Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Theater offers a glimpse of Fillmore venue - Gazette


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After a girl threw her scarf on stage at surf-rocker Donavon Frankenreiter during an Oct. 24 concert at a Live Nation venue in Philadelphia, the laid-back Southern Californian songwriter decided the offer deserved some additional attention.

"When do you want it back?" Frankenreiter asked the girl in between songs as he wrapped the scarf around his neck.

"Soon!" the fan replied back.

"What, you don't want it to get all sweaty?" Frankenreiter joked, pretending to be offended and receiving a chorus of laughs from the crowd of about 700 people.

The scene is an example of the intimate atmosphere at Philadelphia's Theater of the Living Arts, the Live Nation-operated venue that hosted Frankenreiter, and an experience that Live Nation officials hope to bring to downtown Silver Spring.

The Los Angeles-based concert promoter expects to open a Fillmore concert venue in two years at 8650 Colesville Road, the site of the former J.C. Penney, offering between 70 and 150 concerts a year in the 2,000-person capacity venue. The Montgomery County Council passed two crucial land-use measures in October paving the way for the Fillmore.

While the Silver Spring venue would be larger than the Theater of the Living Arts, the two-story, 800-person capacity Philadelphia concert hall offers a glimpse of what to expect in Silver Spring.

Located on Philadelphia's renowned South Street, the TLA is in the heart of a lively business district with shopping, restaurants and culture similar to that of downtown Silver Spring. Both the TLA and the proposed Fillmore rely on public transportation and parking. And both venues will book similar small- and mid-level national and regional acts, said Ted Mankin, vice president of booking for Live Nation in the Washington, D.C., area.

At the TLA, Frankenreiter's fans raved about the comfortable crowd size and the connection with the performer.

"It's very quaint and intimate," said Rob Grassinger, who recently moved to the Philadelphia area from San Francisco with his wife. He said the TLA reminded him of the San Francisco Fillmore, a historic, 1,250-capacity venue now operated by Live Nation.

To enter the downstairs bar area or the second-floor balcony, which featured a full bar, event staff checked identification and gave wristbands to those age 21 and older. At one point a concertgoer asked if he could take his drink to the bathroom with him, but event security said they would watch it for him until he got back.

"As long as liquor licenses are held and we are open and have beverages available, it's up to us to make sure we enforce the laws," Mankin said. "What people come out to do is listen to music."

Drinks were not allowed outside the bar areas until the main act went on stage. The upstairs bar area had about 40 stools with several tables, two leather couches, four flat-screen televisions with a live feed of the concert and 10 beer taps. Beers ranged from $5.75 to $10.75.

The security at the TLA was private Live Nation staff and concentrated near the door and the entrances to the two bar areas. Among attendees, who ranged from teenagers to middle-aged adults, opinions were mixed on how Live Nation security treated fans.

"You can walk in and they check everything but they don't take your camera and stuff," said Janelle McCauley, who enjoyed the freedom the TLA allows for fans.

Andy French, who has been going to the TLA for 15 years, said security has become more aggressive since Live Nation began operating the venue in 2007.

"Since it's been introduced as the Fillmore, security has become a lot more non-relaxed, a lot more strict," French said. "My favorite memory of going to shows is bringing in a marker to hope to get the bands' signature on the ticket and now you can't even do that."

Outside the venue, nearby business owners said a ubiquitous Philadelphia police presence on South Street limited incidents outside the TLA. And many merchants had a positive opinion of the concert hall.

"Since Live Nation started booking the acts there, it's been a lot more consistent as far as actually having shows," said Daniel Christiansen, co-owner of Copabanana, a bar and restaurant three doors down from the TLA. "It's been great for foot traffic."

Silver Spring residents and business owners have expressed concern in the past about masses of concert-goers causing nuisances downtown, but South Street business owners have embraced the venue and the crowds.

"What I like to do is work with them and maybe do a cross promotion," said Tom Gaylord, owner of the Lickety Split bar near the TLA. "People can come in before the concert and [we offer specials]."

Mankin said he has met with officials at the American Film Institute's Silver Theatre and Culture Center, located across the street from the Fillmore, to discuss collaborative programming. He also will meet with the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board to limit the venue's impact on residents and business owners.

Live Nation venues stop serving alcohol one hour before the concert ends, and concerts at the Silver Spring Fillmore must end before 1 a.m.

Mankin said the restaurants and shopping at City Plaza and on Ellsworth Drive will make a concert at the Silver Spring Fillmore a full-day event. Those who frequent the TLA said they make use of the restaurants and shopping nearby.

"Before the concert, we go and have dinner then we go to the show and then come out after," said Jeanne Berkel over a 1 a.m. beer at Lickety Split. "You can make a whole night out of it."

Mankin said the Silver Spring Fillmore's downtown location is a key aspect of the venue. The proximity of the site to transit options will limit the amount of event parking built for the Fillmore (the TLA has no event parking but is near public parking).

Despite the similarities, the Silver Spring venue is unique because it will be built and opened as a Live Nation venue, Mankin said. The TLA was under different ownership until Live Nation took over operations in 2007.

Mankin said Live Nation officials have already begun meeting with the community to make sure all needs and concerns are addressed.

"It's your venue, it's your town," he said. "People aren't going to say, ‘We are playing Washington, they will say, We are playing Silver Spring.'"

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