Nighthawks on the Blue Highway (2016) is the first documentary film about one of the hardest working bands in America. Directed by Johnny Cash biographer Michael Streissguth, the film stars George Thorogood, John Hammond, Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson, and Mark Wenner.
Emerging in the early 1970s in Washington, DC, where blues, soul, country, folk and rock filtered through the hearts of musicians in every neighborhood, The Nighthawks churn out a blues-and-rock infused style that honors the city’s dynamic influences. Their effort opened the door for such acts George Thorogood, The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Stevie Ray Vaughan and set the stage for the rise of modern blues acts. “I was really knocked out by them,” says Thorogood in the film. “They were just so sure of themselves. And they did this dynamite version of ‘Little Sister’ by Elvis Presley. Which I thought, ‘Wow! A blues band doing Elvis Presley!’ ‘Cause I’m a blues band and I do Johnny Cash! These guys were beyond the perimeter of what music is.”
Nighthawks on the Blue Highway tracks the band from a dream in founder Mark Wenner’s basement to international stardom. Along the way, they share the stage with blues legends Muddy Waters, B.B. King, J.B. Hutto, and John Lee Hooker and attract southern-rock god Gregg Allman who joins the band for a golden stretch in late 1970s.
But the road falters. A botched record deal sends the band into disarray in the early 1980s, splintering the members and forcing an identity crisis that won’t go away. They can only sit by and watch as Thorogood, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Robert Cray and other acts for whom they had opened doors rocket to the top of the entertainment industry. The band’s co-founder and virtuoso lead guitarist Jimmy Thackery leaves to chase a solo career, and a long slide into oblivion begins. “It was 15 years of real struggle,” says co-founder Mark Wenner on camera. “I felt like I was on the sidelines at the big game. Put me in coach, I’m ready to play.”
7:30pm | $18, $15 members
The evening begins with a screening of the film followed by a set of scorching blues tunes by the one and only Nighthawks.