Things to Do

There’s a Big Concert on Friday to Remember DC’s Legendary Cellar Door Nightclub

Dozens of artists will reunite and pay tribute to the club that was beloved by artists like John Denver and Stevie Wonder.

Bill Danoff was a student at Georgetown University when his friends called, trying to persuade him to come down to the Cellar Door nightclub at 34th and M streets, Northwest, to work as a doorman. He was reluctant, but when they offered to pay, he decided to go for it: “15 bucks, I could use,” he remembers. It was the beginning of a long relationship with the club that saw Danoff moving on to do lights and sound (his first concert as a tech was Nina Simone) and eventually a performer at the club. In the late ’70s, his group Starland Vocal Band parlayed their No. 1 single “Afternoon Delight” into a CBS TV show that filmed an episode at the Cellar Door.

This Friday, a tribute to the club will take place at the Hamilton in downtown Washington. Danoff, his son Owen, and dozens of others will perform. The concert will benefit the After Dark Fund established by NBC4 reporter Mark Segraves, whose father, John Segraves, visited the Cellar Door often as theĀ Washington Star‘s music critic. Segraves cooked up the show with promoters Ron Newmyer and Dave Sless.

Artists loved playing the Cellar Door, Danoff says, because of a rule that forbade audience members from talking during sets. “And they were treated like stars by the staff; we made the entertainers, the stars of the club, which is as it should be.” Among the many memorable concerts he worked were the folk group Ian & Sylvia, Stevie Wonder, Carly Simon, and the Chad Mitchell Trio, who had replaced their departed namesake with a young singer/songwriter named John Denver. Denver would eventually cover several songs Danoff wrote with his former partner, Taffy Nivert, including “I Guess He’d Rather Be in Colorado” and “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”

The Cellar Door closed in 1982 (the building now holds a Starbucks). By then Jack Boyle, who’d owned the club, had moved on to much bigger venues with Cellar Door Productions, which booked concerts around town, as well as the Capital Centre arena in Maryland, and then around the country. He died in 2017, but the name of his club lives on in the many live albums recorded there by artists including Neil Young and Miles Davis.

If you go on Friday, prepare to revel in a lot of nostalgia for the venue and the scenes it was a part of. And you should probably keep your voice down.

The Cellar Door Tribute and Reunion Concert takes place Friday at 8 PM at the Hamilton. Standing-room tickets are still available.

Correction: This post originally referred to Jack Boyle as John Boyd.

 

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Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.