Before Warren Zanes was old enough to join his big brother’s band, the Del Fuegos, he was a student at Phillips Academy Andover. On any given night when the band was playing in Boston — and there were a lot of those in the early 1980s — he would pull on a black ski mask, sneak out of his dormitory, and catch a ride into the city.
“Going to Boston at that time — God, it was my Hamburg,” Zanes says, referring to the German city where the pre-fame Beatles developed their chops. “There was such an energy. It seemed like the center of everything that was happening.”
Four decades later, the Del Fuegos are set to headline a celebration of Boston’s rock ‘n’ roll pinnacle at Roadrunner, the city’s newest venue. On Saturday, they’ll be preceded onstage by the Nervous Eaters and a vintage all-star band featuring members of the Atlantics, with Barrence Whitfield, Rick Berlin, Charlie Farren, and a surprise guest or two taking turns at the microphone.
It’s a belated 40th anniversary party for the Channel, the gritty, grimy warehouse club that rocked the Fort Point Channel on the South Boston side from 1980 through the early 1990s. Originally planned for 2020, the show was postponed by the pandemic.
Harry Booras, one of the Channel’s co-founders, says he’s impressed by the commitment to Boston’s musical legacy at Roadrunner, where there’s a party room with a big neon sign that reads “I’m in love with Massachusetts.” (It’s a line from the Modern Lovers song that gave the new event space its name.)
“They spent $20 million, and I think we spent $20,000,” says Booras with a laugh. “But there are a lot of similarities — general admission, great sound, great sight lines.”
Over the past few years Booras has been working on a podcast about the Channel. Judging by the range of downloads from around the globe, he says, there’s a “huge diaspora” of onetime Bostonians who still recall those wild nights fondly.
At the Channel, regulars knew all about the liberal guest-list policy. Booras plans to recreate a bit of that mayhem by inviting former patrons to make a case for free entry to the show on Saturday: Fans can email Iwasatthechannel@gmail.com to explain why they shouldn’t have to pay to get in. Booras and his co-promoter, Sean McNally, will sift through the submissions and decide who gets on the list.
The young Warren Zanes joined his brother Dan, bassist Tom Lloyd, and drummer Woody Giessmann in time to record the band’s first full-length album, ”The Longest Day,” released in 1984.
“I remember playing the Channel and seeing a line of people that couldn’t fit inside,” he says. “Whoa! Something was happening that we hoped would happen but didn’t plan for. It was exciting.”
With a capacity of 1,700, the Channel was the largest of a loose network of Boston-area bars and nightclubs that accommodated hundreds of local bands. The Del Fuegos sometimes launched “tours” without ever leaving the city, playing Cantones, the Inn Square Men’s Bar, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, and of course the Rat.
The Del Fuegos revered the Real Kids and the Dawgs. They shared a rehearsal space with the Neats, befriended the members of Scruffy the Cat, and often played the Dogmatics’ loft parties. Tom Lloyd roomed with David Minehan of the Neighborhoods.
“Part of it all was the idea of a community, that music is a galvanizing force,” says Dan Zanes, speaking in a separate phone conversation from his current home in Baltimore. “That’s the way it was in Boston.”
At a time when a terrible period of racial strife still lingered in Boston, the Channel was notable for its diverse programming, he says.
“In its own quiet way, it did a lot to build bridges. Like, yes, Roy Orbison and King Sunny [Adé] should be on the same stage in the same week.”
But the scene was also “reckless, and somewhat dangerous,” recalls brother Warren, who lives in New Jersey. Headlining the Channel anniversary makes sense, he says: “I’m pretty sure everyone in the band lost their virginity at the Channel.
“A lot of people were paving their way toward one rehab or another. And those were our people.” In fact, Giessmann went on to found the recovery program Right Turn.
The Del Fuegos petered out around 1990. Warren Zanes has since enjoyed an expansive career as an academic. He served as a vice president at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, ran Steven Van Zandt’s Rock and Roll Forever Foundation, and wrote a biography of Tom Petty.
“Not only are we all alive,” he says, “but we all have these second lives. For four guys who didn’t look like they had a lot going on, we’ve had a lot of good fortune.”
Lloyd, a classically trained cellist who lives in Santa Monica, Calif., earned a PhD in environmental engineering and has worked as an investment analyst. For the show at Roadrunner, the band will also feature longtime associate Brother Cleve on keyboards.
Dan Zanes has carried that youthful sense of community into his second career, making music for families, most recently with his wife, Claudia, a music therapist. His 2006 album for kids, “Catch That Train!,” won a Grammy Award.
For the original members, the heyday of the Del Fuegos has receded far into the rear view. Their last reunion was over a decade ago, when they played two nights at the Paradise. At this point, Dan Zanes says, he’s pleased to revive his old band’s music “as an oldies act.”
“I’m super comfortable with that,” he says. “I see this as a real blessing.”
Of the old songs, he’s especially excited to rehearse and play one in particular: “Sound of Our Town.”
Email James Sullivan at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.
THE CHANNEL’S 42nd ANNIVERSARY
Featuring the Del Fuegos, Nervous Eaters, and the Channel All-Star Revue. At Roadrunner. May 28 at 7 p.m. $44.25-50. roadrunnerboston.com