News & Politics

A Brief Oral History of a Legendary DC Little Feat Show

"Washington really, really loved Little Feat."

Little Feat in 1976, with Lowell George (top left) and Paul Barrère (top right). Photograph by Pictorial Press/Alamy.

Little Feat aren’t from DC; they formed in Los Angeles in 1969. But the band is nonetheless closely associated with the area, and they’re currently celebrating their 50th anniversary with a tour that lands at the Warner Theatre this month. (Though frontman Lowell George died of a heart attack in an Arlington hotel room in 1979, the band reformed in the ’80s and have continued on ever since.) We took a look back at their 1978 breakthrough live album, Waiting for Columbus, much of which was recorded during three 1977 shows at Lisner Auditorium.

Cerphe Colwell, former WHFS DJ and author of the 2016 memoir Cerphe’s Up“Washington really, really loved Little Feat. They were slow to get discovered in the rest of the country, but DC became a Little Feat town. It was right in the wheelhouse of what HFS was doing at the time. So they began to get a strong fan base because all of us on HFS played them on our shows.”

Eve Zibart, former Washington Post rock critic: “They were sort of adopted. It was always kind of a homecoming [when they played here]. It was always a big deal.”

Paul Barrère, Little Feat guitarist: “When it came around to doing the live record, one of the places we wanted to record was Lisner. It was an easy sell because people would come and see us. We knew we’d have a stacked audience, you know?”

Colwell: “They were such gifted musicians. I was knocked out by how good they were. They really sounded good onstage.”

Barrère: “It was like a freight train coming at your head. We just did a genuine, natural Little Feat show all three nights and recorded as many songs as possible.”

Zibart: “It was certainly . . . I don’t think anybody sat down [laughs].”

Colwell: “Lowell and I had become friends. When the shows were happening at Lisner, I was backstage with him. Five minutes before showtime, Lowell says, ‘Do you want to [introduce] the show?’ I said, ‘Absolutely! Sure.’ I intro’d the band, but that was one of three nights. When the album came out [and my intro was on it], I was thrilled.”

Warren Dewey, recording engineer: “Maybe the third night, I was in the audience and Lowell was out there selling T-shirts! He was quite an interesting guy.”

Barrère: “We did do some doctoring in the studio after the fact, a little spit and polish, but as far as the grooves and the performances and so forth, I think it’s just stellar. It captures the rhythmic prowess, it captures the spontaneity, it captures the musicianship.”

Dewey: “We took about three weeks to mix, and about two weeks in, Lowell disappeared—one day, he didn’t show up. Toward the end of the next day, I get this phone call: He had gotten a job at a gas station in Malibu. He would do stuff like this. He probably saw a sign up that they needed a mechanic. Maybe he needed a break from mixing or something like that. Three days later, he shows up and we just carried on.”

Barrère: “That record, more than anything, put us on the map.”

Dewey: “I think what people like about it is that it plays like you’re really there. We just tried to get the feel of that band and how tight they were.”

Zibart: “[The finished album] sounds very authentic—like going to a Little Feat concert. It makes you smile. Like, ‘Oh, yeah, I remember: That was a good night.’

This article appears in the March 2019 issue of Washingtonian.

Politics and Culture Editor

Rob Brunner grew up in DC and moved back in 2017 to join Washingtonian. Previously, he was an editor and writer at Fast Company and other publications. He lives with his family in Chevy Chase DC.