Melanie Cantwell Departs I.M.P.; Company Names Lincoln Theatre GM, Booking Co-Leaders

Cherise Rhyns
Courtesy I.M.P
– Cherise Rhyns

I.M.P., the Washington, D.C.-based company that owns the 9:30 Club and The Anthem, as well as operates Merriweather Post Pavilion and Lincoln Theatre, has promoted three staffers to leadership positions as Melanie Cantwell, I.M.P.’s longtime booker and Pollstar’s 2018 Talent Buyer of the Year, departs.

Cherise Rhyns has been named General Manager of the Lincoln Theatre in Washington, while Jen Hass and Zhubin Aghamolla will co-lead I.M.P.’s booking department, according to a statement from I.M.P.

They’ll have big shoes to fill. Cantwell, who has been with I.M.P. for more than a decade and most recently served as head booker, said, “I’ve decided to leave my position with I.M.P.  I am grateful for all of the years I spent working with I.M.P. and colleagues in the music industry, and while music has always been a priority in my life, my children come first.  I have learned a lot and will forever be humbled for the opportunity to book shows in the greatest venues on the planet and work with the most amazing and talented team.”

See Also: Qs With A Pollstar Award Winner: Melanie Cantwell, Nightclub Talent Buyer Of The Year 

“Melanie has been a huge piece of the fabric of I.M.P. for years,” said I.M.P. COO Donna Westmoreland.  “While we hate to see her go, we certainly understand and support her decision to put her family first. We wish her the very best and are grateful for the time she spent with us. Jen and Zhubin represent the future of the company and we couldn’t be prouder of them or more confident in their ability to step up and masterfully program our venues.”

All were promoted from within, with Rhyns rising through the ranks at the 9:30 Club from part-timer to night manager. She takes the reins at Lincoln Theatre, which has experienced greatly increased bookings and attendance since I.M.P. began operating the historic venue seven years ago.

Rhyns will be on hand for the Lincoln Theatre’s centennial, and be responsible for operations and direct oversight of facilities and show management while highlighting the building’s history and connections to the community. She’ll work closely with Rosanna Ruscetti, the Lincoln Theatre’s director of cultural programming since 2014. In that time, Ruscetti has expanded programming in theatre, dance, author and lecture events as well as music genres such as classical, opera, jazz, international and traditional.

“Cherise has been with the company part time for 10 years and is truly a rock star,” said Westmoreland in a statement. “We’ve been trying to figure out a way to bring her further into the fold for a while now and are thrilled to have her at the helm of the ‘Jewel of U Street.’”

“The Lincoln Theatre is a venue that has played such a significant role in the history of this city and its culture, originally forming the center of Black Broadway,” said Rhyns.  “People today probably don’t know that this theatre hosted performances from legends like Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, and of course Duke Ellington.” Another little-known fact: the 9:30 Club’s home at 815 V St. NW was originally built and owned by Duke as a nightclub in 1943. “I’m truly honored and humbled to be in a position to help foster Lincoln Theatre’s legacy for years to come.”

 “I grew up around music and dance; my mother was a church pianist and my father was, and still is, involved with singing and acting,” said Rhyns. “It’s very important to me that everyone, regardless of age or economic status, have opportunities to experience and enjoy performing arts.”

Cantwell’s departure and the promotions of Rhyns, Hass and Aghamolla mark the latest changes in what has been a tumultuous six month period for I.M.P., which was rocked with the arrest of founder and Chairman Seth Hurwitz, who was arrested in August and entered a plea agreement on a charge of solicitation in October.