To observe its 35th anniversary, and the 20th anniversary of its location on V Street NW, the 9:30 Club has turned itself into an exhibition hall where you can explore the club’s history as you walk through from the downstairs Back Bar to the main stage.
I checked out the proclaimed 9:30 World’s Fair, a Double Anniversary Exhibition Celebration, on Tuesday evening, and I rather enjoyed the opportunity to look around the entire club and reflect upon the totality of modern musical acts that have passed through its doors at 930 F Street NW and 930 V Street NW since 1980 and 1995, respectively.
The club asks you to take your ticket for timed entry to the unrelated diner, Satellite Room, behind the club to wait. Once your group is called, you march out of the Satellite Room and down the stairs into the 9:30 Club Back Bar, which already contains the original bar from the old 9:30 Club in the cozy downstairs space.
For the 9:30 World’s Fair, the club has expanded its display of flyers created by the late Mark Holmes, who was a graphics whiz using old-school cut and paste methods to create visually arresting postcards and flyers before computers were an option. (Read this Washington City Paper column announcing the establishment of the original display in the 9:30 Club in 2001.)
As you admire Mark’s amazing work, you can purchase a drink, including the infamous 9:30 Club slushee called The Blue Thing, from the backbar. After you pass the bar, you find yourself in the small area at the bottom of the basement stairs, which has been turned into a “virtual” representation of the old 9:30 Club at F Street (which held only 200 people). On a screen there, complete with a fake post to help block your sightline, you can watch video clips of well-regarded bands that performed at the old club back in the day, such as Sonic Youth, the Smashing Pumpkins, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, among others.
Watch the Red Hot Chili Peppers perform “American Ghost Dance” at the 9:30 Club on Dec. 10, 1986:
Speaking of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, let me mention the special book the 9:30 Club has produced for this occasion — 9:30 – A Time and a Place Oral and Pictorial History Book. Although I’m out of sequence to mention merchandise at this junction, the book features a picture of the Red Hot Chili Peppers by my friend rock-and-roll photographer Chester Simpson. The book explores the history of the club through colorful pictures and recollections, and it’s among the memorabilia you can purchase on the main floor of the 9:30 Club prior to leaving the exhibition (along with shirts and posters). (You also can buy the book online.)
After you leave the basement, the club guides you to the balcony, where you can examine posters and pictures depicting past 9:30 Club concerts. From the balcony, you are invited to review the green room where musicians prepare for their performances on the stage right balcony wing. Usually, a 9:30 Club security guard stands at the door to block your view, but during the exhibition, you are free to roam through! When I visited, musicians were lounging on the seats in the green room, strumming on their instruments as if they themselves were prepping to perform.
From the green room, you descend to the main level of the club, which is dominated by a large cube made of movie screen. On the sides of the cube, the club projects high-quality video of recent shows, including Garbage and Cold War Kids. You also can enter into the cube and submerge yourself in the performances as you gawk at the screens around you.
If you walk back toward the area that usually holds the coat check, you’ll find an album collection the 9:30 Club has assembled to represent each artist that has performed at the club since opening night. If you’re a music nerd like me, this Official 9:30 Hall of Records may remind you of a room with your own music collection stacked high.
While most of the records and CDs on display are real, the 9:30 Club has put some ringers in the stack. The club is asking guests to identify missing artists, marked with a purple stripe, and to contribute an album for such an artist. The 9:30 Club will provide contributors with free tickets.
The 9:30 Club also is offering guests a free tattoo of the 9:30 Club digital clock logo. Tattoo artists provide the service in the area that usually houses the club’s sound booth.
As you walk toward stage to leave the club, you pass the 9:30 Club merchandise booth, of course, where you can purchase the aforementioned book and other sundries. As an extension of the merch booth, the stage left bar also offers additional merchandise for sale. (Don’t worry, the stage right bar is fully operational should you seek a beverage or two!)
Before you leave, however, you have the rare opportunity to actually jump onto the 9:30 Club stage! There, you will find a band set-up composed of instruments lent by various musicians for the exhibition display. You can eyeball the instruments on stage, and then turn to a screen in front of you that depicts a cheering audience. For a few moments, you can pretend you’re there to rock the club yourself!
All in all, the 9:30 World’s Fair is a fine tribute to the history of the 9:30 Club, and well worth a visit. The club has opened up additional free passes for each night of the exhibit and extended it through this Saturday as well. Don’t miss out! Grab your free ticket from a link below before they are all gone again. (The initial run sold out pretty quickly!)
And hey, if I don’t see you there, perhaps I’ll catch you at a show like Queensryche (Jan. 25) or Ani DiFranco (Jan. 26) in a few weeks!
Free tickets are available online! Click on a date below to select your admission time.