Elvis Room 20 celebrations on the Seacoast will pay tribute to the chaotic whirlwind of words, sound, art and wildly individualistic people that made an off-beat Portsmouth coffee house a raucously creative haven in the 1990s.
And it turns out that some of the biggest fans of this alternative music mecca are the bands who played there back in the day, and are returning — some even reuniting — to carry on the spirit of the Elvis Club this October.
“It wasn’t trying to be hip and cool; it simply was hip and cool because those who created it were open to letting everyone express themselves and their individuality,” said John McCormack, of the metal/soul/hip-hop group Fly Spinach Fly. “That came across in the music, of course. One night you might catch a punk band from Japan, the next night it might be Elliot Smith or early hip-hop, funk or emo. It was eclectic but with a unified, pre-internet feeling of youth, rebellion, coffee, cigarettes and art.”
For Graham Smith of the alt band Thanks to Gravity, it was more than taking a turn in the spotlight.
“The Elvis Room was a place where I actually hung out, drank coffee, played pinball, came home to,” Smith said. “I mean, I went to other places to see specific bands, but that place, and (club owners) Dawn-Marie (Pierre), Barb (Steinbach) and all the kids, it felt like playing in a friend’s basement to a roomful of friends.”
A series of concerts, readings and exhibits through Oct. 30 on the Seacoast are aimed at reviving some of that spunk and punk.
The music will kick off on Friday at 3S Artspace, 319 Vaughan St., Portsmouth, with a 7 p.m. concert featuring Thanks to Gravity, Granite State native folk artist Dan Blakeslee and blues guitarist Bob Halperin, who was the first musician to play at The Elvis Room, which operated for six years at 142 Congress St., before closing in 1999.
The show coincides with the opening reception from 5 to 8 p.m. in the Lobby Gallery for “The Elvis Room 20: A Retrospective” exhibit, which will remain on display through Oct. 27.
On Saturday, legendary punk rockers the Queers will play 3S Artspace, with surf punk guitarist Laramie Dean and punk group the Cretins at 7 p.m.
“The Elvis Room was like my high school, and touring with (surf music mentor) Dick Dales was my college-level education,” said Dean, whose first show at the Elvis room was opening for Boston rockabilly favorites the Racketeers and the Bourbonaires.
Fly Spinach Fly shares a bill with heady power pop group Heavens to Murgatroid at 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Oct. 24-25 at 3S Artspace.
The Press Room, 77 Daniel St., will display Elvis Room posters and host two shows by Say ZuZu, with opening act Guy Capecelatro III, at 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Oct. 24-25.
“I want everyone to have a great time, hear great music and, for some, have an amazing walk down memory lane,” Steinbach said. ““I don’t want to resurrect. I want to remind and inform. I think most people would agree that Portsmouth has changed a lot. The ‘90s were a special time. The Elvis Room was a big part of that. So for those that played their part during that time — remember, and for those that didn’t, look how cool Portsmouth was.”
The Portsmouth Book & Bar, 40 Pleasant St., also house some of the journals from the Elvis Room this month, and there will be readings from 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday. Liars Bench Beer Company’s limited edition Elvis Room brew will be served.
There also will be an Elvis Room Open Mic from 7 to 10 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16, at the Book & Bar.
In addition, Choosy Moms with Jupiter 2 will play The Stone Church, 5 Granite St., Newmarket, at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18, and Scissorfight, Humpmuscle and Step 13 will visit at the Dover Brick House, 2 Orchard St., Dover, at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 30.
For more details about the schedule, go to elvisroom.com or contact individual venues.