It may be the stuff of urban legend. Or perhaps, it’s gospel truth.
Whether or not the legendary British rock band Led Zeppelin actually performed in the gymnasium of the Wheaton Youth Center on Georgia Avenue on Jan. 20, 1969, Silver Spring-based filmmaker Jeff Krulik’s 2013 documentary asserts in its title that “Led Zeppelin Played Here.”
A chance meeting at a mutual colleague’s retirement party between Krulik and Casey Anderson, chair of the Montgomery County Planning Board, resulted in the scheduling of an outdoor screening of the film that, due to weather on the original date, has been rescheduled for the evening of Friday, Sept. 7, at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton. The 90-minute film features interviews with rock writers, musicians and fans, including a few who claim to have been among the 50 teens in the audience. A question-and-answer session with Krulik will follow the screening.
Although the two men had not met before, Anderson said he had been an admirer of Krulik’s 1986 cult documentary, “Heavy Metal Parking Lot,” which contained footage of interviews with teens in the Capital Center parking lot before a Judas Priest concert. In his native northern Colorado, Anderson said he had been a fan of heavy metal – which he called the rap music of the 1980s – and had seen a concert on that British band’s 1986 tour.
The planning board, Anderson said, “wants to show that our parks are more than the conventional nature, athletic fields, biking and hiking trails. They are also about programming, social opportunities and community building.”
“This is not your grandfather’s parks system,” he maintained, citing the parks’ yappy hours, portable climbing wall and bike track. “We want to activate more parks and bring more energy to all the parks.”
As such, the screening event will be a party, said Krulik. Attendees are invited to arrive early equipped with picnic fare, chairs and blankets; they will be able to buy from the Tasty Grill and Kona Ice food trucks, and Denizens Brewing Company will offer beverages.
Krulik, who grew up in Bowie, Maryland, and graduated from the University of Maryland, has created documentaries for The Travel Channel and Maryland Public Television; his work has been screened at the Museum of Modern Art, Lincoln Center, the American Film Institute and PBS.
Krulik answered some questions for CultureSpotMC.com.
Why did you make this film?
I’ve had a longtime fascination with the local cultural history, and historic preservation, and believe very strongly in documenting the landscape that is perpetually changing. Plus, I love local rock and roll lore. So, when planning a documentary on the Laurel Pop Festival that took place one month before Woodstock, researching it led me to trace the rapid rise of Led Zeppelin (who headlined one of the two nights at the Laurel racetrack) — their first alleged local appearance was at the Wheaton Youth Center on Georgia Avenue in front of 50 people (first documented in the book “Capitol Rock”).
When I strolled into the still-operating Wheaton Recreation Center, and saw the building retaining an appearance much as it did when it opened in 1963, I was stunned. I thought ’These walls can talk!’ So, I changed my focus to documenting a time period when the rock concert industry was emerging, and literally being made up as it went along, and bands such as Led Zeppelin, or many others famous, or forgotten, could have started with such humble roots.
Has anything changed since you made the film?
I believe all the evidence is there, in my film, that the concert took place. Since first screening it in 2013, I have heard more stories and anecdotes. But what some people crave or must have in front of them for hard proof — a photograph or diary entry for instance — has not emerged. And probably won’t. But I hope I’m wrong. Although none of this will impact or change my film, which stands on its own, documenting the emergence of the concert industry. Plus, it’s a love letter to the Wheaton Youth Center, which still lives on screen.
What audiences would most appreciate the film?
When I completed the film, I thought it would just be for a local audience interested in nearby nostalgia. But it’s played all over the world. I am always amazed by different audiences reacting to the film. You don’t have to a Led Zeppelin fan, or even a rock music fan, to appreciate included themes about collective memory, pop culture history, or the attempt to unravel a mystery.
Is Led Zeppelin a favorite band of yours? What are your favorite songs? Have you seen them in concert?
Not really, hard to say and never. I mean I like Led Zeppelin enough, who doesn’t, but I only owned one album when growing up in the ‘70s — the ubiquitous fourth one with ’Stairway to Heaven,’ etc. Their name helps me tell a larger picture tale in my film.
When pressed about my favorite Led Zeppelin song, and I have indeed been asked that before, it’s ‘Hot Dog,’ which is off their last album when they were still a band in 1979. Big-time Led Zeppelin fans seem baffled when I admit that, but what are you gonna do? I love that song. I also missed any of their legendary four-night stand at the Capital Centre in May 1977 as I hadn’t been to my first rock concert yet, which coincidentally was just two weeks later when Bad Company appeared there. And just for the record, I do own all the Led Zeppelin albums now.
Brookside Gardens will screen Jeff Krulik’s film “Led Zeppelin Played Here” on the rescheduled rain date of Friday, Sept. 7. The event, which includes a post-screening Q&A with Krulik, will take place from 7 to 9:30 p.m. outdoors at Brookside Gardens, 1800 Glenallan Ave., Wheaton. Admission is free. Note that the film is not rated and includes strong language. Call 301-962-1400 or visit montgomeryparks.org.