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A new beginning for House of Blues Anaheim

The House of Blues at Downtown Disney hosted 4,000 shows over the 15 years since it opened Jan. 12, 2001. The very first band to play at the then-brand new venue was Fullerton-born, alternative rock band Lit.

Appropriately enough, Lit played one of the final shows of the house before it closed on May 31, also marking the band's 15th show at the popular venue.

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"They hit us up about it and it seemed fitting," said Lit guitarist Jeremy Popoff about playing the House of Blues Downtown Disney during its final hours. "Fortunately, 15 years later, we're still playing. We're still rockin' and rolling, and we can still sell out the House of Blues."

While fans and talent who made the venue a regular musical destination over the years will clearly feel the loss of the location, they have something to look forward to with a new nearby House of Blues, opening at the Anaheim GardenWalk in early November.

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This first House of Blues to be built in 10 years — last one was in Houston — promises to be twice as big as the old Anaheim location and one of the most technologically advanced of the 12-venue chain.

"It's bigger, but because of what we've learned and how we're designing it, it will have that great soulful vibe that House of Blues is known for," said Ron Bension, president of House of Blues Entertainment, a division of Live Nation Entertainment that operates the House of Blues venues.

The reason for the move is really as simple as space. With only a 1,000-person capacity in the main music hall, a 250-person capacity in the restaurant and a total square footage of 23,000 at the Downtown Disney location, House of Blues management needed a venue with a little more elbow room — something they found at GardenWalk.

The new location will have a 2,200 capacity in the music hall, 400 capacity in The Parish, 150 to 175 capacity in the Foundation Room, 325 capacity in the restaurant and a total square footage of 40,000-plus.

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The House of Blues' Foundation Room has always been the ultimate experience for music lovers, officials with the company say, providing a higher level of premium services through its VIP membership program. But with Downtown Disney, there wasn't enough space to build a Foundation Room, officials said.

Most House of Blues venues include a Foundation Room. Many of them have a second space that is used for live concerts and private events like conventions and weddings. In New Orleans and Anaheim, that space is called The Parish. Other markets have different names for these spaces.

The new House of Blues Anaheim will also have four stage areas (one in each of the main sections) compared with only one stage area in the old location.

"It's a little mini-festival site," Bension said. "We'll be able to literally have four different bands playing in the building."

With increased size comes a need for increased staffing. The plan is for the new House of Blues Anaheim to add 100 positions to its current staff.

As the newest House of Blues, the new Anaheim location will come equipped with all the bells and whistles, including improved design and state-of-the-art sound technology. The technical team designed the sound system based on exhaustive studies to create an ideal sound environment — "so there's no hotspots to the sound," said Bension.

Music should sound evenly distributed whether guests are at the bar or closer to the stage.

"Sound technology changes monthly, weekly, yearly, and we'll be able to have the latest and greatest across the board," he said.

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Designers have also honed the sight lines for the new venue. The music hall will have a multi-level floor plan to optimize views of the stage. The bottom level will be general-admission standing, second will be primarily seating and third will be seated mezzanine with boxes, plus additional seats behind that.

"I'd like to say there's more front rows than any other [House of Blues] venue," Bension said.

In addition, seating capacity can be adjusted up depending on the needs of a particular show.

Music will carry through to the indoor/outdoor Crossroads Restaurant and Bar, offering American classic and Southern-inspired cuisine.

"We'll be able to have live music nightly within the restaurant," Bension said.

The restaurant can also be resized by closing off sections to adjust to a particular crowd for a more intimate feel — and the same goes for the music hall.

Art is another theme the new House of Blues location will continue, including a prominent American folk art collection combined with contemporary street and local artists.

As for GardenWalk — an often sparsely attended dining, shopping and entertainment complex — being the new location, Bension anticipates plenty of guests coming its way.

"I think we'll add tremendous value to GardenWalk as a whole," he said. "We know that we drive traffic.... When Social Distortion shows up to play, we know that 2,000 people are gonna be there."

