Live Nation turns up the volume with glitzy Fillmore concert hall


The world’s largest concert company is strengthening its presence in the Twin Cities. Again.

Live Nation, which also owns Ticketmaster, opens its glitzy Fillmore concert venue on Wednesday in the Minneapolis North Loop, starting with three sold-out shows from Grammy-winning star Brandi Carlile.

Boasting a wraparound VIP balcony above the chandelier-adorned dance floor with comfortable seating, private dressing rooms and a cozy lounge, the 1,850-person venue brings a new level of VIP comfort – and synergy of business – to the Twin Cities.

Part of a national franchise, the Fillmore Minneapolis marks Live Nation’s most ambitious push into the Twin Cities concert market. It even gets some sort of tax break, as it’s located outside the downtown area where bars and restaurants are subject to a surcharge on food and alcoholic beverages.

Live Nation is far from new to Minnesota, however. It tops the arena and stadium concert roster, including the newly announced summer dates with the Rolling Stones and Guns N ‘Roses. He previously ran Quest nightclub in Minneapolis (closed in 2006) and the unsuccessful $ 5 million River’s Edge festival in St. Paul (2012).

“We have been booking in the market for 15 years, including at the Xcel Center, Target Field, Myth, Orpheum and many more, including the Varsity Theater,” Live Nation representatives said in a written response to the Star Tribune after declined interview requests.

“Minneapolis is one of the fastest growing music markets in the country. He also has a huge sense of community. This combination made sense to build the Fillmore here.

Live Nation has launched an aggressive push into smaller theaters in major cities across the country. In Minneapolis, it took over management of the 962-seat Varsity and partnered with the Renovated Armory, which hosts approximately 8,000 fans. And in addition to the nine Fillmores he owns, he also has 11 House of Blues clubs.

“This is where Live Nation sees the future of the concert industry: in mid-sized venues,” said Dean Budnick, co-author of the book “Ticket Masters: The Rise of the Concert Industry and How the Public Got Scalped “.

“As we see fewer and fewer acts big enough to fill stadiums and arenas, we’ll see more and more small venues like these.”

Hire local promoters

A company that reported $ 10.8 billion in revenue in 2018 – largely as a concert tour promoter – Live Nation is taking on the local First Avenue powerhouse as well as local casinos and theaters.

Its promoters “always strive to have the most impact possible,” said Historic Theater Group director of reservations Rick Hansen, who has co-hosted shows with Live Nation at the State, Orpheum and Pantages theaters. . “They have been a very solid client for us and bring great acts to our theaters.”

But Hansen also diplomatically noted: “It’s also great to work with independent developers. [like First Avenue] with an emphasis on creative content and artist training.

When Live Nation opened Fillmores in Philadelphia and the DC area, local venues lamented the well-funded competition. The notorious 9:30 am Club of Washington has even filed a lawsuit challenging a contract awarded to Live Nation by county officials.

But employees at the 9:30 am Club and Philadelphia Union Transfer’s First Avenue say the Fillmores ultimately had little impact on their business.

“We saw a slight drop in footfall, but after that first year or so our sales continued to increase,” said Sean Agnew, co-owner of Union Transfer.

A Live Nation executive’s comment last summer that the Fillmore Minneapolis isn’t “just a black box with people in it” was not meant to be a hit on First Avenue, the company insists, and says ‘it has no intention of crowding out local competitors. .

“Artists who have skipped the market or couldn’t find the right venue will now have another option in Minneapolis,” Live Nation told the Star Tribune.

“That, along with the quality of the group and the fan experience at The Fillmore, will make it a must-see. “

In 2012, another global concert company, AEG Live, opened a mid-sized concert hall – Mill City Nights (aka The Brick) – a few blocks from First Avenue. The place never really caught on, however, and closed in 2016.

The Fillmore is a much nicer place, having been built from the ground up. Live Nation would not discuss the cost. The venue is part of a larger development led by United Properties, which is owned by the Pohlad family (also owners of the Minnesota Twins), which includes a 160-room Element by Westin hotel and Trax Burgers and Bar.

Its location in the newly flourishing North Loop also gives Live Nation a tax advantage. Because it was built just outside the downtown – a tax district that dates from the late 1970s to fund the now demolished Minneapolis Convention Center and Metrodome – the Fillmore will face about 3% less sales taxes on food and alcoholic beverages relative to First Avenue and other downtown locations. This could add up to tens of thousands of dollars a year.

“There are many points of injustice where someone is on either side of the tax district boundary,” said Steve Fletcher, a member of the Minneapolis City Council, who hosted the Fillmore in. his neighborhood but said his presence underlines the dilapidated city center. .

“I think there is enough audience to support multiple sites there, and the additional competition could be positive. But I think they should be on an equal footing.

Lowell Pickett, co-owner of the downtown Dakota restaurant and music club – said the tax difference is “just plain unfair.”

“First Ave is a local and local business linked to the community,” he said. “This is already working against Live Nation, which promotes the national tours themselves, now bringing them to their own venue. and using their own ticketing platform.

Ticketmaster is a hot button

Based on early social media reactions, Live Nation’s ties to Ticketmaster are arguably as much of a burden as an asset as they try to gain the likes of Twin Cities viewers (popular hashtag: #TicketBastard).

Ticketmaster’s much-maligned fees and Live Nation’s “dynamic pricing” tactics, which increase (or decrease) ticket prices based on demand, prompted U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar to request an investigation from the Ministry of Justice in the practices of sister companies last August.

In a letter to the department’s antitrust division, Klobuchar cited “exorbitant fees” and accused Live Nation and Ticketmaster of “retaliation against sites that use a competing ticketing platform.”

“Live Nation’s dominance… raises serious antitrust issues,” the Minnesota Democrat said more recently.

But the artists themselves are a factor in the price of tickets. As they earn less on album sales in the age of digital streaming, they rely more on revenue from concerts and VIP add-ons which can add $ 100 or more to the price of the ticket.

“The artists are not just innocent bystanders in all of this,” said author Budnick. “Ultimately, the vitality of independent theaters from Live Nation may depend on the artists as much as anyone else.”


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