Country Music

The Birchmere Gets Its Start

Exterior of the original Birchmere location

Gary Oelze purchased a Shirlington restaurant called the Birchmere in the mid 1960s. At the time, he wasn't planning to get into the music business. But soon, the Birchmere became a hub for bluegrass music in the nation's capital. Today, it is an internationally renowned music hall that draws fans of every musical genre. 

An Evening at the White House with Johnny Cash

The Nixons and the Cashes pose for a photo on the evening that Cash performed at the White House. Image Source: National Archives.

April 17, 1970 was a big day for the United States—President Richard Nixon even described it as the “proudest day of [his] life and in the life of the country.” That afternoon, the ill-fated Apollo 13 crew splashed down in the Pacific Ocean and made it to safety. The nation breathed a collective sigh of relief.

But the day wasn’t over yet. That evening, President Nixon would sit in the East Room of the White House for another cultural milestone: a legendary performance by country music star Johnny Cash.

Maryland was almost "Almost Heaven"

In the summer of 1970, Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert were driving down Clopper Road to a family reunion in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Montgomery County was a much more rural place in those days, and the scenery inspired Danoff to repetitively sing “country roads, country roads, country roads.” 

Under normal circumstances, this burst of creativity might have gone nowhere, but the couple happened to be a duo of professional musicians. So, with the help of John Denver, they soon turned the phrase into the earworm we know today. 

Calling D.C. "the biggest city in North Carolina," music promoter Connie B. Gay helped transform the nation's capital into a country music hotbed in the 1950s and '60s. (Photo source: Wikipedia)

When Washington was Nashville North

There was a period, from the late 1940s until the early 1960s, when Washington, D.C. was a veritable Nashville on the Potomac, a mecca that provided country performers a chance to get their records played, and to perform before big audiences. The man who was most responsible for the District's country preeminence was a charismatic impressario who originally hailed from Lizard Lick, N.C. named Connie Barriot Gay.

The first national television appearance of Elvis Presley, January 28, 1956. (Source: By CBS Television [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

When Elvis Played Washington

Elvis Presley made headlines when he showed up at the White House unannounced and offered his services to President Nixon to fight the war on drugs in 1970. It was an odd event, which led to an even odder photo. But the Elvis-Nixon meeting was memorable for another reason: It was one of only four appearances that Elvis ever made in the Washington, D.C. area.

Elvis' first visit to Washington was on March 23, 1956 — the same day, by coincidence, that his first full-length album, Elvis Presley, was released. Col. Tom Parker, who was in the process of taking over as the 21-year-old singer's manager, had close ties to Washington-based country disc jockey, manager and promoter Connie B. Gay, who booked Elvis to headline a floating concert on the S.S. Mount Vernon, a small ship that sailed the Potomac.