Credit the stars, a deity of your liking, a cosmic harmonic convergence or maybe just good karma. Whatever the reason, on Saturday, Sept. 30 (a.k.a. 9/30), for the first time in its 44-year history, I.M.P., the Washington, D.C. promoter, will host shows simultaneously at all five of its owned and/or operated venues which include the iconic 9:30 Club, Merriweather Post Pavilion, The Lincoln Theatre, The Anthem and the Atlantis, a new 450-capacity venue opened this past May with the Foo Fighters.
“This was not planned,” says Seth Hurwitz, owner of I.M.P. “We were so busy with opening The Atlantis that it just occurred to me. One night there was three or four shows, and I thought, “Well, what night do we have all of them?” And this was the first night we did. It wasn’t planned like that. But I’ll tell you what is planned…I’m going to visit each one of them that night.”
What the head of I.M.P. will see on his 9:30 Day travels across the D.C. metropolitan area (including Columbia Maryland) will include the mighty Fleshtones at The Atlantis: Kenny Hoopla (early show) and Slowdive (late show) at the 9:30 Club; Thee Phantom & The Illharmonic Orchestra at the Lincoln Theatre; Zhu at The Anthem; and All Things Go festival at Merriweather Post Pavilion. That day I.M.P. will have some 1,150 people working at its venues.
I.M.P. is an independent and dominant promoter in the D.C. live market and now has a vertically aligned venue ladder which artists can climb up over the course of their careers. It starts with new 450-cap Atlantis, which can lead to playing the 9:30 Club (cap 1,200), the heart and soul of the I.M.P. brand and the operation, and the Lincoln Theatre (cap 1,225); from there artists can catapult up to the 6,000-cap Anthem; and once they become major headliners (of if they play a festival) they can perform at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, MD (cap 19,000).
On Pollstar’s Q3 2023 charts, I.M.P. ranked 44 on the Top 100 Promoters Tickets chart with more than 436K tickets sold and a $22.7 million gross, according to Pollstar Boxoffice Reports. 9:30 club had the fourth highest ticketing total on Q3s Top 200 Clubs with 166,486 tickets sold and a $5.3 million gross; the Anthem ranked No. 13 on the theatre chart moving more than 264K tickets and grossing $15.7 million; while Merriweather Post Pavilion was the number one grossing amphitheater in Q3 with $20.3 million gross and the second highest ticketing total with more than 245K.
When asked if he had some sort of vertically-integrated masterplan, Hurwitz demurs explaining it all unfolded organically. “Everyone always says, ‘Wow, so did you have a long-term vision for building your organization?’ Not really. It was always about, one show, one avail at a time, what makes sense, what’s the right ticket, what’s the right venue, etc. Of course, with a venue, you can’t just ad-hoc wake up and open a venue, it takes a lot of planning and it took a few years of planning for the Atlantis. The issue was we had a void where we didn’t have a small venue. And when we have a small venue, we can manage breaking acts the way we want to. And our stock and trade is breaking acts, making an act bigger than they were when we got the avail.”
The original and much beloved 9:30 Club, opened in 1980 at 930 F Street in a then-blighted part of downtown D.C. in a space that had formerly housed the Atlantis club. Hurwitz, who booked shows there, bought 9:30 in 1986 and in 1996 moved the venue to a far larger space on V Street, the WUST Radio Music Hall (formerly a gospel radio station and a jazz club co-owned by Duke Ellington). I.M.P. opened The Anthem in October 2017 at The Wharf, a $2.5 billion multi-use waterfront development by PN Hoffman that’s transformed the D.C. map. The promoter began booking Merriweather Post Pavilion in 2004 and completed a $55 million renovation in 2019. The Atlantis, which is located next to the 9:30 Club, cost $10 million to build out and is a near replica of the original 9:30.
The Atlantis, kicked off May 30 with the Foo Fighters that was the beginning of a series of 44 underplays, representing 44 years of 9:30’s existence with shows by the likes of Yo La Tengo, The Pixies, Hot Chip, Jenny Lewis, George Clinton, Billy Idol, Spoon and many others. Interestingly, The Fleshtones, who will play on 9:30 Day, are also the first act that’s not part of the 44 Atlantis underplays. It is also the band’s 44th 9:30 show (talk about numerology!). The Fleshtones are also a band that figure prominently in Hurwitz’s life.
“Right after 9:30 opened (1980) I was doing shows at the Ontario Theater. But I realized I needed a place to do small acts for the agents I was dealing with. So the first such act I booked at 930 was the Fleshtones and that was as an outside promoter. But then the band became a staple at 9:30. I remember they played the night of my bachelor party, which Dody DiSanto (co-founder and former co-owner of the 9:30 Club) threw for me at the 9:30. One of the gags that they attempted to pull on me was to put me up on stage to play drums,. which hadn’t occurred to me at the time to do that. Much to everyone’s chagrin, I pulled it off and they created a monster.” (Now, of course, Hurwitz is notorious for jumping on stage with various bands and sitting in on trap kit).
Hurwitz says that post-underplays, The Atlantis continues to sell-out which bodes will for the promoter.
“The exciting thing about the Atlantis is that all these new acts that we chose to book are all selling out,” Hurwitz says. “It’s crazy. People are believing us that we’re going to curate there and have only the best new acts out there, because they’re buying tickets like crazy to shows that would not be selling like that elsewhere. The big question was, ‘Okay, what happens after the 44? How’s that going to be?’ And the question’s been answered. People want to see the new place and, if you scroll down on the website, you have to go a ways to find a show that isn’t sold out. And that seems to be encouraging people to try whatever they can get. We had hoped for that, but it’s beyond our expectations. Now we have to deliver a great experience so they come back.”