What’s the distance between the stage and the highest seating section at the Anthem, Washington D.C.’s newest music venue?
“About 36 years,” jokes Seth Hurwitz, the long-time indie promoter who was showing off his new $60 million, 6,000-capacity venue anchoring the recent $2.5 billion Wharf development on the city’s Southwest Waterfront.
Hurwitz has been promoting shows in D.C. for decades at his venues that include the 9:30 Club, the Lincoln Theater and Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland. On Thursday (Oct. 12), he was leading a press tour of his dazzling new rock theater, which includes three floors of tiered viewing space, a massive general admission floor and 450 reserved seats (which Hurwitz describes as “Super Excellent Seats). As visitors walk into the lobby, they’re greeted by a collection of cymbals that hang from as high as three stories up. The bottom of a swimming pool can also be seen — one of the amenities available to renters of the apartments located above the venue — $3 million to keep the music contained in the venue. For Thursday’s opening night, swimmers dressed as mermaids waved from the pool to fans below.
Andrew W.K. then the Foo Fighters opened the venue with a private concert Wednesday (Oct. 11) night broadcast on iHeartRadio. The Foo’s frontman Dave Grohl had a spotlight shine on Hurwitz’s multi-level owner’s box, one of two at the venue — the other belonging to Wharf developer Monty Hoffman with PN Hoffman, who is the co-developer of The Wharf along Madison Marquette. Dave personally thanked Hurwitz for constructing the “the best damned venue we’ve ever played.” On Thursday, the first night the venue was open to the public, Grohl told the audience “let’s break this shit in!” Hurwitz was even invited on stage at one point and played drums for a Foo Fighters cover of The Rolling Stones’ classic “Bitch.”
“Everyone asked me, ‘Are you excited for the opening?’ And my answer is that I’m just excited to get open, because once we get open and move people through here I can figure out now what needs to be done,” Hurwitz tells Billboard. Unlike his other venues — including the 9:30 Club, which was formerly the WUST radio hall and served as a club for Duke Ellington in the 1940s — the Anthem was built from the ground up to anchor the Wharf, a development that includes restaurants, hotels, condos and a water taxi stop that takes passengers to both Georgetown and Alexandria, Virginia.
“A lot of people have asked me if I think the Anthem will cannibalize the 9:30 Club and looking at this schedule, I think maybe two acts would have played the 9:30,” he says. “And the Anthem works for all kinds of music. At the 9:30 Club there are just certain types of music that don’t belong there — it has a vibe and was built on certain acts that are big but might want to play a small place. The Anthem is a different kind of venue.”
The Anthem has a raw industrial feel with exposed steel beams, textured brick walls and raw concrete floors, juxtaposed with sophisticated designs and specially crafted adornments. Hurwitz said he wanted a venue with a look and feel fans would be comfortable wearing ripped jeans and Minor Threat t-shirts, or dressing up for the National Symphony Orchestra.
“The magic of it is that it’s right for high-end seated (shows) or the Foo Fighters,” Hurwitz said. “Some say it’s an opera house. Some say it’s a club. It’s transformative. You have to see it to understand it.”
While Hurwitz controls the booking calendar, he says the facility is open to rental by any promoter or event organizer with one exception — President Donald Trump.
“I would allow a Trump resignation or impeachment party,” but that’s it, he says. Jokes aside, he reiterated, “I would absolutely rent my room to anyone. If there is a tour deal and they want to play there, we are fine with being just the venue. We already have several AEG shows and, believe it or not, I would be absolutely happy to welcome Live Nation to the venue,” he adds of the concert conglomerate, with whom he has publicly clashed with in the past.
In the wake of the terrorist attacks on shows in Manchester and Vegas, security was tight for the opening of the venue although Hurwitz says he doesn’t want to reveal the venue’s security plan. Police were highly visible outside the club, some using “vapor wake” dogs to enhance the security perimeter.
The venue scales from 6,000 capacity down to 2,500 people with a moveable stage that shrinks and expands the floor space. There’s a reserved seating configuration that goes from 2,200 to 3,300. The Anthem is booked by I.M.P.’s Melanie Cantwell, formerly of the 9:30 Club and Lincoln Theatre which are now being booked by Maggie Cannon. Concessions are handled by Eat to the Beat, the same catering company that provides F&B for Merriweather Post Pavilion while tickets are being handled by Ticketfly.
Huge steel sheets adorn each side of the stage, drilled, designed and backlit to resemble permanent large stage curtains with lights that can be turned on and off. Hurwitz says he opted for the permanent industrial design over LED screens and intentionally excluded video boards from the venue.
“When I was giving Dave Grohl a tour a few months ago, he asked me if we were going to add video and I told him no,” Hurwitz explains. “I don’t like video — at the the 9:30 Club we never had video and it created a rapport with acts. We want to create that same magic here. We want people to look at the stage and not the video. I told this to Dave and he said, ‘It’s not for you, kids these days want video.’ And I just told him, ‘You’ll see. Everyone will be looking right at the stage because this is theater.’ And that’s what’s so great about the 9:30 Club. It’s great theater and establishes communion where everyone is one — the performer and audience. I think video distracts from the stage and when acts tell me about the unique experience they have at my venue, I know I’m right.”