Guest Post: Old 97s and the Summer of Freedom by Noura Hemady

I had my first show experience late.  I had been to plenty of jazz festivals and concerts with my parents.  I have a vague memory of going to a Santana concert at the peak of his Rob Thomas induced mid-90s comeback, only to turn away at the gate due to the overwhelming smell of pot.  There is a chance I made up that story, but I feel like it might be true.  My first show–to which I bought my own tickets and went sans parents–was the Old 97s at 9:30 Club in DC, Summer of 2005.

Summer of Freedom: driving curfew lifted, disposable income.  After a year of living away from home, my parents could no longer forbid me from making that most iconic of journeys for a kid from suburban Baltimore–a trip to DC for a show at 9:30 Club.  Heading south, I picked up my high school friend Meagan Ingerson along the way (this show marked the first in what is sure to be a lifetime of Old 97s shows together), and raced* down 295 into DC.  The whole scenario felt so cool to me.  I probably bragged to a bunch of kids at the pool where I worked that I was “going to a show,” ya know, in DC.  For some reason, DC felt so much edgier, dirtier than Baltimore.  This is, as most people know, obviously untrue (haven’t you seen THE WIRE, gawd).  Though, in 2005, the corner of 9th & V Streets NW was an unnerving location for a girl from the suburbs.

On our way home, we were so helplessly lost that we passed Gallaudet University and ended up in Trinidad, exactly the place I had been warned by sage adults to avoid.  We made an interesting U-turn somewhere off of New York Ave that precipitated by famous declaration, “Meagan, what are all these women doing standing out here in the dark? It’s 1:30am!” To which she logically replied, “Um…I think they’re prostitutes…”

I don’t actually remember very much about the show at all.  I think it ran for about two hours.  The music must have been endearing, because I’m pretty sure I spent the next week trawling Record and Tape Traders in Towson searching for their old albums.  It is the feeling of self-determination and sovereignty leading up to and following the show that has imprinted so deeply on this memory.  I felt so adult, and so cool! Although neither were (and probably still aren’t) true.  This show was the first in a month-long spurt of weekend shows I went to at 9:30 Club that Summer.  In retrospect, what makes this month so memorable to me is the dissonance between how I perceived the club at 18, and how I do now, at 25.  I now live less than a mile from the club.  I pass it on my way to work almost everyday.  I walk past it almost every Friday night on the hike back home from the bars on U Street. If I’m going to a show there, I hop on my bike at 9:15 and I’m inside 10 minutes later.  In daylight, it’s just a mid-century brick building, blending into the warehouses and Howard University dorms that it borders.  In the dark, at 18, it stood out from the uncertainty of the “big”** city.

So, to conclude, I should probably thank the Old 97s.  I’ve seen them twice more at the club, in 2009 and 2011.  In 2005, their music lured me down from Baltimore.  The show they put on sent me straight back to 9:30 Club’s website, looking for even more.

*I wanted to race, but on 295 you can be assured that State Troopers will be lurking in the dark for you at every mile or so.
** I may be wrong, but DC’s population may be smaller than Baltimore’s. Consult the appropriate sources [wikipedia].