Open House

By JIM SULLIVAN  |  February 6, 2009
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THIS OLD HOUSE: The first House of Blues opened in Harvard Square in 1992 and featured intimate performances with many of the legends of the genre, including T-Model Ford.
Beyond the blues
In 2006, the House of Blues was sold to Live Nation, the country's top concert promoter (among other things in the entertainment realm). Don Law, president of Live Nation New England, has been one of the area's top music promoters for decades. He says when Live Nation bought the HoB, it had no desire to make changes. "House of Blues has its own identity," he says. "It's an important trademark to keep. What's Live Nation done? I don't think much at all. We've left pretty much alone."

Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the concert business trade magazine Pollstar, says, "The House of Blues is the best-known club brand in the United States. I'm not sure who you'd name as number two. The clubs have been successful in every market they've been in."

Since the House of Blues capacity will be only a few hundred people short of the Orpheum Theatre's, how does that affect the concert world? Not much, says Law. "One's a general-admission club, the other has reserved seats. Some acts don't want to play general admission and vice versa. The act decides where they want to play."

Deb Eybers, president of the House of Blues, says that, following the sale to Live Nation, "We're still autonomous. We are working closely with Live Nation, especially in Boston with Don Law. His bookers have done an astounding job."

What is the House of Blues not? A blues room. Yes, blues will be part of the mix. B.B. King and Buddy Guy will play this month (February 22), as will, of course, the J. Geils Band, which Aykroyd calls "the author of speed blues." Talk to anybody in the HoB chain of command and they'll salute the club's blues roots and cite the importance of blues in our culture. Through their International House of Blues Foundation, they raise money supporting, among other things, education in the blues.

"It says Blues in the name," says Bongiovanni, "but it's had a wide-ranging booking policy: gospel, hip-hop, punk, rock."

That is evident in looking at a few of the early bookings: the Gipsy Kings (February 20), 3 Doors Down and Hoobastank (February 23), Thievery Corporation (February 24), George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic (February 25), Jimmy Eat World (February 26), Tom Jones (March 1), Dropkick Murphys — who closed Avalon in 2007 — (March 13–17), the Pogues (March 20 and 21), and Morrissey (March 29). In fact, it's hard to get a sense of exactly what kind of venue it will be, other than a diverse one.

The national House of Blues booking policy was then as it is today: if an act can put enough bodies in the house, they'll book 'em.

Or, as Aykroyd says, "If there was a Chinese Giant Gong show that could draw people in, we would book them. I don't think there's anything we would restrict, given the ability for ticket sales. It's about the interface between musician and audience." He adds, "There's no way you can put a blues band in the House of Blues every night. We couldn't even do that in Cambridge. But all music in America, 90 percent of it, originates from the Delta blues."

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