The Backyard Band now attracts a more sophisticated, peaceful audience. (Courtesy photo)
Go-go music, which started as D.C.’s own version of funk, has come a long way since its humble beginnings during the 1970’s. For decades, go-go bands usually performed anywhere from empty banquet rooms to bingo halls. Natives of the District, Md. and Va. would often venture out almost anywhere to their homegrown genre of music that has been described as “the fabric of the people.”
Go-go is both the name of the music and what an event featuring the music is called. When the genre first began many of the venues were located in high crime areas and and during the late 90s and early 2000s violence was a sad accompaniment.
More recently, however, there is a relatively new scene emerging where go-go fans can go listen to their beloved music and see their favorite bands perform, while also enjoying a more chic and sophisticated atmosphere. Venues such as the Howard Theatre, and Capitale Nightclub, both in the District, are just a few of many spots that now host go-go bands, and provide their fans with a more upscale environment.
Kevin Blackmon, long-time promoter for Backyard Band and other music acts, one of the most popular and well-respected go-go bands, told the AFRO that having bands perform at venues such as Capitale, offers fans “the best of both worlds.” Blackmon said that Backyard has been performing at Capitale. “for three years and there has not been one incident.”
In 2005, Charles H. Ramsey, then D.C. Police commander, testified that go-go music was “a magnet for violence” and urged the city’s alcohol control board to shut down a go-go nightclub operating in a government building in the heart of the U Street commercial strip.
Opposition towards go-go music swelled again in 2013 when a nightspot, the now defunct Club Fur, banned a popular go-go band, TCB, from playing there after a 19-year-old man was stabbed several times at the club. The club owners made the decision to “ban the band” after then D.C. Police chief Cathy Lanier ordered the club to close for 96 hours following the incident.
Blackmon recalled a period when controversy surrounded go-go music and said, “A lot of it was political, and they would just blame the music,” he said “It was really more of a social problem.”
Blackmon credits the growth of “the people and the music,” as a one of the key factors contributing to the more sophisticated go-go scene of today. “A lot of the crowd grew up, and things that were happening, ten years later you realize how silly that is,” said Blackmon.
Along with Capitale, Backyard Band, has also performed several times at the historic Howard Theatre, with no violent incidents occurring. Go-go fans can enjoy seeing a great show, wearing their “good clothes,” and not having to worry about fights breaking out, or the party being shut down early.
Go-go music is an undeniable part of Washington D.C. history, and although there was a controversial period where some questioned its future, the go-go scene seems to have grown up and mellowed out. “We’ll always love the music and now we have the venues to match,” said Blackmon.