It’s safe to say that Seth Hurwitz has had a pretty good week.
As chairman of I.M.P., the promotion and production company that operates 9:30 Club and Merriweather Post Pavilion, he welcomed a new venue to the family last Thursday. Music lovers flocked to the opening of The Anthem, a new $60 million, 6,000-capacity venue along Washington D.C.’s Southwest waterfront.
In its first week alone, the club has hosted hometown rockers the Foo Fighters, New Orleans brass favorite Trombone Shorty, French indie pop band Phoenix, and dance-punk darlings LCD Soundsystem.
“I’m a little tired,” Hurwitz joked. “But this opening has surpassed my wildest dreams—to see people coming into the venue, totally speechless, their jaws dropping. And having the Foo Fighters up on stage talking to everyone like they’re back for the weekend staying at their house. I couldn’t have written it better.”
But it’s a story that’s he’s been writing for nearly 40 years. Hurwitz booked his first show—The Cramps at the Ontario Theatre in 1980. The same year, the narrow 9:30 Club opened on F Street.
“Back then, every kid grew up in the suburbs,” he said. “We didn’t know what it was like to walk out our front door and see people living and working. So we had to go into underutilized areas of the city to build these places for ourselves.”
The times are certainly changing. For decades, the Southwest neighborhood of D.C. sat barren along the Anacostia River, but now it’s home to the recent $2.5 billion Wharf development, with The Anthem as its anchor and other retail, restaurant, and hotel space filling it out.
“Now people are nuts about downtown, my kids want to live in the city,” Hurwitz says. “Southwest was a wasteland up until a few years ago. But that’s just another example of the changing scene. To see people strolling along the water down here feels like a European city.”
And The Anthem is a huge reason for the crowds. The new venue feels casual and upscale all at once with concrete and steel beams, as well as theater-in-the-round style boxes flanking the top tiers. Tickets are almost all general admission, aside from 450 reserved seats. There are state-of-the-art lighting effects, but noticeably no video screens, which was an intentional decision to keep the focus on the stage.
The Anthem's lobby, which features cymbals suspended in the air. -Samantha Fien Helfman
“There are a lot of venues out there that serve multiple purposes,” Hurwitz says. “But this is a venue strictly built for music.”
He explains that the size of the venue has a certain Goldilocks appeal, especially in relation to the other spaces that I.M.P. operates.
“There are probably shows that we ended up doing at Merriweather that were too small and we did shows at 9:30 a few nights when the bands wanted something bigger,” he says. “Now we have finally the right place and every act will have a better fit.”
And there are certainly some stellar acts coming up in the fall and spring calendar—including Zedd, The Killers, Erykah Badu, Bob Dylan, The Shins, Morrissey, and Lorde, to name a few. In addition, the venue can scale down from 6,000 to 2,500 people thanks to a moveable stage that expands and contracts, allowing for more intimate shows like Tegan and Sara and Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile.
“My next hurdle is making people understand it’s not just a rock venue, and we’ll get some higher end acts that used to play the Kennedy Center,” Hurwitz says. “There are some acts that are hesitant to play somewhere until someone else has. But a majority of them want to play with shiny new toys.”
Hurwitz says the most gratifying part has been seeing fans from all over the tri-state area, including Baltimore, come to the shows and dance everywhere from the front row of the floor to the high corners of the venue.
“Hey, I’m an Orioles fan and I never miss a Ravens game,” he says. “I consider Baltimore part of my home and The Anthem was built for y’all as well.”