving. In addition to unhappy locals and the nearby murder that led to Surf Club’s temporary license problems earlier this year, there was the club’s lack of Metro access, changing demographics in Prince George’s County, a small advertising budget—and, maybe most challenging, the limited audience for blues, roots rock, and zydeco.
But now all that will be left are the memories of this cinder block, brick and wood paneled bar with a stage, dance floor and pool tables. I remember Chick Hall Jr.‘s band playing tears-in-your-beer country and honky-tonk sounds to a nearly empty room ten years ago, while more recently the speedy, insistent chank-a-chank of the rubboard in various Louisiana bands kept folks twirling on the dancefloor, as did the guitar sounds of numerous local roots, blues, and rockabilly bands. While some groups will get bookings at Glen Echo, Artisphere, Blob’s Park, and elsewhere, none of those locales quite have the same atmosphere. The Surf Club’s 56 year run is over.