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Posted at 4:12 PM ET, 09/26/2007

Still More on the Fillmore

By Fritz Hahn

Today's press conference about the Fillmore's arrival in Silver Spring was short on actual news, but all about saying the right things.

County Executive Isiah Leggett was asked why the original plan, which involved the Birchmere, called for the concert venue to have a capacity of 500 people, while the Fillmore will have room for 500 seated and 2,000 people standing. Leggett didn't say that Live Nation, the Fillmore's parent company, was easier to work with or offered more money, he pointed to the success of the outdoor Silver Spring Jazz Festival, which drew an estimated 25,000 people earlier this month. "We want to keep people in and around Silver Spring," Leggett said. "Parking and Metro can accommodate larger crowds."

There was lots of talk about how have a concert venue would result in growing Silver Spring's cultural arts community, including shared events with the Fillmore and the American Film Institute during the Silverdocs documentary festival, but few details were forthcoming.

Later, the topic turned to the Fillmore's impact on other Washington venues, which Ted Mankin, an executive of Live Nation, played down.

"I grew up in Washington," Mankin said, "and like anywhere else, traffic is everyone's worst nightmare." That's true. But does that mean bands will suddenly become good Samaritans and start playing concerts on both sides of the Beltway on back-to-back nights, just because getting from Alexandria to Silver Spring is a slog right after work? Mankin seems to think so.

"I wouldn't be surprised if you had bands playing three dates in the D.C. area," he explained. "One at Rams Head Live [in Baltimore], one at the Fillmore and even one at the Birchmere [in Alexandria]."

This seems kind of unlikely to us, given that, right now, few bands play two different clubs in the area at the same time. A couple times a year, you'll find groups performing at the Birchmere and Annapolis's Rams Head Tavern on back-to-back days, but those two venues are (surprise!) booked by the same company, just as Rams Head Live and the Fillmore would be, so it's easy for promoters to offer the artists' management a two-for-one deal.

Let's not forget about two major subplots going tied to today's announcement:

The Birchmere, which was originally going to go into Silver Spring, made its own Tuesday announcement: It's going to open a new arts center and 500-seat concert hall in College Park as part of the University of Maryland's East Campus development, which will put more buildings and facilities close to the College Park Metro Station. (The late-afternoon timing of the press release was, I'm sure, in no way, shape or form steal thunder from today's Live Nation press conference.) Earlier today, representatives of the university and the Birchmere said the venue should be open by 2011.

Also, as reported by Richard Harrington in Wednesday's newspaper, 9:30 Club owner Seth Hurwitz made an 11th-hour plea to the county to let him get involved in the bidding, but at that point, the county was already making a deal with Live Nation.

A 500-seat Birchmere in Silver Spring doesn't worry Hurwitz. His club, the best-known live music venue in the D.C. area, focuses on big name rock and hip-hop acts, holds around 1,200 people and sold more tickets than any other club in the country last year. The smaller Birchmere focuses on more adult-contemporary and country music for a seated audience. There's going to be a lot more overlap between bands that Live Nation and the 9:30 want to book, and the 800-or-so seat difference between clubs means more money for promoters, agents and musicians alike.

Our biggest fear: This is going to lead to bidding wars between Live Nation and Hurwitz's IMP Productions, and the extra cost will be passed on to concert-goers, who are already paying far more in "service charges" for tickets than anyone thinks is reasonable -- well, anyone other than Ticketmaster executives.

-- Fritz

By Fritz Hahn  | September 26, 2007; 4:12 PM ET
Categories:  Bars and Clubs, Music  
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