Straight Up Go-Go Style: A Collection of Vintage Posters From Washington, D.C.
This show will run from May 12-28, 2012
Anyone who has spent more than a few days in the nation’s capital has probably heard go-go, the heavily percussive funk music that has long been the soundtrack of Washington’s African-American neighborhoods.
Go-go dates back to the mid-‘70s, when a charismatic bandleader named Chuck Brown decided his audiences shouldn’t sit down between numbers--he wanted a continuous party groove. He devised percussion breakdowns that linked songs together, and soon, his band was playing those breakdowns during the songs as well.
The first go-go hit, Chuck Brown & the Soul Searchers’ “Bustin’ Loose,” was also a national hit in 1979. It predates the classic go-go sound, but the elements were in place: percolating percussion patterns, call-and-response chants, a rump-shaking party mood, and the bandleader’s engaging personality. During the next two decades, other local bands helped forge go-go’s sound. Trouble Funk and Experience Unlimited intensified the percussion. Rare Essence perfected the extended party jam that didn’t stop until it was time to go home.
Over the years, these bands and other go-go favorites scored major label record deals and national hits. But in this insular regional scene, that kind of recognition was never all that important. The local success of these bands may be hard for outsiders to understand, but consider this: At times, go-go’s most popular acts performed five or six nights a week, and on some nights, they might have played three separate shows in different areas of the city. And when the bands got together, multi-act shows could fill the legendary Washington Coliseum, attracting well over 10,000 fans.
During the ‘90s, second-generation groups like the Junkyard Band, the Northeast Groovers, and the Backyard Band revitalized go-go and made the music theirs. And while many of the older bands continue to perform, a new generation of bands led by TCB has devised a more contemporary go-go sound known as bounce beat.
The posters in this collection advertised concerts and club shows that took place during the late ‘80s and were printed by Globe Posters, a Baltimore-based family business known for its day-glo colors and distinctive style. These posters were collected by Alona Wartofsky, a former writer and editor for The Washington Post, whose stories on go-go have also appeared in The Village Voice and Spin. “My husband at the time was a go-go promoter, and he used to go drive around after midnight with a staple gun, stapling these posters on telephone poles. He would slash each poster with a razor so no one would take it down to hang in their bedroom,” she says. “The ones I saved were the ones that weren’t cut.