News & Politics

The Anthem and 9:30 Club Aren’t Coming Back Anytime Soon

Live music is starting up again in the city. Why won't DC's highest profile clubs be part of it?

Photograph by Evy Mages
Coronavirus 2020

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Live-music fans were heartened to learn that DC venues are taking part in a pilot program that allows small-scale concerts under certain conditions. Six venues are included in the pilot: the Kennedy Center, GALA Hispanic Theatre, Pearl Street Warehouse, Union Stage, the Hamilton, and City Winery. So where are the Anthem and 9:30 Club, currently DC’s most famous rock stages? According to Audrey Fix Schaefer, the head of communications for IMP (which operates both venues), neither applied to take part in the pilot due to the current 50-person cap on attendance.

“It makes absolutely no financial sense,” says Fix Schaefer. “The only thing worse than us being completely shuttered is to open up partially—because we will lose more money than if we are shuttered. There is a maximum of 50 people in a room that is built for 1,200 or 6,000. It makes no business sense. It would be like if the government said to a 20-story hotel, ‘You can operate, but you can only have two guest rooms.’ ”

On top of that, venues like the Anthem rely on touring artists, and there just aren’t any on the road right now due to the pandemic. “Acts are not going to tour until there’s some type of uniformity in reopening across America,” says Fix Schaefer. “It’s really expensive to launch a tour. They have to be able to hit city after city, state after state. They’re not going to do it this year.”

In an interview in June, IMP chief operating officer Donna Westmoreland said she hoped to bring back scaled-down shows to its two largest venues, the Anthem and Merriweather Post Pavilion, this fall. But that hasn’t panned out, Fix Schaefer says, and there are currently no plans to stage events at either space. So what would it take to bring music back? “If I had a crystal ball, it would be shards of glass at my feet,” she says. “I am not in the business of guessing the future at this point. I do know that we love to put on shows. That’s what we live for. And if there was any way that we could do it safely and in a fashion that we wouldn’t lose more money than we would when we’re shut, we would love to do that. That is not what our world is right now.”

Fix Schaefer also heads up communications for the National Independent Venue Association, a group formed during the pandemic to advocate for beleaguered concert venues. The organization continues to push Congress for financial help in order to prevent mass closures. DC has already lost two significant venues during the pandemic, the Eighteenth Street Lounge and Twins Jazz. NIVA says that 90 percent of its members—a wide range of prominent venues across the country—predict they will be forced to close without some kind of aid.

Politics and Culture Editor

Rob Brunner grew up in DC and moved back in 2017 to join Washingtonian. Previously, he was an editor and writer at Fast Company and other publications. He lives with his family in Chevy Chase DC.