For decades, go-go music has been the boisterous, spirited sound of the DMV, with a heavy funk influence and a tireless beat that makes every performance a marathon of high-energy sound. On May 28, the Wolf Trap Center for the Performing Arts hosted a celebration of the genre, featuring some of the region’s most well-known go-go legends.
“Big Tony” Fischer and his band Trouble Funk–one of the pioneering go-go groups whose music has helped define the region’s sound for over 45 years now–headed the event. This was Trouble Funk’s second time performing at Wolf Trap, following a 2021 performance that marked the venue’s first-ever go-go show.
Joining Trouble Funk on stage were even more classic go-go acts, including Experience Unlimited (EU) with their front man Sugar Bear and the Junkyard Band, plus DJ Wroyal and the Queens of Go-Go Fitness – altogether, the performance was a spirited, collaborative celebration where several of the genre’s leading members played off of each other’s energy to bring the essence of go-go to Vienna.
“[The audience] can expect a really great, high-energy show. And you know, when those guys get together, it’s all love. But when we step on that stage we’ll definitely be competing to give our best. Now, with that said, it’s all in good fun, it’s all in love, but yeah, we’ll definitely be trying to get the best show we could possibly get,” Big Tony says.
The root of go-go music began in the early 1970s when Chuck Brown, known as the “Godfather of go-go,” gained recognition for creating a beat that would play in between songs to keep the crowd constantly engaged and dancing. The music never fully abated, and neither did the energy. That lively sound caught on, and soon other bands joined in on the new tradition: alongside Brown, Trouble Funk, EU, the Junkyard Band, and others spearheaded the movement, cementing go-go as an essential part of DC culture.
“We’ve taken his music all over the world, and we get the same response. You know, people just love that infectious beat. And they just love to interact. They love that. That personal interaction is like, they love feeling like they’re part of what’s going to work that’s actually a part of the band. That’s how we try to make them feel,” Big Tony said.
It wasn’t always an easy road. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, go-go music became a scapegoat for violence in the area, leading to heightened restrictions on clubs and a negative stigma that made it difficult for them to carry on. Later, as gentrification took over the area, noise complaints and continued stigma kept pushing go-go out.
But DC fought back. In 2019, when a long-standing shop-owner known for playing go-go to promote his store was told to shut off his music, protests began. A movement to preserve the capital’s sound emerged, known as “DontMuteDC.” With over 80,000 signatures on a petition to protect the music, the movement made it clear that go-go was there to stay.
“That kind of woke up the sleeping giant. You know, it made people all over the world recognize the value of our music,” Big Tony said.
Prompted by the movement, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser signed a bill in February 2020 to declare go-go as the official music of DC, a move that was intended to establish funding and historical preservation efforts.
“I’m proud to celebrate this historic moment because we know there is no DC without Go-Go, and there is no Go-Go without DC,” Mayor Bowser said on the one-year anniversary of the bill. “No matter what changes in our city, the District’s native sound will always be Go-Go.”
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