But what happens to Washington’s greater nightlife ecosystem when the largest music hall of its kind opens shop in a rebounding suburb outside the city? Will the fans come out to fill it? And who are they?
“We want everybody,” says Stephanie Steele, the Fillmore Silver Spring’s general manager. “We’re doing as much as we can to make sure that there’s something going on here that appeals to everybody in this region.”
But for starters, the target audience appears to be older fans and their kids. With more than three dozen performances booked at the Fillmore through December, many are baby boomer-drawing acts (Cheap Trick, Levon Helm) and teen-friendly artists (Joe Jonas, Mac Miller), with some comedians sprinkled throughout (Adam Carolla, Lewis Black). Sandwiched between the venue’s grand opening with Blige and a Sept. 17 gig by Grammy winner John Legend, the venue will host a Bruce Springsteen tribute band.
Steele says the Fillmore — which is operated by national concert promotion behemoth Live Nation — isn’t focused on the 20-to-30-somethings who heavily populate the rest of Washington’s nightclub circuit. “It’s definitely an all ages venue,” she says.
It’s other things, too. It’s a brand with a trippy, hippie history and a 21st-century family focus. It’s a self-dubbed “economic engine,” aiming to draw patrons out to neighboring restaurants, but will offer an appetizer and entree menu of its own. Even the room is a paradox, simultaneously cavernous and cozy.
And it’s quite handsome. The sight lines to the stage are excellent, with a five-tiered horseshoe balcony that hovers high over the dance floor — not unlike the layout of Washington’s 9:30 Club.
But I.M.P., the Bethesda-based owner of the 9:30, was a vocal opponent of the Fillmore long before the new venue settled on a floor plan.
In 2007, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett abruptly killed a five-year negotiation with owners of the Alexandria-based Birchmere to open a second music hall at the former J.C. Penney site, saying that the talks were taking too long. (Representatives at the Birchmere declined to be interviewed for this story.)
Soon after, Leggett sealed a deal with Live Nation to develop the Fillmore with $4 million in state funds and another $4 million in county funds. With the county using tax dollars to subsidize a for-profit enterprise, criticism came from all directions. After requests to place its competing bid were ignored, I.M.P. filed suit against the state of Maryland in 2010 to try to block the Fillmore’s funding. It didn’t work, but the suit did surface the fact that the project actually cost taxpayers at least $11.2 million.