The addition of the Fillmore to the D.C. club scene could have a perverse effect on prices. “Counterintuitively, competition can lead to higher prices for the end users,” Bongiovanni says. It’s easy to scapegoat Ticketmaster or club owners for high-priced tickets, but the artists are really the ones with the leverage. They demand guarantees before promoters get paid. Since it’s harder for a musician to make a living from records and royalties in the age of digital music, more artists are demanding a bigger slice of the ticket money. It’s a tough calculation to make as an artist: Price tickets too high, and you’re playing to an empty house; too low, and you may have left money on the table during your 15 minutes of fame. If you have confidence and patience—say you’re an act like Mumford & Sons—you give your fans a break so you can attract repeat business show after show. If you’re a washed-up boomer act or a pop sensation, you grab the market by the neck and wring it for every last penny because you don’t know if this tour paycheck will be your last. Regardless, the rivalry among clubs for good acts could drive up prices. “More competition can easily turn a $15 show into a $20 show,” Ferrando says.
That calculus works differently in every city. In D.C., 9:30 Club has a reputation for not overpaying acts. “Seth Hurwitz knows how to say ‘no,’” Bongiovanni says. For its part, Live Nation wants to avoid cutting prices on its best seats. “The focus this year was to price the house right from the beginning, to drive higher revenue from the front and lower prices in the back to stimulate purchase. The key strategy to achieve this, No. 1, was no mass discounting,” Chief Executive Michael Rapino told analysts on a second-quarter conference call.
While Live Nation can use its industry muscle to bring big acts to its amphitheaters and stadiums, that kind of influence matters less on the club circuit, where it’s more about relationships. “The fact that Live Nation owns the club is irrelevant,” says Bob Lefsetz, author of The Lefsetz Letter email newsletter and a music industry gadfly. “If you have a hot act, people will see it in a barn.”
Live Nation is quick to emphasize how the Fillmore will develop local talent. Arich Berghammer, Live Nation’s executive vice president of clubs and theaters, tells me he’s open to having Ethiopian music at the Fillmore after discussing the lack of such shows with his cab driver during a recent trip to Silver Spring. Berghammer notes that Stephanie Steele, the Fillmore’s general manager, and Justin Kujawa, a Live Nation senior promoter, live in the neighborhood and will be responsive to the community’s tastes. Kujawa says the Fillmore is working with entertainment website and event planner Brightest Young Things to develop nights for local bands. “We want to do things in every genre,” Kujawa says. “We are trying to make everyone happy.”
The broad approach of the Fillmore may compete with I.M.P. bookings at D.A.R. Constitution Hall as well as 9:30 Club. Black Cat’s Ferrando says that Live Nation may take some acts that would play at 9:30 Club, which would then force 9:30 to compete with his club; he may end up booking an act that would otherwise play at Rock & Roll Hotel or Iota in Arlington, Va. “It could have a domino effect on bookings at all the other clubs,” he says. Hood Productions’ Lambert expects to feel a “pinch” from the Fillmore for the first six months, but says, “we’ll be fine.”
Staring out from the stage into the empty space of unfinished Fillmore, I imagine the screaming crowds. I try to picture the place packed to the rafters and how close fans on the balcony would be to the stage. What it would feel like taking the elevator from the spacious downstairs dressing rooms to the main stage. How fun it would be hanging out in the VIP lounge with its wavy mirrored accent wall. The outside of the club looks sharp at night, with the Fillmore marquee underlined by a red neon slash. A Lee Development official tells me they’ve set up lights in the three vertical vents on the right side of the hall’s façade to simulate an equalizer when the music is playing inside. It all sounds very cool.
But walk across Colesville Road, and you’re still in downtown Silver Spring. The nearby shopping center is a menagerie of chain restaurants from the sublime—Nando’s—to the pedestrian—Red Lobster—with 8,000 free parking spaces in the surrounding area. Surely Fillmore patrons and some acts will flock to these places after events, but it’s difficult to see them coming for the vibe. It’s a county, after all, that recently proposed a curfew for teens.
Will the location’s ambient tameness hurt a gorgeous theater that will still do great business with date-nighting parents or diehard fans shelling out big dollars for well-known acts? Probably not. But it also means there will always be a market for music on U or H streets, no matter who controls the spaces along those corridors. In the end, the Fillmore, which will surely please lots of concert-goers, may even end up pleasing D.C. club owners, too.