I’m sure that many—if not most—of our good-looking, high IQ readers have seen quirky documentarian Jeff Krulik’s underground classic “Heavy Metal Parking Lot,” a short movie shot outside a Judas Priest concert in Landover, Maryland that exchanged hands on VHS tapes in the 80s and 90s. Krulik made a sequel with some Neil Diamond fans in that very same parking lot in 1996 and went on the road with McHale’s Navy actor Ernest Borgnine in his customized RV in 1997’s Ernest Borgnine On the Bus. His Heavy Metal Picnic came out in 2010 and now Jeff Krulik returns with a fun new film about a Maryland youth center where Led Zeppelin maybe… might have…. supposedly… (definitely!) performed on their first US tour.
From the director’s statement:
I recently finished a feature documentary called Led Zeppelin Played Here, which is my effort to prove that Led Zeppelin’s first DC area concert was in a youth center gymnasium in front of 50 confused teenagers on a snowy Monday night in January 1969. This whole project came about as I was set to do a film called “Maryland’s Woodstock,” about the Laurel Pop Festival which took place in July 1969, one month before the Woodstock. I wanted to highlight that there was this forgotten pop festival in our area, and basically tell the story of that two day concert, featuring Led Zeppelin headlining one night.
But I soon found a story arc as I connected the dots of Led Zeppelin’s performances: in May, they shared a bill as opening band for The Who at Merriweather Post. And in February they were on an opening slot with Vanilla Fudge at the Baltimore Civic Center. But the real curiosity was their first local concert which was said to have taken place on January 20, 1969 at the Wheaton Youth Center, a non-descript multi-purpose room and gymnasium in a Maryland suburb. And it happened to be the night of Richard Nixon’s Inauguration. And the weather was terrible. And 50 people were there, tops.
But surely this must be an urban legend. Or is it?
What I loved about Krulik’s charming, low key film is that the whole mystery of this did-it-or-did-it-not occur spur of the moment Led Zeppelin show is something that he uncovered while making a film about something else entirely. The Rashomon-like onscreen narrative becomes quite intriguing as the viewer goes along with the filmmaker on his fact finding mission, Krulik serving as a dogged rock snob gumshoe on the trail of this elusive and either legendary—or apocryphal—Led Zeppelin show. In the end, we’re left to decide for ourselves if this concert actually took place or not, his Columbo with a MOJO subscription sleuthing having provided no definitive answers.
I think it did happen, but… but then again I wasn’t there. Like an a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma that had no surviving posters, handbills or even a single photograph (let along a bootleg tape) ultimately we will probably never know if Led Zeppelin played at the Wheaton Youth Center on January 20th, 1969. They only people who know the truth were there, and even some of them aren’t sure.
Led Zeppelin Played Here screens tonight at Cinefamily in Los Angeles as part of the annual Don’t Knock the Rock film festival. Jeff Krulik will be there in person — plus there will be a Q&A moderated by Michael Des Barres of Little Steven’s Underground Garage on SiriusXM. Get tickets here.