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House of Blues goes back to its roots

August 16, 2011 | 10:50 am

House of Blues logo
Legend has it that beneath every House of Blues stage is a metal box filled with Mississippi River Delta mud. The idea is to convey the spirit of the deep South to every musician playing on the stages above.

In similar vein, the entire franchise is reaching back to its roots in an effort to revive the buzz and cachet it enjoyed following its 1992 launch. Partly inspired by "The Blues Brothers" movie and John Lee Hooker's album, "House of the Blues," the first House of Blues clubs were modern-day juke joints with a reputation for having top-notch players.

"People didn't see them as bars with music," said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of Pollstar, a publication that tracks the live entertainment business. "They saw them as clubs where you could see serious music and have some food on the side."

After its purchase in 2006 by Live Nation Entertainment, the franchise drifted on autopilot. Then in December, Live Nation tapped the former chairman of Universal Studios' theme-park business, Ron Bension, to liven up the clubs.

Starting this month, Bension is rolling out a new menu, designed by Food Network celebrity chef Aaron Sanchez, and pumping more events through the 13-chain clubs to keep the crowds, and the beer, flowing.

Will his plan work?

It's still early, but the effort is being helped by a healthier concert business thus far. Attendance is up 10% compared with last year, and Bension is expecting 5 million people will come to the company's 13 House of Blues and 23 other theaters and night clubs by year's end.

"It's definitely turning out to be a better year," Bongiovanni said.

-- Alex Pham

Twitter/ @AlexPham

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