Best Non-Gig of 2009: Lebowski Fest DC

A man (the man for his time and place) returns home after a trip to Ralph’s convenience store to make an all-important purchase of milk (for his evening Caucasian, of course), only to find two uninvited and ill-mannered guests waiting for him. Mild unpleasantness ensues, and after a traumatic incident involving a close encounter with his toilet bowl, the man is left alone, perplexed, with a pee stain on his beloved living room rug, a rug that really tied the room together. And then, the opening strains of Bob Dylan’s “The Man in Me” fill the air, and the enthusiastic hootin’ and hollerin’ begins. Welcome friends, nay, Achievers, to Lebowski Fest DC. If you weren’t there, you should have been, because it was one of the best events of the whole damn year.

For me, attending Lebowski Fest DC was never negotiable. I might be a fairly recent convert, but I fell fast and I fell hard for the Coen Brother’s masterpiece (otherwise known as “The Big Lebowski,” to use the parlance of our times) about a middle-aged slacker residing in Los Angeles and his misadventures involving bowling, Bunny, and White Russians. Soon I found myself not only owning the movie, but quoting from it at any given moment as well. And I’m definitely not alone in my Lebowski adoration. As it would happen, we have a couple of serious Lebowski enthusiasts to thank for Lebowski Fest, Will Russell and Scott Shuffit. The pair of Louisville-ians were so enamored with the movie that they had a party for it, way back in 2002, and the whole thing ballooned from there, much to the surprise and delight of the founders. Soon, things had become so big that even Jeff Bridges was getting in on the fun. He even taped a faux-satellite feed intro for the movie that was shown before the film began.

And that’s cool, that’s cool.

These days, Lebowski Fest is a traveling show of insanity and mild obsession, with fun and enjoyment being the main objectives. The cities chosen for Lebowski Fest vary (and you can request a stop on the LF route), though you can always count on the annual party in Lexington. The circus has even been across the pond. Some cities are single-nighters, but in DC we lucked out. The festival was broken into two nights; night one being a movie screening/live performance at the 9:30 Club, night two a bowling extravaganza at the rather swanky Strike! Bethesda.

Sadly, thanks to the glorious clusterfuck known as I-95 traffic I missed the musical talents of the Black Diamond Heavies, though I hear they were verily entertaining. The club was full of Achievers, both costumed and non. The mainstage floor was covered with chairs, turning the 9:30 Club into a pretty great movie theatre. I don’t know about you, but I find the whole movie-going experience to be vastly improved with fully-stocked bars. The crowd was whooping it up the whole time, which, if you’ve ever seen the film shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. After it was all said and done, the friend I had roped into coming with me and I went to Ben’s Chili Bowl to get some grub, and he gave me the party favor he had collected. It was a crumpled up piece of paper, homework, if you will. In a clever play on one of the seminal props in the film, the Founding Achievers had handed out copies of Larry Sellers’ homework, but instead of a schoolkid bullshit paper, it was the lyrics to the Kenny Rogers’ song you’ll hear in the film, adapted to DC, of course. Naturally, it was in a plastic baggie, which should serve as a reminder to us all that you shouldn’t fuck a stranger in the ass. Or at least, that you shouldn’t try to destroy a stranger’s car until you know for sure that it belongs to the stranger to whom you are trying to prove a point to. Am I wrong?

Night two required another splendid drive up good old 95, this time with the added pleasure of the hike up 495 to Bethesda. But the agony of the road was well made up for by the ecstasy of the evening. Strike! Bethesda is quite the posh alley. Fancy scorekeeping devices, graphics either mocking you for gutterballs or emphasizing strikes and spares. I saw more of the former, I confess. The crowd at Strike! was much more modest than at the previous night’s festivities, but this portion of the Fest was definitely geared more towards the hardcore fans. Costumes abounded, as did copious bowling shirts. And White Russians, naturally. I bucked with tradition on that point, but did manage to consume much vodka, keeping in the spirit of the proceedings. I ended up bowling with two fellow Virginians, who were both exceedingly better bowlers than I and very nice dudes to boot. They were some of the bowling-shirt contingent, as it so happens they once had a team named in honor of the movie. All in all, it was a great evening of costume contests, bowling, and cocktails.

The new schedule has been announced for the 2010 series of Lebowski Fest. Start working on your costumes, friends.

mp3: Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) (Kenny Rogers & The First Edition from The Big Lebowski OST)


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