Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Mobile Party Unit by Alice Despard

photo by happy monkey

When I set my mind back to my early teens, it seems to me that live music shows were at the center of my life. In the early 1970s there were plenty of places in DC for the young hippies to congregate and hang out. Cheap wine was plentiful, but you wanted to stay away from Strawberry Ripple and Boone's Farm Apple wine--those sickeningly sweet concoctions would make you ill in a heartbeat. (Marketing alcohol to the young is no new thing!)

I attended--somewhat sporadically and between bong hits-Maret School- but all my friends were from Sidwell Friends and St. Albans. We were all preppy hippies. We hung out at the
St. Albans coffeehouse every Friday night. Our "Mobile Party Unit" (as we dubbed ourselves)
would go to the local liquor store and buy a gallon of cheap Chablis wine. No problem, even though we were only fourteen years old! Times were much more relaxed back then. We would head for Bishop's Garden gazebo on the Cathedral close, and it was a perfect place to get high: hexagonal benches in a stone structure with arched open windows all around overlooking the rose gardens.

After awhile, we'd wander over to the coffeehouse in the parish hall at St. Albans where a light show was already sending wild patterns onto the ceiling, and the band was in full swing.
The light show artist was really into mixing the oil, water and food colors and swirling them around on the overhead projector. Wow, man! (This is how we entertained ourselves before the video age arrived.)

I remember the Alice Cooper cover band called Tinseled Sin playing there many times.
Other bands, I don't recall their names. It wasn't important because the main thing was just hanging out together with friends and enjoying the whole scene, and maybe snaking around a little bit (hippie dancing--I call it "snakin")

I remember a St. Albans student setting up a candelabra on the piano downstairs in the parish hall basement, and playing Keith Jarrett-style improvisation for hours. I thought he was brave to play solo by the seat of his pants like that. Nowadays, I'm so jaded, I'd rather be shot in the head than listen to pseudo-jazz improv on the piano. Back then, it was all new and full of wonder: "Wow, he's just playing music without any sheet music or even songs to hang onto!"

During the endless, muggy DC summers, we'd hang out at Ft. Reno Park-a major destination for the underage and street-wise. Bands cranked while we sat in the grass or boogied on the basketball courts, wine and weed travelling constantly through the sweaty, hazy throngs of youth. I heard many, many R&B and roots rock bands there---countless Little Feat and Grateful Dead hits were covered. Everyone knew all the same music back then, as it was much more homogeneous than it is now. DC was a Little Feat town, no question.

(Alice may be a reformed party unit, but she's still a wonderful musician.
See her at the Galaxy Hut October 12.)


  1. Anonymous3:27 PM

    Do you remember Small Talk? A great Little Feat cover band.
    They played Mr Henry's at Tenley Circle along wth the John Wells Delagation with Holly Garber.
    Man, those were great days.

    Scott G

  2. Anonymous10:33 AM

    What an eloquent recitation of a wonderful moment in our times . .. thank you! Karen (KT) Thomas

  3. Yes, I remember Small Talk very well!
    I also hung out at Mr. Henry's Tenley Circle
    many times, and that was where I played my first
    open-mike performance at age 15 with Magpie Rag,
    an all-girl bluegrass outfit. John Harbison ran the
    open-mike, if I recall.

  4. I was there with Smalltalk! What a great band they party with and just to know the individuals! I know Barb moved to FL and got married, maybe in 1979 or 80 and the rest I last saw in 79 or 80 when I went back to visit. I remember the final concerts...I had a video of it all but it was stolen when my house was robbed in 1980. BUMMER man

  5. Looking to refresh memories of the music of my youth, I came across this blog. We were Whitman and B-CC grads of the mid-70's. Our lives enriched and bound together by love of music. SOOO much live music -- Childe Harold, Cellar Door, Red Fox Inn, The Birchmere, bluegrass festivals and summer nights at Fort Reno...

    For weeks now, I've been trying to remember the name of a band that frequented Mr Henry's -- Smalltalk. Thank you. We went any and every time Smalltalk played. And boy, did we dance! Good times, for sure. At this moment, listening to Little Bobby Radcliff, also a local favorite at Mr Henry's. Thanks for this blast from the past.