Neil Young’s ‘Live at the Cellar Door’ is a window into D.C.’s musical past - The Washington Post
The Washington Post, Dec 10, 2013
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Today's The Washington Post has a feature article "Neil Young’s ‘Live at the Cellar Door’ is a window into D.C.’s musical past" by Dave McKenna.
The article traces some of the history of the iconic Washington, DC nightclub.
Devotees of the Everything Used to Be Better school will love Neil Young’s sorta-new record.The article goes on to relay some of the legends which took place in the tiny club.
On Tuesday the rock legend releases the latest in his archival concert series, “Live at the Cellar Door.” The recordings are drawn from a six-show solo stand at the Georgetown nightclub in late November and early December of 1970. Alone on stage and switching between acoustic guitar and grand piano, the young Young’s folk-rock brilliance shines throughout a 45-minute set of faithful-to-the-original-recording renditions of many of his classics, including “Tell Me Why,” “Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” “After the Gold Rush,” and “Old Man.” The then-25-year-old also played unplugged versions of “Cinnamon Girl” and “Down By the River,” as he makes the latter easily the most beautiful song about a psycho’s gun-murder of a girlfriend ever put to wax. The Cellar Door recordings find the audience so reverent and rapt that staffers at the club obviously had no problems enforcing its famous “No talking!” rule during his stay.
For nostalgic locals, another highlight of this incredible period piece of a record is that it calls attention to the venue where it was made. Plainly, there will never be another Cellar Door. This was a tiny place (legal capacity under 200) at the corner of 34th and M streets NW where music was king, tickets for major acts averaged $3 and six-show stands like Young’s were considered brief stays.
“There’s no happier feeling than being in a room when everybody loves the music,” says Cellar Door founder Jack Boyle, “and we sure had that with Neil Young.”
Boyle got that happy feeling quite a bit at his club. The Youngstown, Ohio, native who first came to the District to attend Georgetown University, founded the Cellar Door in the early 1960s using what he describes as one night of poker winnings. (“About $1,100,” Boyle once said.) He sold the place after just two years and left the country to run bars in Europe, but got homesick for the United States and bought the Cellar Door back from Charles Lawrence Fichman in the fall of 1970. Fichman had established the club as a casual hangout for hardcore folkies, where “hootenannies” were a staple in which amateur local musicians traded licks with nationally known pickers. The casual atmosphere ultimately got to Fichman: Upon selling back to Boyle, Fichman told the Washington Post that a chief reason he rid himself of the club was because “pot had cut into the drinking” revenues.
“People used to come in an hour ahead of time so they could have a few drinks before the show,” Fichman said at the time. “Now they come in a few minutes early so they’ll still be high when it starts.”
In the Cellar Door’s case, size mattered. After strolling over to the Georgetown campus for a post-midnight interview with WGTB DJ John Zambetti, Young, who had played the Baltimore Civic Center a few months earlier as part of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s first tour, gave a rave review to the club.
“Small clubs are groovy!” Young told Zambetti.
For folks raised with the current 9:30 Club as this town’s premier music hall, the coziness of the Cellar Door must be hard to grasp.
“It was so intimate I’m not even sure how all these bands got on that stage,” recalls Nils Lofgren. “You could see and hear every little thing everyone did. . . . It was just completely real and very visceral and powerful.”
We had a very small role in all of this going to college not too far away and seeing at least one show there at some point but our memories fail us. Maybe John Prine?
Here's the Cellar Door in Georgetown today...
Georgetown, Washington D.C.
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Released today, Neil Young's new album 'Live at the Cellar Door', Washington D.C., 1970.
"Live At The Cellar Door"
Neil Young Solo
Labels: neil young