LIVE: Black Cat 20th Anniversary Party

Last Friday and Saturday night, a significant chunk of Washington, DC’s local music community got babysitters, tuned their guitars, found a good t-shirt (or in the case of a few women, the right tie) and headed to the Black Cat to celebrate its 20 year anniversary. With a line up handpicked by Dante Ferrando, the club’s owner and founder, there’s no doubt the shows would sell out, but both nights felt more like an extended family reunion than sold out concerts.

Ferrando drew the lineup from local talent, picking established, reunited, current, and legendary acts, including a few bands that also worked at the bar, and his own Gray Matter. And for some, that’s what the party was all about: The music. Every band had its own fans, but many people stayed planted on the familiar black and white checked floor from start to finish. But for others, there were moments when the music was the backdrop to the hugs of long-parted friends reuniting in the back of the main stage area.

ALWAYS tip your bartender

Friday night opened with performances by Black Cat employees. Spoonboy opened, followed by the Shirks, fronted by bartender Al Budd. The Shirks were introduced after a joke from Noel Manzullo, another Black Cat employee who is also a comedian. Although the Shirks performance was cut short due to a broken string, they helped set the blistering pace for the evening. Ted Leo possessed possibly the highest stature of all of the artists to grace the stage over the course of the evening, but if he was considered “royalty” by most in attendance you wouldn’t know it as his performance was filled with all of the rock and none of the attitude. Later, Girls Against Boys brought David Yow, of the Jesus Lizard, to the stage for an energetic set before Dante’s own band, Grey Matter, closed down the night.

Following an inspired set of Prince covers by Mary Timony and Nathan Larson, Coup Sauvage and the Snips woke everyone up Saturday night for the second party. While these two bands may have been the most remarked upon the whole evening, there was much to love in the rest of the acts who performed. New Wet Kojak radiated energy; Tuscadero followed with a charming set and the aforementioned women in ties. The night ended with Shudder to Think who looked a bit toned down but played like they’d never ended their run as a band.

Although many bands were playing together for the first time in years, it was a joy for everyone who was able to snag a ticket to see bands come together as if their last show had just been yesterday. More importantly thought, the shows highlighted just how tightly knit the DC music community actually is. A community that in large part is centered around the Black Cat and Dante Ferrando. And when the music ended and the lights came up, people stayed around the upstairs bars, holding on to the moment, before heading off into the night, to see what the next 20 years brings. 

Black Cat Turns 20! (Photos by Joy Asico)