Wednesday, the Foo Fighters, fronted by Springfield, Virginia native Dave Grohl, played the third of three “soft opens” at the newest and most impressive concert venue in Washington DC. The very next night, the 10-time Grammy winners officially opened the venue in support of their newest album Concrete & Gold. The show sold out in minutes over the summer.
The Anthem, managed and operated by IMP, is run by one of the last remaining independent concert promotion companies in the nation. IMP survives and does well in a business that is being dominated by big conglomerates like Live Nation and AEG.
Seth Hurwitz, the chairman of IMP and co-owner of the 9:30 Club, was the major force behind the $60 million concert hall located in the District Wharf – a built up neighborhood in the Southwest Waterfront area.
“This was designed for people to go and have the best time they can possibly have and for the performers to enjoy playing here more than anywhere else,” Hurwitz said to the New York Times in August.
During Wednesday’s show, Grohl, one of the most famous rock stars in the world, thanked Hurwitz during their two-hour, by-invite-only gig (which was only supposed to last one hour). I was lucky enough to be there and record the moment.
“I wanted to say thank you, Seth, for building this venue, okay?” Grohl said. “I’ve known Seth for a long time. I’d say 30 years? As our friendship grew bigger, the rats in the alley grew bigger and bigger. The 9:30 Club grew bigger and bigger, but let me tell you, I know that the club isn’t officially open yet, but this is a special little evening. But even if we weren’t playing tomorrow night to officially open this place, I would have been here anyway. Because this is one of the best places we’ve ever played at in our entire lives. So congratulations, Washington DC. You now have the baddest-ass venue in the United States of America.”
And Grohl is right.
The Anthem is basically the 9:30 Club, but on delicious and legal steroids. The 57,000 square-foot concert hall has two balconies, instead of the 9:30 Club’s one, which feature seats and stunning views of the stage. The Anthem holds a capacity that varies from 2,500 to 6,000, depending on the movable stage and if there are seats set up on the floor. There are also two chandeliers that hang from its tall roof.
The Anthem also features incredible food. Hurwitz’s son Sam told me in a message that food is a major passion of his father’s. The menu offers a shrimp tray, a red apron half-smoke, several other grilled sandwiches, and a must-try “Wharfle” – a Belgian waffle topped with chocolate sauce. That night, I had the grilled swiss cheese and balsalmic onion sandwich, which lasted in my hand for approximately 40 seconds.
The only issue of the entire evening, and it was minor, was retrieving the food. Using a Panera Bread-esque solution, you can buy food at two bar/concession areas on the side of the floor area. Ordering is fast, but retrieving the food from Eat To The Beat was a bit of a wait. As a large group of rock fans encircled the pickup area, an employee would scream out numbers.
The beer list included all the favorites on tap or in bottles or cans. There were also several intriguing options including a Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin, Wyndridge Cider, and several different IPAS of Dogfish Head. I had a Blue Moon on tap.
As for the concert, the Foo Fighters were epic and enhanced by the venue’s features. The sound, emanating down from high-quality speakers on the roof of the venue, was crystal clear and not ear-assualting – a problem smaller venues have. The club was intentionally half-capacity that night to root out any problems. There was plenty of space to dance, or in my case, nod my head aggressively and scream-shout the band’s number one hits. Dave Grohl also had ample space to move to the front and back of the stage. There is literally no bad view wherever you are standing or sitting and it’s easy to shift from one spot to another.
Dave Grohl sang all of the band’s favorites and referenced Springfield, Virginia; Tyson’s Corner; and was especially passionate during a rendition of Arlandria. The Foos also performed Monkey Wrench, which was a nod to DC101’s Elliot In The Morning. On top of honoring Hurwitz, Grohl also stopped the show to thank his sister who was sitting in the balcony. The band closed with Everlong.
The safety of the venue and the preparedness and professionalism of the staff was apparent at all times. During the latter part of the show, a fan passed out near the stage. He was led back to the side of the floor by several concerned employees and EMS – who had come out from the side. The fan was sitting on a stretcher within a minute or less.
In an ever-evolving dangerous world, all entrants that night were also wanded by event security to locate any weapons. An undercover officer holding a leashed bomb-sniffing dog was a presence outside of the venue.
You can travel to The Anthem by car or by Metro. There is Wharf parking underneath the venue, which I used, but the garage is not yet completely open and capacity is somewhat limited. A good alternative is the L’Enfant Plaza Garage at 420 10th St, SW. The nearest Metro stop is also at L’Enfant Plaza.
Outside the venue, the waterfront area is beautiful and includes several bars and restaurants. While a majority of the restaurants are still under construction — their planned openings will happen in the coming months — the Wharf will offer 30 places to eat or drink without one national chain. The popular burger joint Shake Shack is located beside the venue. The Anthem is not just a place to see a concert; it’s an excuse to hang out at a beautiful river-side locale for an entire evening.
The night before Wednesday’s show, I sent Seth Hurwitz, who is gracious and quick to respond, an email asking if I could say hi and interview him at the concert that night. He confirmed he’d be at the show, but never got back to me on my other request. That was the right answer.
Seth’s dream concert hall had finally come to fruition. And his favorite band was playing. This was his big night after years of planning and hard work. This was his masterpiece and his thank you to the area.
Photos: Cara Bahniuk
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