STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
Keep an eye on the Fishtown section of Philadelphia.
The neighborhood is poised for a major resurgence, and its centerpiece will be the 40,000 square-foot Fillmore Philadelphia, a concert venue and club that recalls the name and spirit of a West Coast concert hall synonymous with famous 1960s rock shows.
“It’s a great venue in a vibrant and fast-moving part of town,” said Ron Bension, president of the House of Blues Entertainment division of Live Nation. Bension added that Fishtown’s owner-proprietor businesses and “strong artist community and music community” were things that factored into the selection of the Fillmore Philadelphia’s location, the former Ajax Metal Co. off Frankford Avenue.
The factory building dates back to 1890s and, according to Jason Bray, general manager of Live Nation Philadelphia’s clubs and theaters, there’s another 100,000 square feet in the building available for development.
Even with an already competitive and crowded concert marketplace in the Philadelphia market (House of Blues also oversees the Theater of Living Arts on South Street and the Tower Theatre in Upper Darby), Bension said that folks here have “a voracious appetite for live music.” Besides offering “first class band service and first class fan service,” a Fillmore venue “has to have a soul,” he said, noting that some of the graffiti the Ajax building had accumulated over decades of being vacant will be incorporated into new artwork by Mural Arts Philadelphia, and that one of the first things visitors will see when they enter the wrought iron gates off Canal Street will be a “LIVE” painting paying homage to the Robert Indiana “LOVE” sculpture. LEAR ABOUT THE AREA WOMAN WHO DESIGNED ICONIC POSTERS HERE.
During a private tour of the still-under-construction Fillmore, Bray pointed out overhead steel beams in the building that would be left exposed, as well as reclaimed metal doors and wood beams found in the old Ajax factory that have been incorporated into the base of the Fillmore’s bars. “We’re keeping the look of the building very industrial,” he said.
It’ll be hard to miss the Fillmore merchandise kiosk in the Ajax Lobby. It’s a 1968 Volkswagen van with a “White Album” era John Lennon portrait on one side and Jimi Hendrix’s likeness on the other.
Taking up the entire wall in back of one of the downstairs bars is a Besty Ross-style American flag collage comprised of latter day Fillmore concert posters advertising shows for Public Enemy, The Wallflowers, The Decemberists, The Strokes, Wilco, Tame Impala and others, grouped in hues of red, white and blue.
Although having a distinct Philly identity, something the Fillmore Philadelphia will have in common with the Fillmores in Charlotte, Denver, Detroit, Miami and Silver Spring, Md. is glistening ornate chandeliers and long burgundy drapes, a throwback to concert promoter Bill Graham’s Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco.
“Bill Graham’s philosophy was take care of the fan,” said Bray. With that in mind, the sight lines for the 2,500-capacity music hall, at first glance, look like they’ll be good enough to not have to look at the video screens. Behind the ground floor dance floor is a three-tiered platform for general admission ticket-holders, with rails to lean on, and a trough-like space to conveniently place your food and beverages.
“Everywhere you go, you feel like you’re close to the stage,” commented Fillmore Philadelphia publicist Randy Alexander. In fact, on either of the far sides of the balcony, where it meets the stage, it looks as if you’re close enough to touch someone on stage. Most of the mezzanine level is designated for VIP ticket box seating, but there’s also railed platforms behind it for general admission ticket-holders, also offering what looks like a better-than-average view of what’s going on.
So what about the food and beverages?
Bension and Bray both promised “a full menu,” which sounds like it will feature foods that will do well on the go, from sliders and burgers to salads, charcuterie and more. Drink options include craft beer and cocktails. VIP ticket-holders can get bottle service and even in-seat food and beverage hospitality.
During concerts in the Fillmore’s main music hall, the upstairs Circle Bar (which also has an entrance from the street) is a top-shelf bar and lounge for VIP ticket-holders. The space also doubles as “The Foundry,” a 450-capacity venue for smaller touring acts, local bands and developing artists. Bension said The Foundry will have a “speakeasy-ish, cool vibe.” It’s accented with exposed brick and the base of the Ajax Metal Co. smokestack. Outside, that smokestack is big enough to be spotted from I-95
The seating in both The Fillmore and The Foundry is flexible — every combination from fully seated to full standing room — thanks to movable curtain walls. “The Fillmore is a great venue because it flexes,” Bension said.
The Fillmore’s sound systems were installed by Lancaster County’s Clair Brothers.
The Fillmore has three parking lots and is public transportation accessible, located three blocks from the Girard Avenue Station of SEPTA’s Market-Frankford line.
The buzz for The Fillmore Philly is on. Oct. 1’s inaugural concert with Hall & Oates is sold out, as is Dec. 5’s show with The 1975 and a show upstairs in The Foundry Oct. 24 with The Struts.
“It’s a quintessential rock ‘n’ roll stage for a venue this size,” Bray said.
Here’s a sampling of some upcoming shows:
Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls, 8 p.m. Oct. 2.
Flux Pavilion, 9 p.m. Oct. 4.
Adventure Club, 8 p.m. Oct. 9.
Brandi Carlile, 8 p.m. Oct. 11.
Joe Walsh, 8 p.m. Oct. 12.
Tove Lo, 8 p.m. Oct. 17.
Day Load, 3 p.m. Oct. 18.
Disclosure, 3 p.m. Oct. 18 and 8 p.m. Oct. 20.
Creepoid, No Devotion, 8 p.m. Oct. 13.
Have Mercy, 6:30 p.m. Oct. 14.
Cold War Kids, 8:30 p.m. Oct. 28
For tickets, visit www.thefillmorephilly.com.