Update, Dec. 2: The documentary will screen Dec. 2 at The Cellar Door in Visalia and Dec. 3 at Dynamite Vinyl in Fresno.
Twenty-five years ago, an underground punk band from Washington, D.C., played a $5, all-ages concert at Knights of Columbus Hall on Floradora Avenue in Fresno.
It wasn’t a huge show as these things went; enough to warrant a small advance in the paper. The headline read: “Hard core that’s good, clean fun.”
The band was the legendary DIY group Fugazi and the show became part of the lore of the city’s music scene. It is now the centerpiece of a digital film project called “Floradora,” which will screen at Valley venues later this year.
“It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before,” says Nathaniel Berg, who is spearheading the “Floradora” project. Berg booked the show and his band, Sharon Tate, played an opening slot along with Visalia’s Plaid Retina. It’s Berg’s footage from the concert, recently digitized from VHS, that will serve as the backbone of the film. It will run just under a half hour and feature one song from each of the openers, plus a majority of Fugazi’s set from that night.
The Fugazi mythos has grown over the years, says Paul Cruikshank, whose shop Ragin’ Records promoted the Floradora show. The band – Ian MacKaye, Guy Picciotto, Joe Lally and Brendan Canty – could easily headline any major music festival in the U.S. had it not gone on indefinite hiatus in 2003. It has that kind of cachet, Cruikshank says.
Seeing the band in Fresno, at an all-ages venue, for $5 seems preposterous now. But at the time, the band was in its early stages – though it had already sold more than 415,000 albums on its independent label, Dischord, according to the story in The Bee.
Exact details of the show on Sept. 4, 1991, are sketchy.
Berg puts the number of kids around 400 and says they were falling all over themselves and each other. Cruikshanks says it was likely closer to 250.
Both agree it was hot – 102 degrees that night, according to Berg, who did the research to be exact.
True to the newspaper story, it was not the typical hard-core punk show. Fugazi was “a clean-cut band” that didn’t “drink or eat meat, and warns its slam-dancing audience not to hurt each other.” Cruikshanks remembers MacKaye stopped the show to calm the crowd and make sure that people weren’t getting violent on the dance floor.
Some people sat down in front of the stage, he says.
“I don’t think people realized what they were seeing,” Cruikshanks says.
Aaron Gomes doesn’t remember too many specifics from that night, but cites the show as a major reason he started promoting shows himself. It was the first show he ever attended – minus being dragged by his parents to see Santana. He caught a ride from Visalia with friends, because he was too young to drive.
The band played on the floor – literally, flailing around on the floor, he says. If there was a stage, it was only a foot high or less. There was a communal sweat throughout the venue.
“The whole show was so kinetic,” says Gomes, who’s been promoting shows in Visalia for more than a decade.
The show marked a pivotal moment in his life. There he was watching this band that he listened to almost every day. Fugazi’s album “Repeater” was in heavy rotation at the time, Gomes says. And he was surrounded by a roomful of like-minded kids for the first time.
“All of the sudden, the world just got wide open for me,” he says.
He’s actually torn about seeing the footage. Part of him would rather just rely his memory of that night, he says.
For his part, Berg never figured the footage would get seen at all. The show had accidentally been recorded in negative mode. The footage was unwatchable. The tape had been in a box in storage until a few years ago, when he came across it again and realized technology might give him a way to reverse the process.
When he did, the result was spooky, he says.
“In a good way. It’s like opening a time capsule.”
He is happy the footage is being released now, as opposed to, say, 1999, when it would have been shown to dozen people huddled around a big-screen TV. Now, the footage will screen across the country to hundreds, if not thousands of fans, many of whom are too young to have had the opportunity to see Fugazi perform live.
“The tape belongs to the kids.”