Monday, August 22, 2011

Make Way for Silver Spring's Fillmore Concert Hall

After years of anticipation -- and controversy -- Silver Spring (and the suburbs) will finally have a serious music venue.  On Thursday, September 15th, Live Nation will open the long-anticipated Fillmore concert hall in downtown Silver Spring, across from the AFI Theatre. Their opening lineup is quite impressive.

I must admit a few things. First, I am a frequent concertgoer at the 9:30 Club and have never really held fond feelings for either Live Nation or its Ticketmaster subsidiary. For that reason, I've been sympathetic to fears that the Walmart of live music might put our homegrown venues out of business. That being said, I was never quite comfortable with 9:30 Club owner, Seth Hurwitz's attempts to sue the Fillmore out of existence.

But such has been the long and treacherous path to music in Montgomery.  The county first started pursuing a Silver Spring venue almost nine years ago -- but the concept at the time was for Alexandria's folk-themed Birchmere, to open a second venue. Ryan Kearney at wrote a thorough overview of the Fillmore's evolution, noting that the $8 million taxpayer-subsidized project had undergone delays, lawsuits, political wrangling, and a $3.2 million cost overrun. Nevertheless, most folks I knew were ultimately thrilled with the idea of a MoCo music venue (see ie: all the politicos who showed up for the groundbreaking below).

From The September groundbreaking of The Fillmore. (Photo: Samuel Corum)
Until this past weekend, I had almost completely forgotten about the Fillmore controversy. But then, the following ad stared back at me while I was flipping through D.C.'s City Paper:

I don't know what your first impressions are, but I must admit, I was excited to see that the Fillmore is going to be a legit entertainment alternative in the area. For a long time, I have not felt there to be enough true "destinations" in the inner suburbs to give city-dwellers and others in the region enough unique reasons to venture into MoCo -- and I don't really count restaurants as unique, since the area is awash in dining districts. I imagine the Fillmore's (intentionally) eclectic lineup will give reason to many in the area to traipse over to Silver Spring:
  • Comedians like Lewis Black and Adam Carolla
  • Rockers like Blondie and George Thorogood
  • Hip hop artists and (actors) like Mos Def and Talib Kweli
  • 90's alternative stars like Bush and Moby
Though it is too soon to tell what the impact on the Fillmore's competitors will be, I have initial hope that the D.C. area music market can sustain (egads!) more than one mid-sized concert hall. Previously, the 9:30 Club owners had argued they would've opened the venue instead of Live Nation, and they would've done it without taxpayer dollars. But even though I was agnostic on the venture as a whole, I shared others' skepticism that the 9:30 Club owners would actually allow a Silver Spring location to compete for acts (in any meaningful way) with their flagship concert hall.

Among other things, I must admit, it has increasingly been the norm for 9:30 Club shows to sell-out uber-fast, leaving many fans disappointed. Notably, the 9:30 Club is a 1,200 person venue, while the Fillmore will be almost double that at 2,000 people. You may have noticed that popular acts often have to book more than one night when performing at the 9:30 Club. In any case, I am eager to check out the new Fillmore space and to see if it can keep up with the 9:30 Club's always-spot-on sound system. If the 9:30 Club runs into troubles down the road, I may be cursing along with a lot of other local music fans -- but until then, count me among the curious!

P.S. Fillmore people -- if you feel like comp'ing me tickets, email me at! :) You'll likely be getting my money back in exorbitant Ticketmaster fees over the coming years.

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