Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Admiral Grill

Northern Virginia was a center for the development of country music and especially blue grass as I’ve mentioned before on this blog. One of the legendary moments in the expansion of blue grass beyond local hillbilly migrants came in 1957 at a local watering hole called the Admiral Grill. The Admiral Grill was located on Columbia Pike at the current site of the storage company and stood roughly where the main office/entrance currently stands. The restaurant was there from at least the mid-fifties until the mid-sixties before becoming a restaurant called Westwoods, then a furniture store and finally a storage company. Back in the late fifties and early sixties was just a simple crossroads with a few small restaurants and an airport at the current site of Skyline Towers.

In 1957, Northern Virginia was filled with musicians playing a new brand of “folk” music that was a new take on old-time mountain music. It was called a variety of things before the name blue grass stuck deriving from the name of Bill Monroe’s backing band, the Bluegrass Boys. The sound was very popular among the transplanted Virginians and Carolinians yearning for the sounds of home, but it was stuck being played in small bars and restaurants with limited appeal.

The event happened by accident on July 4, 1957 when the Buzz Busby’s Bayou Boys were heading back to DC after playing a gig on the Eastern Shore when their car crashed. The band’s banjo player, Bill Emerson, had been riding in a separate car and was determined to keep the gig that night at Admiral Grill. He called on a guitarist, Charlie Waller, mandolinist John Duffey, and bassist Larry Leahy to fill in.

The gig went so well that the group formed a band and settled on the Country Gentleman because the members were city boys rather than “mountain boys”. The band they would go on to form was different from many country or folk bands playing around DC because they were young and spent most of their lives in an urban setting.

The band would become the most important and influential bluegrass band and formed a second-generation of bluegrass musicians that would spearhead the growth and popularity, particularly in the DC area. The band took influences from many genres, moving the music beyond its strict mountain roots by exploring rock and jazz. This widened bluegrass’ audience beyond the ex-mountain people into young urban kids from blue collar bikers to college kids.

The music would find a home in the Birchmere on Four Mile Run Dr. in Arlington and the Shamrock on M Street in Georgetown where rowdy hillbillies and college kids would mingle to the changing sounds of bluegrass.

Sadly, besides this single evening of fame, almost nothing is known about the Admiral Grill. The building was unceremoniously torn down to make way for development of the storage company and Radley Acura. If you drive behind Radley, you can get a sense of what Bailey’s Crossroads was like before the current development. One building that stood at the same time as the Admiral Grill was the service garage for Radley Acura, which was a auto repair shop. Otherwise, the Admiral Grill lives on in legend only.

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