Note: The following was written by Roy Ghim and appeared in last week’s edition of 72 Hours. And … well, you all know Roy, right? Right. So enough with the explanations.
Mosh pits, stage diving (and a few seats getting torn out)…at.the.Weinberg. Just let that picture settle in your mind. A remarkable and unlikely a concert ever to have taken place at the Weinberg really did happen.
November 25 might not register as a particularly important date, but on that day in 1987, a weird and wonderfully unexpected thing happened. A new band calling itself Fugazi –unknown except to the DC punk scene – drove an hour north and played the Weinberg Center in Frederick Maryland. The unlikely events that transpired featuring THE most influential underground band of the 20th century took place at a venue the least likely to host a jarring punk concert. What would happen next would reverberate through the years and become the stuff of Frederick music lore.
CAPTURING A MOMENT IN TIME BEFORE IT BLEW UP
Nobody could fathom what that moment would mean, for Fugazi – on the verge of changing the course of modern music, and for Frederick’s underground music community that was quickly outgrowing it’s makeshift all-ages venues.
That this seminal band played at the Weinberg is remarkable for a number of reasons. The Weinberg wasn’t known for hosting many rock shows (still isn’t). That’s not a knock on the facility necessarily, but it’s fair to say that Frederick’s oldest performing arts center doesn’t offer much in the way of rock shows in their menu of programming.
But this was not your ordinary rock show; Fugazi was not your ordinary rock band. I talked to Jason Murphy who went to one of the Weinberg shows, “I thought it was a crazy rumor – like ‘no they’re not, they’re not playing the Weinberg.’ Then we found out it was real – I said, ‘the Weinberg has no idea what they’re in for.’”
For starters: Fugazi famously eschewed the corporate nature of the music industry – and then some. In response to ever rising ticket prices, the band demanded only $5 for admission. As they got bigger, they fought venues across the country to make their concerts affordable. The punk DIY ethos was at the core of a build-by-hand record label and DC music incubator, Dischord Records, which Ian MacKaye had helped create. MacKaye had forged his credentials with Minor Threat earlier in his career, helping to put DC hardcore and Dischord records on the map.
By the way, they played this show…for free.
LET’S RECONSTRUCT HOW THIS CAME TO BE
According to various accounts, Frederick had already developed a burgeoning underground scene. By the mid 1980’s, a second wave of punk bands began popping up, looking for places to play in the city – except bars weren’t an option for the teenage bands. “All there ever was to play in ’85 and ’86 were battle-of-the-bands contests at high schools and community colleges,” explained Chris Stup, who was a drummer in a band Second Nature (later changed to Why).
In 1986, 15-year-old Chris Stup approached Mike Daye, then the director of the Frederick Action Community Agency on South Market and All Saints Street. “We’re going to bring 50-80 people there, but they’re each going to pay $5,” Stup said, “Part of that would go to the actual soup kitchen operation for the homeless.” Daye didn’t turn them away and before long, Stup and another teenager Josh Hart (with his band Balance of Power) began booking all-ages shows there.
The ‘Soup Kitchen’ started to take notice. The small space provided atmosphere; gradually more people showed up. DC acts like Soulside were making their way to Frederick. “It was getting bigger. I needed a bigger venue,” Chris explained. He knew where to go.
Michael Stup was the director of the Weinberg in the late 80’s. As building manager, Stup senior threw in his hat with his son, Chris for this uncertain venture. The time was now to put on the biggest punk rock show Frederick had ever seen.
“He took a risk. Chris recaps. “Number one, you’re in business with your son who’s just a teenager, number two: you’re going to bring these bands in, which, you know, something is going to get damaged.”
The next step: find headlining bands to attract punks within a 50-mile radius. “I just called Dischord,” said Chris. “Their phone number was in the back of every record they produced.”
Ian MacKaye picked up the phone. “In my naivety at the time,” Chris recalled, “this is punk rock royalty, and you don’t realize who you’re talking to.”
Stup laid out the plan: a benefit show for the Heartly House (a Frederick based organization still in existence, assisting survivors of sexual assault and child abuse) with Dischord curated bands, plus Stup’s band to open at an ‘old theater.’ Stup remembers asking, “’Who can you send from Dischord?’ And Ian said, Hey, I got this new band called Fugazi.” The Dischord lineup would add 3 (Jeff Nelson’s band, ex-Minor Threat and Dischord Records co-founder), and Soulside.
Another remarkable footnote: there was no contract -it was all verbally arranged!
Josh Hart was stoked, “Everyone was fired up to see what Ian was going to do next. It was exciting to see what was going to happen there.
Talking to Ian MacKaye by phone, he was able to find his personal journal and his notes about the Weinberg show. (Picture my jaws dropping).
While Ian described the theater as “Very ornate,” there were technical challenges for soundman Joey Picuri to work out, “Joey gets to work trying to get the inadequate PA to get as much as possible.” (Ouch, bad mark for Frederick.)
His notes then heaped kudos for the opening bands. He even thought Fugazi had a great night. “Many dancers on stage and I was happy.”
