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Be specific: Jeff Krulik on the wild years of NoVa rock and roll

alice cooperNow Alice Cooper plays at Merriweather; in the '60s he played in a lunchroom. (Washington Post archive photo)

By Aaron Leitko

There’s not a lot of mystery to seeing a concert these days. The venues are established, the bands are well publicized, the tickets are purchasable from your laptop. Back in the ’60s, things were a little more rough-around-the-edges. The Doors headlined a battle of the bands. Alice Cooper’s first local gig was in a lunchroom. If a group was a really big deal, they might get booked at a roller rink.

On Saturday Nov. 6, documentary filmmaker Jeff Krulik -- of “Heavy Metal Parking Lot” fame -- will host “Northern Virginia and the Rise of Rock & Roll,” a panel discussion on the nascent Mid-Atlantic concert industry. The people who were there -- promoters like Bud Becker, Teddy Bodnar, Michael Oberman, and Mike Schreibman -- will talk about the old days, when the best D.C.-area gig Led Zeppelin could get was at the Wheaton Youth Center.

You’ve made a lot of documentary films, but how many panel discussions have you hosted?

I’ve done it several times on different subjects. In ’07 I organized a 40th anniversary celebration for the Ambassadors Theater. In ’67, for six or seven months, it was D.C.’s psychedelic, hippie dance hall. Hendrix and Moby Grape played there. Local bands, too. I tracked down the people who created it and had a reunion.

In ’09 I started working on a documentary about an unheralded festival that took place at the Laurel Race Track, it was called the Laurel Pop Festival. Led Zeppelin headlined. That mutated into [a documentary called] “Led Zeppelin Played Here,” about when Led Zeppelin played at the Wheaton Youth Center in front of 50 people. That was January 20, 1969. A lot of people don’t believe it happened. Anyway, I had an event at the Wheaton Youth Center in ’09, a reunion for people who were there.

So, what’s important about Northern Virginia’s rock scene?

This is my third in the trilogy. It’s meant to celebrate and explore Northern Virginia’s contribution to the birth of the rock concert industry, which grew up out of nothing during the ’60s. Nowadays you take it all for granted, it’s a very serious business. In the ’60s it was a wild west. People were making it up as they went along.

What were the major venues?

Bud Becker was one of the major promoters. He booked out of a Falls Church music store called Giant Music. One of the other focal points of my presentation is the Alexandria Roller Rink. There’s no trace of it left, but that’s where scores of bands played. The Doors headlined a local battle of the bands there on a 10-foot stage. It was no frills. Limited security.

The panelists are going to be Bud Becker, Teddy Bogner -- who booked the Elks Club -- and Michael Oberman, who was the was teen columnist for the Washington Star.

You were saying that people were basically running concerts by the seat of their pants back then. What was different? What were some of the hazards of putting on a rock concert at a roller rink during the mid-’60s?

Well, for one thing, back then there was a faction of people that thought music should be free. People were always trying to crash or bogart the concert. You had to deal with that. You had people that weren’t promoters -- they were normally just music store owners or radio DJs -- thrust into that, having to deal with this exploding youth culture.

Earlier you mentioned that Alice Cooper’s first gig in the area was at a college lunchroom. What’s the story behind that?

Yeah. The first concert was at Northern Virginia Community College in the lunchroom. Richard Harrington [formerly of the Washington Post] told me they had to put the lunch tables together to make a stage.

Was there even such a thing as a concert-grade sound system back then? What did Led Zeppelin play through at the Wheaton Youth Center?

Sound systems didn’t exist. I can’t even imagine what the sound was like. The night Led Zeppelin played in Wheaton it was through crummy speakers.

"Northern Virginia and the Rise of Rock & Roll" takes place on Saturday, Nov. 6 from 3-5 p.m. at The Artisphere (formerly the Newseum), 1101 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington. Admission is free.

By Aaron Leitko  | October 28, 2010; 11:28 AM ET
Categories:  Be specific  | Tags:  Alice Cooper, Jeff Krulik, Led Zeppelin, The Doors  
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