Music fans and local paparazzi will be out in full force Sept. 15 when a bona fide pop superstar joins well-wishers in throwing open the doors of the country's latest Fillmore Music Hall, just down the road a ways in nearby Silver Spring.
The sixth U.S. club to boast the iconic Fillmore moniker, the new venue is a descendent of the original San Francisco nightclub that became the epicenter of 1960s counterculture. It helped launch the legendary careers of Jimi Hendrix, the Doors and Janis Joplin, among others.
"On opening night, everybody is going to get a chance to walk the red carpet and be treated like a VIP," says Stephanie Steele, general manager of the new entertainment spot.
"It's going to be a very memorable night," Steele adds. "Being able to see a performer like Mary J. Blige in such an intimate environment is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a lot of people. It's really classy of her to help us kick this venue off and welcome people in."
Dubbed the "Queen of Hip-Hop Soul," Blige has had a career straight out of a Hollywood movie script. Raised in a New York City housing project, abandoned by her father at age 8, Blige was a high school drop-out headed for an unremarkable life until a recording she made at a shopping mall karaoke studio landed in the hands of an executive at Uptown Records.
One of the label's employees, a young Sean "Puffy" Combs, was impressed and took Blige under his wing, producing her 1992 multi-platinum-selling debut, "What's the 411." The singer has since released a string of top-10 releases and has won Grammys in the pop, R&B, gospel and rap categories. She has also collaborated on hit songs with such artists as U2, Elton John and Jay-Z.
The singer, now 40, will release her 11th CD, "My Life II, The Story Continues," two days before her sold-out performance at the Fillmore.
The inside story
Visitors entering the new nightclub will encounter some pretty dramatic design flourishes, Steele says. "We'll have floor-to-ceiling burgundy velvet drapery covering all the interior walls, and there will be crystal chandeliers hanging in the main music hall. It will be a very visually rich and warm environment."
Vintage concert posters will hang above each of the club's bars and large murals illustrating the Fillmore's celebrated legacy will adorn the venue's hallways.
Not all of the club's components will be traditional, however. One issue that Steele says management is focusing on is elevating the typical bar-food menu.
"We are developing some high-end food options," she notes. "It will be fancy, but portable. The last thing we're going to do when a show is over is turn on the lights full blast and push everybody out the doors. We want to invite people to hang around so there will be food and beverage specials after each of the performances."
The 2,000-capacity, general admission venue may be state-of-the-art, but why should music lovers in Howard County and elsewhere choose Silver Spring as a destination over more familiar venues in Baltimore or Washington? For one thing, Steele says, it will be easier getting in and out.
"Traffic is going to be much easier compared to driving into a downtown metropolitan area," she states. "We've got some really fantastic infrastructure built into this area with two beltway exits. We also have three county-operated parking garages within just a couple of blocks. After 7 p.m. and all day on weekends, there will be 2,000 free parking spaces that folks can take advantage of and they are all within walking distance."
Construction workers and designers are working around the clock to make sure the Fillmore is ready for opening night, but Steele says the long hours are well worth the effort. "It's not often we get the opportunity to have a brand new facility in a brand new market, and we're putting a lot of focus on making sure this starts off right. We are thrilled to be here."
The new Fillmore Silver Spring is at 8656 Colesville Road. Tickets will be available at the box office and on line at http://www.livenation.com. The Mary J. Blige concert Sept. 15 is sold out, but tickets are now on sale for many of the other upcoming performances on the Fillmore concert calendar. For ticket and other information, call 301-960-9999.
"It's clear that we are operating in a very diverse environment with a lot of different demographics," Fillmore general manager Stephanie Steele says. "Our goal is making sure that we address as many of those different audiences as possible."