Mark Anderson, with the social action group Positive Force and in the band Embrace with MacKaye, drove to Frederick: “It was a great show, one of the first Fugazi did outside DC. They were carrying some weight of expectation there. We started to get a sense how powerful a reaction the band would receive beyond its DC base.”
From audio files available from Dischord, MacKaye from the start set the tone for the night: “I’m glad to see such a big to do about the Heartly House. The word is we made over $1500 for them tonight (cheers from the audience.)“
There was a bit of mayhem however. “We were all jumping around and stage diving and stuff,” said Josh Hart. “It was pretty rowdy for a place like that. People were packed up in the chairs up towards the stage. It was chaos. I think some of the seats got damaged.”
“There are certain punk rock rituals that Fugazi was not interested in,” Mark Anderson clarified. Moshing and stage diving, he argued, was getting to be tiresome. “It was a matter of wanting their audience to participate in a way that created space for everyone to participate. And they’re not afraid to confront” to achieve that.
8 songs into the set, Fugazi started up a song that would define their new sound, “Waiting Room.” It seemed to have arrived from the future. It had propulsive rhythm with some of the frenetic urgency of hardcore, yet quite different. Ian’s call to Guy’s response was so out of another parallel hip-hop universe. There is this heart-to-mouth start/stop syncopation, a touch of DC go-go music, and a beat that allowed the punks to dance properly. The response was immediate.
“The first time I heard Waiting Room…You could see this whole flood of people bouncing up and down – like this huge wave – I’ve never seen that before,” explained Bolling.
Mark Anderson remembers “a segment of the audience being open to that and some people seeming to be puzzled and it all feeling…great. Something real was happening. It wasn’t just a consumer product pristinely wrapped in plastic and delivered. It was something much more interesting and alive then.”
They won over the crowd with honest and uncompromising music; it challenged as much as it moved people. For the few hundred that walked away into the night, it was as if a cultural tsunami had come through the city. “There was this whole genre shift. It pivoted, and we didn’t know it yet,” said Bolling.
“The shows did very well, and we had minimal damage,” said Stup in relief. “Did my dad take a risk professionally, allowing a bunch of young folks in there that wasn’t standard for that place? Sure, but those shows raised money for worthy causes.”
Ian MacKaye of the show looking back, “Everything we did, it reflects our sense of community responsibility. The fact that this benefited the Heartly House was totally in keeping with our local shows. Every show in Washington was a benefit. We never made a dollar. That was a decision for us to do community work.”
A Frederick/DC connection was forged. Stup’s band was invited by Fugazi to play at their protest concerts in Washington and at Positive Force shows too.
The local music scene enjoyed a surge of new bands forming and national acts coming in. Moving on from the ‘Soup Kitchen’ to a larger space in 52/54, west coast bands like All and DC’s Swiz would arrive in Frederick to sizable audiences. Fugazi may not have intended super rock stardom, but nevertheless, they rode a zeitgeist that spilled out as a consequence from ‘Nirvana-mania.’
Fugazi played the Weinberg 14 months later. The 1987 turnout was eclipsed by hundreds more people showing up. Fugazi in turn brought along more Dischord bands, Ignition and Fire Party. Jason Murphy drove in from Falling Water, West Virginia for another Weinberg in February 1990 and recalled, “The neat thing about that was that everyone was there. All the different splinter scenes united at the Weinberg. “I haven’t seen that kind of turnout for an underground band in this area EVER.”
Fugazi may have helped amplify a wave already underway in Frederick, but it would not last. The all-ages venues like 52/54 went dark. Chris Stup moved on to college; bands like his started breaking up. The scene dried up.
After 14 active years, in 2002, Fugazi filed into indefinite hiatus.
Micheal Stup passed away in 2008.
Today scene continues the cyclical waves. Bands in several underground genres continue to push in interesting ways. Despite a lack of all-ages venues, musicians keep finding resourceful ways to play out. Just as their punk rock DIY forbearers did, house shows such as the Slayground are filling the gap, hosting an array of touring and local bands.
“The underground is beneath us,” MacKaye reminds us. “It’s not always obvious, but there’s always stuff going on. I’m always interested in seeing what that next salvo will be.”
FUGAZI’S FINGERPRINTS REMAIN IN FREDERICK
Tim Reardon was just 13 years old when he attended witnessed Fugazi’s ’87 Weinberg show. “I’m not sure I understood how much influence seeing Fugazi would have on my life,” said the present co-owner of Pitcrew Skateboards. “None of us fit in, so we started something for ourselves.”
Scott Maceron was there too. He now runs the Frederick Rock School, leading a new generation with big dreams and better guitar hooks.
At Gravel & Grind bike and coffee shop, hand crafted bikes are being assembled while Fugazi’s “Red Medicine” album spins on the turntable.
At the Bike Doctor, Brian Wisowaty shows a handwritten postcard from Ian in March 2013. It thanked Brian for hosting his band the Evens in February of that year. The Bike Doctor was a highly unusual venue, in that it’s not really a venue. MacKaye wouldn’t have it any other way. “That was a great gig, that was super fun,” Ian said about his last trip to Frederick. “It’s the unpredictable nature of these events that makes it more interesting.”
The lasting legacy of Fugazi is in this mantra: anybody can create culture. Go do it.