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Today, the Howard Theatre announced a new partnership that could ramp up concert-booking competition in the already entertainment-saturated U Street NW corridor. Howard Theatre operator Blue Note Entertainment Group plans to team up with Philadelphia venue Electric Factory and “boutique” concert promotion group Bonfire—-which books Electric Factory, among other Philly venues—-in a move that positions the District-owned venue to book more shows that directly compete with nearby venues like 9:30 Club and the similarly city-owned Lincoln Theatre.
The partnership takes effect in January. A press release says the maneuver promises to “greatly expand the talent booking arm of The Howard Theatre, diversifying performances and bringing even more renowned acts to one of the oldest and most storied music venues in the country.”
The change seems geared toward bringing down the average age of Howard Theatre’s customer base. The T Street NW venue, which reopened in 2012 after a multimillion dollar renovation, tends to book an especially large number of older-skewing hip-hop, R&B, soul, and go-go acts. Its alignment with Bonfire seems poised to change that.
As part of the deal, Bonfire’s Bryan Dilworth will begin booking shows at Howard Theatre, and his company will also work with two Blue Note venues in New York, the Highline Ballroom and B.B. King’s Blues Club. Bonfire partner Adam Spivak says in a press release, “This dominant partnership will break through two seemingly crowded markets by adding to show counts, expanding the booking staffs of all three venues and focusing on younger acts that have historically played other venues.” Younger indeed: Many of Bonfire’s Philly bookings look like the kind of indie bands you’d see at Black Cat, Sixth & I, or Comet Ping Pong.
Asked what “younger” could entail, Blue Note President Steven Bensusan writes in an email, “Younger may not be the right word here, but the bottom line is that we need to be on the forefront in all genres of music. Currently we are presenting primarily R&B, Hip hop, Soul and world music, but the demand is there for us to present more Rock, indie rock, Jam bands & electronic music. This partnership will enable us to meet this demand in new and exciting ways at a venue that offers an audience experience that is the best in town.”
Considering that 9:30 Club is generally thought of as D.C.’s best music venue, that could be interpreted as a shot at the club just a stone’s throw away on V Street NW. (9:30 Club co-owner Seth Hurwitz, whose company I.M.P. books 9:30 Club, Lincoln Theatre, and occasionally U Street Music Hall, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
The show-count bit is interesting, too; Howard Theatre already seems to land a healthy number of shows. But Bensusan sees room for improvement. “We are booking 300+ shows annually, not counting private events and our gospel brunch. We’ve got a lot out there, but this will boost the overall quality of shows that we book.”
What prompted this partnership? “I saw what Bryan and his team are booking in Philly at the Electric Factory and their other venues,” Bensusan writes, “and it just made sense for us to work together to compete with other national and regional promoters.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery