Sixty-year-old Bob Holland of Ormond Beach, Fla., felt “confused” and somewhat “ripped off,” he said, during his April 15 visit to the newly christened Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza.
Mr. Holland mistakenly thought he’d stepped inside a reincarnated Fillmore East—the renowned Manhattan concert hall opened in 1968 by Bill Graham, the late, legendary rock ’n’ roll promoter also responsible for opening the original Fillmore club in San Francisco.
The Fillmore East once hosted such hallowed rock musicians as Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa and became virtually synonymous with acclaimed live recordings, including The Allman Brothers at Fillmore East and the four-disc Ladies and Gentlemen … the Grateful Dead.
With a sense of nostalgia, Mr. Holland and his wife, Nancy Holland, 52, admired the venue’s antique-looking fixtures, thinking, “Gee, I wonder if those lamps have been here for 40 years,” he said.
Still, something seemed off. “I thought it was weird that they added the ‘Irving Plaza’ part,” Mr. Holland said.
Actually, it’s the other way around, as Counter Espionage informed the buzz-killed baby-boomers on Sunday night.
Last week, titanic concert-production company Live Nation, which operates more than 130 venues worldwide, boldly rebranded its 1,000-person-capacity rock club, Irving Plaza, in an apparent attempt to market some of the cachet of the dearly departed Fillmore East, which shuttered in 1971.
The old Fillmore East, located at the corner of Second Avenue and East Sixth Street, is now, like so many other corner locations in Manhattan, a bank branch.
The new Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza, located at the corner of 15th Street and Irving Place, revives some of the old Fillmore traditions, including complimentary apples at the entrance and souvenir posters handed out after select shows.
But this marriage of two musical monikers isn’t merely about the past; it’s about a Fillmore-filled future, with free apples and posters in far-flung places across the globe. Irving Plaza, which recently renewed its lease through 2016, is merely the first concert space on Live Nation’s Fillmore-ification list.
“We’re interested in bringing the Fillmore experience to other clubs that are important to us around the country,” said company spokesman John Vlautin.
Next up: Philadelphia’s Theatre of Living Arts, commonly called the T.L.A., but soon to be reborn as the Fillmore Philadelphia.
After that, who knows? Live Nation has a long list of similar midsize venues nationwide that seem ripe for rebranding. Just imagine the psychedelically stylized “F” logo one day gracing the Capitol Music Hall in Wheeling, W. Virginia.
Merchandising figures to play a big part in Live Nation’s cashing-in on the burgeoning Fillmore brand—and it could prove a crucial revenue source for a company that blamed bigger performer paychecks and fewer concerts overall for its reported net losses of $31.4 million and $130.6 million in 2006 and 2005, respectively.
Think Hard Rock Cafe, minus the food.
In recent months, the California-based company has, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, sought exclusive rights to the word “Fillmore” on T-shirts, jackets, rugby shirts, polo shirts, tank tops, bandanas, belt buckles, sweat pants, caps, visors, headbands, wristbands, backpacks, duffel bags, shot glasses, posters, calendars, temporary tattoos, postcards, greeting cards and key chains.
You won’t find such diverse items, or any gift shop, at the newly refurbished Irving Plaza—er, Fillmore New York. At least not yet.
For the time being, management seems busy enough selling a sense of historical relevance.
Hung with old photos, posters and press clippings, the new venue acts as a sort of shrine to the former—not just to the Fillmore East, mind you, but also to Irving Plaza.
“The idea is not to, like, completely redo it to excise Irving Plaza or T.L.A. from music history,” explained Live Nation’s Mr. Vlautin. “The idea is to, like, really show what the history of these venues is.”
Hence, the strange intermixing of rock memorabilia from different places and different decades—such as the stairwell-area juxtaposition of a Hendrix print from the Fillmore East in 1971 with a snapshot of Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon at Irving Plaza in 1998.
But nostalgia—be it for the psychedelic or the post-grunge era—only goes so far, and merely adding a 40-year-old hippie cliché to the marquee won’t really resonate with today’s teenyboppers.
That’s what the free posters and apples are for.
“I don’t think we’re under any illusions that the 17-year-old kid coming there to see Lily Allen, or Peter Bjorn and John, is gonna feel like, you know, they’re coming to see a Grateful Dead show or anything like that,” Mr. Vlautin said. “For the kid that’s just discovering live music, it’s gonna be more about enhancing the concert-going experience with, you know, poster giveaways or the apples at the door. The bands they actually see there are gonna be the things that attach them to the Fillmore—not so much the history.”