Dubbed the “murder capitol” of the world during the late 1980s and early 1990s, Washington D.C. was notorious for the ease in which one could score crack cocaine. With prostitutes soliciting for sex on nearly every corner, on 295 5th St. SE within the dangerous China Town neighborhood, sat a tiny Ethiopian restaurant. By the weekend it became something like a matinee akin to New York’s CBGB, thanks to Shawna Kenney and friend Pam Gendell, who both booked punk bands to perform on its tiny stage.
It was called, The Safari Club.
Before it burned down in the late ’90s, it was a venue of refuge for ages roughly between 12 and 25 who yearned and screamed for change. Well-known punk bands that originated on the streets of New York City; Sick of it All, Murphy’s Law, Earth Crisis, Gorilla Biscuits, and Bold are all noted to have performed first at The Safari Club in a cramped windowless space that which blurred the line between fan and artist.
Fast forward roughly two decades and today Kenney, a teacher and award-winning author, and her husband, Rich Dolinger, owner of Straight Edge Tile and a musician in his own right, are the perfect soulmates to co-document life at The Safari Club in their new book, “Live at the Safari Club: A People’s History of HarDCore,” published by Rare Bird Books.
A completely uncensored oral history of this underground punk venue, Dolinger and Kenney let those who were there tell its unique story by utilizing real pictures and flyers of time and place to immortalize it all.
Documenting “the second and third waves of hardcore punks,” which came after ‘85—”Live at the Safari Club: A People’s History of HarDCore” is told by the people who lived it and shape-shifted the entire brick venue. Those aforementioned bands that played for zealous fans, the bouncers, promoters, graffiti artists, rebellious senators’ kids (yes, they were there, too), and the die-hard activists who instigated it all—each one share their voice and explain what it was like through their perspective.
Just how did the book become a reality, though? Kenney and Dolinger explain while on the road traveling to Wilmington, where Kenney graduated from UNCW in 2007.
“I was being interviewed on a D.C. radio show years ago, around 2011, before we moved back to California, and someone suggested the fact that I used to book shows at the Safari Club,” Kenney tells. “And they said I or someone should make a documentary about it. I kind of laughed about it, because there wasn’t enough footage available to make it work. But, it was a good idea.”
Later, the more Dolinger and Kenney talked about it, the more they continued to believe a book could work. “We could do a oral history. Gather photos. Maybe five people will be interested in it,” she continues. “And we’ll just hand out the book to our friends—like a year book or something. So, then we put up a website and did a call for submissions.”
Enter the Washington Post and a small article written on the Wilson Center’s 30th year anniversary. Within it, a mention on The Safari Club and a link to Kenney and Dolinger’s website. Over the next few days, not a few but thousands of emails asking about the book (that hadn’t been started yet) arrived.
“We thought, wow! Maybe more than five people will be interested in this!” Kenney happily shares with a laugh.
Six-and-a-half years in the making, Kenney says, their book is really a labor of love. It’s something she and Dolinger made sure to squeeze in between work, life and even tragedy. Sadly, in November of 2010, Kenny’s father passed.
“I think throwing myself into a project wholeheartedly helped me get my focus back,” she shares. “I was grieving and sitting around in my pajamas between semesters but you can only do that for so long. I think the book gave me purpose.”
Moving forward with their project, to ensure absolute authenticity, the duo conducted interviews with those who were there; even if that meant in the back seats of cars at shows, via Skype, on the streets, backstage, and over email.
“Over the years we collected these interviews. Then we broke the interviews apart into a narrative and it was certain, we did have a book here,” Kenney says.
“I think it came out exactly how we wanted it to,” Dolinger adds. “We had a vision, but we didn’t know how to execute it. We’re so excited Rare Bird Book came about, because they knew exactly how to do it and really understood our vision. I’m really very grateful. Rare Bird Books provided the push that we needed.”
Tonight, September 18, Kenney and Dolinger will be at Old Books on Front Street starting at 6 p.m. for a discussion and slideshow of outtakes, photos, and flyers that aren’t in the book. Kenney and Dolinger will also sign books readily for sale. For more info, visit www.safariclubdc.com.
Kenney will also speak at UNCW on Wednesday, Sept. 20, starting at 2 p.m. in room 1111 at Kenan Hall She will give a lecture to the creative writing department on how to pitch and publish one’s work titled, “Writing for the Web.” Kenney’s lecture is open and free to the public.