I.M.P., the Washington, D.C.-area promotion company which runs the city's famed 9:30 Club, has secured a forty-year lease to operate Columbia, Maryland's Merriweather Post Pavilion. The venue is located within a 40 acre wooded area between Baltimore and the Nation's Capital and kicks-off its 50th season next month.
"I grew up here and the idea that I got to make a deal and run Merriweather is like a baseball fan being handed Wrigley Field," Seth Hurwitz, I.M.P.'s chairman, told Billboard during a tour of the renovated facility. "Are you kidding me? Seriously, am I dreaming?"
I.M.P. has booked a season filled with critically and/or commercially acclaimed artists, including: Bon Iver, Ryan Adams, Sigur Ros, Sturgill Simpson, My Morning Jacket, Alt J, Spoon, Luke Bryan, Dave Matthews, The xx, Jack Johnson and the Chainsmokers as well as the M3 metal and southern rock festivals. The season officially kicks-off April 8 with Deadmaus.
When asked what his guiding booking philosophy is, the 58-year old promoter sums it up succinctly with Yiddish. "I stay away from schlock," he says. "The schedule is filled with a bunch of acts that don't do tour deals. These tend to be the cool acts I prefer to do anyway."
Tour deals are exclusive contracts larger promoters make with artists whereby they can only play at venues owned and operated by that promoter. This puts independent promoters like Hurwitz - an increasingly dying breed - at a competitive disadvantage. Some feel these agreements stifle free-market competition and are monopolistic.
That may help explain I.M.P.'s $55 million dollar renovation of Merriweather which may make artists and managers reconsider--if not regret--any decision to not play the renovated D.C.-area shed. This includes a complete overhaul of the stage and backstage areas, concessions, seating, box office, VIP area and more. There's a new rotating stage allowing for quick artist turnaround and a cavernous staguing area able to handle any type of rigging.
Artists and their road crews will perhaps be most elated by the expanded 15,000 square feet of dressing rooms and backstage area which among other luxe amenities includes a swimming pool in both adult and kiddie sizes.
Originally designed by legendary architect Frank Gehry and built to be the home of the National Symphony Orchestra, Merriweather in its 50 years of programming has come to include more contemporary fare including such legendary artists as the Who, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead. In 2009 Animal Collective named their album after the venue they grew up attending.
Nederlander along with I.M.P. in the 1990s and SFX/Clear Channel (which later became Live Nation) promoted the venue before I.M.P. came aboard as the exclusive operator in 2004. The Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission, a nonprofit community organization that acquired ownership of Merriweather lease November, signed the new 40-year lease with I.M.P.
I.M.P. was founded by Hurwitz and Rich Heinecke as a Bethesda, Md.-based concert promotions and event production company whose events included the Virgin Festival in the U.S., Preakness InField Fest and the Sweetlife Festival. The company also operates Washington, D.C.'s Lincoln Theater and puts on shows at the U Street Music Hall, the Verizon Center, Echostage, DAR Constitution Hall and EagleBank Arena.
In October, the company will open The Anthem, a new convertible venue with a capacity ranging from 2,500-6,000 capacity venue located on Washington D.C.'s newly renovated Southwest Waterfront beside the Potomac River.