Going down into the old Cameron Village Subway district, which reopened for just one night on Saturday, felt like entering a time portal.
“I came down here and felt the creepy vibes of rock and roll Subway ghosts,” said Brian McFadden. “They’re all still here. Man, I used to practically live down here.”
McFadden, a former deejay at WQDR during its pre-country days as a rock station, plays keyboards nowadays in the cover band The Crush – who served as musical entertainment for Saturday’s “One Night Only: The Underground Comes Alive.”
About 500 people paid $85-$125 for tickets to the event, which also included a fashion show (which might have accounted for how much of the crowd was surprisingly young). But the main attraction was getting one last look at the Subway space before it’s turned into a storage and food-preparation area for Cameron Village’s Fresh Market.
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Modeled on the Atlanta Underground, the Subway was a music venue from 1971 to 1984 and hosted everybody from the Ramones to Doc Watson. The Pier, Déjà Vu, Frog and Nightgown, Bear’s Den and other clubs occupied the space over the years, but most of the walls were taken down long ago.
“Yeah, I played down here in 1982 with the Kamikazes, opening for Let’s Active,” said Crush guitarist Mike Krause, pointing across the room. “That’s where the Pier was, but I’m not sure where everything else was.”
For Saturday’s event, the walls were decorated with photos and video screens showing local and national acts that played the space, including Fabulous Knobs, Marshall Crenshaw and an impossibly young-looking R.E.M. People wandered around taking selfies (and posting them with the hashtag #cvunderground), many in front of the iconic subway mural by the old front entrance.
During the fashion-show part of the program, The Crush played the expected modern-day hits (“Get Lucky,” “Pumped Up Kicks”) before going further back as the evening progressed. McFadden introduced the 1977-vintage Alan Parsons Project cut “I Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You” in what he called his “QDR voice.”
Out in the crowd, the evening had the feel of a class reunion as people caught up with each other – and gazed up at the insulation-covered ceiling while trying to remember where everything used to be.
“When I came in, it was so disorienting,” said Don Maell, a back-in-the-day regular. “Hard to remember what was where.”
Steve Thanhauser, who used to run the 500-capacity Bear’s Den in the Subway during the early 1980s, was happy to see that one of his old club’s walls was among the last still standing.
“We used to do rock ’n’ roll six nights a week,” said Thanhauser, who now co-owns the Angus Barn restaurant. “Coming down here back then was magic. It was a cool thing and a neat time and I’m glad I was part of it.”