Open House

By JIM SULLIVAN  |  February 6, 2009

Clubland goes zen
The House of Blues VIP opening is February 21. Aykroyd and fellow Blues Brother Jim Belushi and their band headline (as they traditionally do for all House of Blues openings), Sam Moore (of Sam & Dave). That night will begin with a tribute to Jimi Hendrix, by a band assembled by billionaire Paul Allen, the Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist who founded the Hendrix museum in Seattle. Then comes a set by Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters and, finally, the Blues Brothers.

There will be two eateries: the open-to-the-general-public, 11 am–midnight House of Blues Restaurant downstairs and the exclusive Foundation Room lounge and three dining areas upstairs. There, members — they hope to eventually get 1200 — will pay between $1250 and $2250 a year to join.(A three-person corporate membership goes for $8500.) These are the equivalent to stadium sky boxes, and it's an open question whether they will be supported in this financial storm.

The Boston facility was, of course, planned before the economy went bust, and it will open in the midst of a massive recession. Worries? "Music seems to be recession-proof," says director of marketing Dave Fortin. "People comfort themselves with it in bad times and reward themselves with it in good times."

Might the fact that the House of Blues is a chain have a negative impact? You may drink and dine at Applebee's and shop at Target, but neither of these cookie-cutter stores would be considered destination locations.

"We're all wary of chains," says Aykroyd. "But we've opened 13 of these and they're grossing $400 million a year. If people have a problem with other chains, I don't think those same problems occur with us. People come back — for the show, the cuisine, the Foundation Room activities. We've established it as a quality, fun, hip brand. Nobody has a bad time at a House of Blues. We've weathered all the economic forces."

The new Lansdowne Street Foundation Room is already starting to come together, visually. Such accouterments as Gujarat — a cloth material that is recycled from fancy Indian clothes, bought by Indian merchants, cut up, quilted back together, and then hand-dyed — is now up on the walls.

The Gujarat is a good metaphor for the House of Blues philosophy, which stitches together piecemeal principles from various cultures, from Delhi to the Delta. This House of Blues, like all of them, follows the concept of Isaac Tigrett, the man who co-founded the Hard Rock Cafû chain in 1971 and then the original House of Blues in Cambridge in 1992. Influenced by his spiritual guide, Sathya Sai Baba, Tigrett's motto for the House of Blues was "Unity through Diversity." That, it remains. There are other principles imparted to the staff, says Fortin. There's also the phrase "Help ever, hurt never." And, he says, there are three Indian words that comprise a sort-of unofficial House of Blues mantra: Ahimsa, Shanti, and Satya. They mean, respectively, non-violence toward others and self; peace with oneself and the universe; and truth in thought, word, and deed.

Pretty zen-like for clubland. If you're wondering how that applies to the issue, of, say, security, says Fortin, "We look for people capable of dealing with situations with a clear head, not an iron fist."

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