The D.C. Music Salon Peels Back Layers Of D.C. Music History

By Ally Schweitzer

The latest season of the D.C. Music Salon focuses on notable guitarists from the Washington region.
The latest season of the D.C. Music Salon focuses on notable guitarists from the Washington region.

Go-go clanging around the walls of D.C.’s historic Howard Theatre. Soul music and jazz, rising from this town’s hardest-knock neighborhoods. Working-class whites, long gone from D.C. proper, communing over bluegrass and rock ‘n’ roll. These are the stories that newcomers don’t often hear — unless they find themselves at the D.C. Music Salon.

A series of conversations about regional music history, the D.C. Music Salon began in autumn 2010 with a talk called “Go-Go: Not An Intro.” Since that evening, dozens of stories from D.C.’s musical past have found an audience at the Watha T. Daniel Library in Shaw, attracting folks directly involved — or just deeply interested — in local culture beyond the latest restaurant.

Series founder Marc Eisenberg says the salon, which kicks off its sixth season tonight, has always been about storytelling — nothing more, nothing less.

“No one’s trying to sell you a beer,” Eisenberg says. “No one’s trying to sell you anything.”

The folks who gather around to hear tales from the region’s folk-music scene, or the yesteryear of local punk, are probably OK with that. And the personalities who appear on the casual panels, held Wednesdays every two months in the Shaw library’s basement, are paid only attention.

“I really like that no one makes a nickel on this any which way,” Eisenberg says. “I get to look everybody in the eye and say, ‘Nope, there’s no money. There’s no honorarium. It’s just a fun thing if you want to do it.'”

Tonight, Eisenberg begins the series’ newest season with a conversation about guitarist Charlie Byrd, a Virginia native known for his bossa-nova chops. Byrd died in 1999. Tonight, his friends share stories from his musical life, with plenty of tunes to go around.

Later in the season, the salon casts the spotlight over two other significant guitarists from the area: American Primitivist John Fahey (Feb. 10) and eclectic guitar whiz Danny Gatton (Dec. 9). Next spring, it covers boogie rocker Root Boy Slim (April 13), and wraps in June with a chat about local documentary Feast Your Ears: The Story of WHFS 102.3.

“I think we’ve found our audience,” Eisenberg says, “and I think we’ve figured out what types of stuff works best.”

That doesn’t mean Eisenberg has perfected his formula, though. He’d like to make the D.C. Music Salon a nonprofit and apply for grants. Plus, he wants to recruit someone to record the events — he acknowledges that it’s odd a series about history seems so unconcerned with its own — and he wants to cover more diverse territory in the future.

It’s only a coincidence, Eisenberg says, that this season focuses on so many white men.

“We have many seasons’ worth of additional ideas,” he says. “There are many different types of D.C. There are many things that are quote-unquote ‘so D.C.’ We’ll get to all of it.”

The D.C. Music Salon’s sixth season begins at 7 p.m. Oct. 14 at the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw D.C. Public Library. Free admission.

Photo by Flickr user Emilio Küffer used under a Creative Commons license.