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The holidays are here. It’s a time for family, friends and nostalgia. PLAYBACKTHETAPE combines all three.

PLAYBACKTHETAPE is a VHS tape screening series held at locations that are free and all ages. Producer Jared Earley told us he wanted to do something that brings people together and allows interested parties to wander in and out. There’s a core audience that attends every event but there are also unknowing viewers. The last event caught the eye of a 5-year-old boy. He liked the programming and had never seen a VHS tape. Earley let him hold the tape and study it.

PLAYBACK isn’t the only group reintroducing VHS to underground crowds. Everything Is Terrible! and The Found Footage Festival have both been re-cutting and re-imagining footage into comedic and nightmarish packages. PLAYBACK isn’t doing this. They’re not doing anything new with their tapes. They’re pressing play.

This Thursday, December 17 they’re having their “MUPPETS AND MISTLETOE” program at The Coupe. The double feature will include two Muppets classics, “Christmas Eve on Sesame Street” and “Muppet Family Christmas”. The PLAYBACKTHETAPE version of “Christmas Eve” was recorded from a local television airing in the late 1980s and “Muppet Family Christmas” is in its original, unedited television form (future airings and releases cut several scenes due to music licensing issues). All PLAYBACKTHETAPE content is screened from original VHS recordings including vintage commercial breaks.


Why would you want to sit through commercials? Ever? Because they help remind people what’s in our collective memory. Previous editions of PLAYBACK have featuring impromptu sing-a-longs to old commercials. Think of the Empire Carpet commercial. Now think of the phone number. Now that melody is in your head.

D.C. is a melting pot. It’s likely that the crowd at most PLAYBACK events grew up in different time zones. That’s different regional commercials, different weather warning, different local accents. In addition to sharing memories, the events help give strangers an excuse to share their memories with strangers.


Earley is the kind of guy that gives away VHS players as gifts. He doesn’t just want your tapes, he wants you to watch your tapes. He told us, “Electronic waste is a problem. This is a novel way to save some tapes once headed for a landfill.”

If you’re a VCR owner and user, consider purchasing a “mystery tape” at this Thursday’s show. 41% of D.C.’s 6 million residents will be leaving the District for the holidays. A lot of those destinations have tapes no one longer views. Consider bringing some back for PLAYBACK.

“I hope people reconsider what’s in their collection before they discard it,” said Earley. “DVR provides so many conveniences, but because it’s not material, it lends itself to just being used and deleted, like a Kleenex. A tape is a clunky cartridge, a little harder to ignore. We throw them out without valuing them. If one in ten people that read this go home for the holidays and grab a tape out of their parents hour and give it to PLAYBACKTHETAPE, that provides us with two years of programming.”