Friday, April 27, 2012

Chuck Berry at The Howard Theatre, 4/28/2012

April in D.C.  It's not Paris, I guess, but how about a week that starts with brunch with The Harlem Gospel Choir, continues that evening with Taj Mahal, includes a midweek show by Meshell Ndegeochello, and ends with consecutive performances by McCoy Tyner and Chuck Berry.  Pretty good week.

That's part of what's happening the week of April 22 at The Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C.  You can check the full calendar and get tickets to Chuck's show HERE.

The Howard Theatre holds special memories for Chuck Berry.  Daryl Davis told about taking Berry back to The Howard in 2010 before the restoration.

 we stopped to get something to eat and as we drove through Washington, DC that evening, Chuck reminisced about playing there in the 1950s. He mentioned the Howard Theatre. Having graduated from Howard University, I knew exactly where it was. I also knew he would be stunned and disappointed to know how run down it had become. I made a detour and under the cover of darkness drove Chuck his old stomping ground. 

This guy had not been there in over 50 years but still knew the area and was telling me about what was on which corner and little tidbits of information. Sure enough, when we turned down the street, everything he had said was accurate. He pointed out the rooming house where he would stay because in those days, Blacks couldn’t stay in the White hotels. He had named a bar next door to the Howard where the entertainers would hang out. Sure enough, there it was. It had since changed names but it was still the same bar in the same building. 

As I suspected, when he saw the now decrepit Howard Theatre, his excitement turned somber and he shook his head. I explained there has been a lot of talk about refurbishing the Howard and that while there is hope, so far it’s been nothing but talk. The neighborhood is now very crime- and drug-ridden. As we drove around the building and through the backstage alley, he pointed out the backstage door he used to use. I could tell these were bittersweet memories; the good times he had there, countered by the racism he would have to face off stage at hotels and restaurants to coming back 50 years later and reliving the fun times in his mind of this once thriving area, only to face the reality of the run down neighborhood and it’s decrepit landmark. While the neighborhood has new faces, there are still people who reside there from back in the day and would remember seeing Chuck Berry at the theatre across the street from their homes. I couldn’t help but wonder what they would have thought had they been able to see through my tinted windows on my car and seen their idol from their youth, fifty years later sitting in front of the Howard.  
Read more of Daryl's stories HERE.

The theater is no longer looking grim.  Learn more about its restoration and see a film about its history HERE.


Anonymous said...

My wife, brother-in-law and I drove all the way from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC, to see this one-hour show at the Howard Theater, but I'm not sure the high ticket price was justified. Mr. Berry did pretty well for being 85 years old, but the band/show otherwise lacked pizazz. We didn't understand why there were two rotating piano players, especially when neither one was doing anything memorable. Glad we saw Chuck in action, but we don't need to see him or this particular band again.

Peter said...

Did you see Robert Lohr? Daryl Davis? Jimmy Marsala? Keith Robinson on drums? Was Chuck's son on guitar? Was his daughter wailing on harmonica? My understanding is that Chuck was planning to bring his regular St. Louis band to D.C., and that resident boogie-woogie genius (and Chuck Berry friend) Daryl Davis sat in on some numbers. I'd love to have seen it. I can't really respond, since I wasn't there, but the St. Louis band is a perfect one for Chuck. Wish I'd seen him with that band in 1971 because they are steeped in the blues music that he came out of himself. Sometimes it depends on what he lets each of them do on a particular night. It's never the same. But I've always been glad he didn't opt for one of those typical show bands that warms up the crowd and then calls in the hero for set arrangements. It's messy at times, but it's still real, 65 tears after he started. And it's a chance for you to honor him for what he did to change the world-- a bargain. Peter

Anonymous said...

It was the St. Louis band minus Chuck's daughter. It was great to watch Chuck, but that's about it. We wish we could say the show knocked our socks off, because we love Chuck and have seen him play other great shows through the years. He's a legend and always will be. But this show was just "OK." Sorry.