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Dazed and Confused: Zeppelin Played Where?
By John Kelly
Thursday, January 22, 2009; Page B03
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang for Richard Nixon's first inauguration. A musical group called Up With People was among the acts performing in his inaugural parade.
For those of you too young to remember either of those groups, imagine a regular polygon with all sides equal lengths and internal angles of 90 degrees. In other words: square. And if you are too young to know what "square" means, imagine a racehorse pulling up with a broken leg: lame.
Yes, Jan. 20, 1969, was not necessarily a good date for music around here, unless you just happened to be at the Wheaton Youth Center on Georgia Avenue, where a new combo from England by the name of Led Zeppelin played its first-ever gig in the Washington area.
That's Led Zeppelin, as in "Dazed and Confused," as in the biggest hard-rock band in the world, as in creators of the sort of bacchanalian excess that goes hand in hand with being tight-trousered, lion-maned, groupie-ravishing, devil-worshipping, "Spinal Tap"-inspiring English rock and roll musicians.
Led Zeppelin. In Wheaton. At the sort of place where Ping-Pong tables are set up next to Coke machines and drop-in basketball players divide themselves into teams of shirts and skins.
Or is this unlikely performance just an urban myth?
"There's people who grew up in Wheaton, across the street, who went to every show, who don't remember it," said local filmmaker Jeff Krulik. Jeff, who with John Heyn made the cult classic "Heavy Metal Parking Lot" (the documentary consists of fans outside the Capital Centre before a 1986 Judas Priest concert), has become obsessed with Zep's first concert in the Washington area. It's an outgrowth of a project on the area teen center scene in the late '60s and early '70s.
Said Jeff: "Every neighborhood had a band. Every school had a band. Every county had a band. . . . They were playing at places like these community centers and high schools."
Yeah, but Zeppelin? Earlier in the month the band had played three nights at the Whiskey a Go Go near Hollywood, followed by four nights at San Francisco's Fillmore West. In July the band would return to the area for the Laurel Pop Festival at the Laurel racetrack, headlining a bill that included Jethro Tull and Edgar Winter.
"I love the fact that it's a mystery," Jeff said of the Wheaton gig. It's mentioned on the band's official Web site, but Jeff hasn't turned up any physical evidence or met anyone who was there.
To Jeff, youth center gigs bespeak a simpler time, a time before the birth of the billion-dollar corporate rock industry.
"There was no Internet," he said. "Things were analog, and either you were a performer or you went and saw performers. You had to go out and see it."
Lore has it that only 55 people showed up for the Wheaton Youth Center show, quite possibly the smallest audience to see Led Zeppelin outside of Jimmy Page's living room. Jeff is confident it actually took place, having made contact with the man who organized the concert: Barry Richards, who at the time was a DJ on Gaithersburg radio station WHMC and now lives on the West Coast.
"It's unbelievable," Jeff said. "And the fact that it was a Monday night, January 20th, the night of Richard Nixon's inauguration."
Of course, he added: "They weren't drawing the same crowd."
Were you one of the 55 people who saw Led Zeppelin at the Wheaton Youth Center on Jan. 20, 1969? Jeff Krulik would love to interview you. E-mail him at email@example.com or call 202-966-5304. He's planning a reunion event at the center March 7.