9:30 Club and U Street Music Hall Join Forces

The partnership between 9:30’s Seth Hurwitz and U St. Music Hall’s Will Eastman could shake up live music in Washington.

By: Jason Koebler

Virginia native Dave Grohl played a surprise solo set during the 9:30 Club’s 30th anniversary show last year. Photograph by Kyle Gustafson

Since opening in 2010, U Street Music Hall has become DC’s go-to spot for electronic music and deejay nights. Now, thanks to a new partnership with the 9:30 Club and parent company I.M.P. Productions, it could become a hotspot to see up-and-coming bands—and could shake up the DC music scene in the process.

Starting with tomorrow’s Chopteeth concert, the 9:30 Club will be putting on early shows at the 300-capacity U Street venue most Fridays and Saturdays; it also has options to throw concerts every other day of the week, according to U Hall owner Will Eastman.

“It’s truly a shared booking alliance,” he says. Decisions about which acts to book will be made through “open-minded conversations” between Eastman and I.M.P. officials. Eastman, a well-known deejay, will also put on shows in the 9:30 Club’s back bar, a 50-capacity spot he says he’ll use to give newer deejays a chance. Those shows will happen every Friday and Saturday.

The partnership could have far-reaching implications for live music in DC. It gives 9:30 Club owner Seth Hurwitz a chance to form an early relationship with little-known bands who can’t fill 9:30 Club, and gives U Hall the chance to become a full-fledged live music venue with the support of DC’s best-known independent music promoter.

In his first two years, Eastman has landed a few great live music acts, such as a pre-hype Odd Future and pre–Virgin FreeFest Theophilus London, but he says the partnership will give him access to a wider range of bands.

“I’m primarily steeped in the deejay world. . . . That’s the world that I’ve inhabited very intimately for the past decade,” he says. “I’ve picked up a lot of tips [from I.M.P.]. In my opinion, no one in DC does it better.”

For Hurwitz, it signals a deeper commitment to the concert promotion business, no matter the venue. Besides the 9:30 Club and Merriweather, where I.M.P. is the sole booker, he has expanded to throw concerts at venues of all sizes: In August, he put Thievery Corporation at the Washington Kastles stadium, and in November, Foo Fighters (fronted by Hurwitz’s friend Dave Grohl) played the Verizon Center.

“We’re always looking for cool places that might want to put on a concert,” says Hurwitz, who started as a concert promoter. With U Hall, he now has a place to take a chance on little-known acts—and hopes the relationships he builds now will carry on when some of them are headlining Merriweather one day.

“You never know which acts are gonna get there,” he says. “The best way to have a relationship with them is to start small and see what happens. We want to help make these bands bigger, and we don’t really trust anyone else to make them bigger. The earlier we get involved, the more it helps us down the line.” That’s how he partnered with Eastman, who has deejayed at the 9:30 Club and at Hurwitz’s Virgin Festival at Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Relationships with talent have become more important since the opening of the Fillmore in Silver Spring. The Live Nation–owned venue has booked several acts that appeared at 9:30 Club in the past, such as the Roots and Deadmau5. The closer Hurwitz’s relationship with a band, the more likely they’ll opt for 9:30 over the Fillmore.

And should venues like Rock and Roll Hotel and Red Palace be worried now that 9:30 is snapping up bands to play at U Hall? Not quite, says Eastman.

“We want to build the scene for everyone,” he explains. “Each player in this music scene has his or her own specialties and expertise. I think there’s room for everyone. We’re focused on lifting the tide so all boats can rise.”