Blitte: We saw Root Boy Slim there; he was D.C.’s finest. He was a maniac, Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band.
Paul Strauss, 47, D.C. shadow senator and former chair of the Neighborhood Planning Council: It was state-sanctioned entertainment and these subversive acts merging together in a bizarre counter-cultural movement.…On the 25th anniversary, we tried to dig deep into the history, and some people said the [Grateful] Dead played once, but I was never able to verify that.
As the ’70s wore on, blues and bluegrass flourished alongside power-pop and proto-punk acts like The Slickee Boys and The Razz.
Mark Wenner, 63, plays in The Nighthawks: In the ’75 or ’76 era is when we first started playing down there. The bands that were playing there were our generation of bands around D.C....The local sound that was really dominating was a very roots-oriented sound—people were mixing soul and blues and rockabilly.
Tommy Keene, 54, played in The Razz; plays solo: I was in a band in junior high school; we were called Blue Steel. We played parties and dances and such, mostly covers. There was a Fort Reno board at the time. We auditioned for them there and they said, “You’re not right for Fort Reno.”
Ian MacKaye, 49, played in Teen Idles, Minor Threat, Fugazi; plays in The Evens: The first time I went was in 1977 or 1978. I went to Wilson High School, and it was across the street, so kids were like, “Hey, there’s a concert up here.” Acid rock and kind of hippie rock bands would play. I remember seeing a band called The Frogs, if I remember correctly. It was very rough scene.
Keene: I joined The Razz in April of ’78, and we played Fort Reno in September of ’78, and I remember over a thousand people there. I’m sure Dave Grohl and the Fugazi guys were there. Kids couldn’t get into the clubs, and all we played were bars usually, but this show was free and The Razz was at their pinnacle.
Wenner: We had some motorcycle-riding friends keeping us safe from any rowdy elements. We were playing there and a bottle cap whizzed by me, and the next bottle cap hit the bass player. I was looking around, and I see two kids in the back—14-year-old guys slapping hands like, “We hit ’em!” I was a little crazy back then, a lot younger. I jumped off stage and grabbed a hold of one of these kids, but by the time I had a hold of him, two of my buddies jumped down and relieved me. They had a hold of this one poor kid and had him like you hold a puppy at the scruff of his neck, and they removed him from the scene. I don’t think they beat him up or nothing, but they scared the living shit out of him. I don’t think he threw a bottle cap again.
Keith: The Slickee Boys started in ’76, but we didn’t really take off until ’81....When we started playing, that was kind of a weird time. It was way post-hippie; it was sort of normal people who had long hair and smoked pot. D.C. has always been a very R&B, country, bluegrass kind of town, but the niche we really fit into sort of came around with the new-wave punk scene.
Hardcore began to break in in the early ’80s with acts like Bad Brains and Minor Threat, but because of their frequently violent early shows, they were rarely booked at Fort Reno for several years.
Blitte: Those punk bands, they all went to Wilson. I remember Henry Rollins worked at the Animal Hut by the Volvo dealership [in Tenleytown]. There were other bands playing there too though; it wasn’t just punk.
Ian MacKaye: In the summer of 1979, Teen Idles were supposed to play. We had a gig booked there and it got canceled. I think it got rained out, but I can’t recall. It’s funny, we had a flier for the show, but we never played it.
Blitte: Yeah, the ’80s were nothing but punk and new-wave bands, kids in their basements starting bands. We were the long-haired rednecks, we listened to country music.
Wenner: It was almost the next generation of people—in some ways, it was almost a reaction to it—the great punk scene and the scene I came up in. The difference was the age and the audience, but the motivation in both movements was to get away from the bullshit industry stuff, to get back to real, made-by-people, vibrant rock ‘n’ roll music. At one point, people called what [The Nighthawks] were doing “blue wave.” The motivation was the same. The new-wave scene, especially the hard punk scene which D.C. was a hard part of, they were just trying to get back to something elemental and direct, which is what we were trying to do to, but we were just 10 years older.