Jonathan Mayblum, who is part of the GardenWalk ownership group, believes that the House of Blues will be a boon to the center.

"We expect House of Blues to draw hundreds of thousands of people to our project each year, promoting a dramatic increase in foot traffic throughout," he said.

Mayblum added, "Following the completion of major physical GardenWalk improvements, locating House of Blues at GardenWalk's Disney Way entrance is the final step in our plan to connect and activate the entire property."

15 Years of OC Music History

One of the things that made the House of Blues Anaheim stand out in Orange County was its diversity of music, according to Sean Striegel, senior vice president of music at Live Nation. Striegel was House of Blues Anaheim's first talent booker and was at the venue from its opening until 2007.

"It made itself diversified," he said. "It was really the first venue that was a little bit of everything."

From blues to reggae and punk rock to Latin music, dance music and everything in between, he said, "It was all represented, it was all supported and it was all just presented by an amazing group of people and an amazing team."

The memories Striegel has of the shows he helped put together are extensive and impressive.

There was the Foo Fighters benefit show in 2003. "That was pretty stunning," he said.

In 2001, the Toys for Tots benefit featured Zebrahead, Lit, Reel Big Fish and Handsome Devil.

"That was the first year that the venue opened," he said, expressing amazement at the names it was able to draw.

Ozomatli — a Los Angeles Latin/world/hip hop/rock band — played many shows at the House of Blues Anaheim. Striegel said it's a fun band that likes being creative.

"We came up with the idea to basically do a three-day fan appreciation day with them," he recalled. "One of the days we called it the Ozomatli ice cream social.… The band was actually the one scooping and serving and making ice cream sundaes for all of the people who bought the tickets."

And, of course, there were countless legends like James Brown, John Lee Hooker (in the first week the venue was open) and Jerry Lee Lewis.

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"Those were pretty ridiculous, amazing shows," Striegel said. "Four nights of Duran Duran, that was crazy."

The venue became the home venue for artists like X, The Damned, Tiger Army, Bad Religion and Flogging Molly. If one band became synonymous with Orange County and the House of Blues it was Social Distortion, said Striegel.

"I mean Social Distortion is Orange County," he said.

The venue kept very busy with many talented artists and big names — "There was a show almost every single night," said Striegel — and it put Orange County on the map.

"Yes, there were other venues in Orange County, but one of the massive things the House of Blues Anaheim did was it made Orange County a destination on a route," he said. "That venue changed the view of artists' routings and actually made the industry realize that there was a whole other market outside of Los Angeles and north of San Diego."

Yes, there were other venues in Orange County, but one of the massive things the House of Blues Anaheim did was it made Orange County a destination on a route.


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Looking Forward

The new building comes at a significant time for House of Blues Entertainment as it heads into celebrating 25 years since its original Cambridge, Mass., House of Blues opened Nov. 23, 1992.

With 12 locations across the country (though the Sunset Strip location closed last year, a new Los Angeles location is in the works), the company has put on too-many-to-count memorable, even historic, shows throughout the years.

"What House of Blues did 25 years ago and continues to do is make the live music experience not just about the band but about the evening, about the environment … and about the overall experience," Bension said. "We spend time and energy enhancing what the bands do so well.… That is what the House of Blues stands for. That's what we do and that's what we're known for."

Though there is certainly sadness regarding the closure of the House of Blues at Downtown Disney, there's also a great deal of anticipation as construction continues nearby, said Striegel. He said he looks forward to the new location having some familiar faces and familiar elements of the old.

"I think they've done it right," said Striegel. "I think they are truly building a perfect music venue for Orange County."

While Popoff said Lit doesn't have anything on the books yet for the new House of Blues Anaheim, the band definitely wants to play there.

"It's funny, House of Blues is almost kind of a time capsule … everywhere you go in the country, you walk into it and it feels like you're coming home," he said.

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House of Blues Anaheim Highlights

The lineup for the new House of Blues venue hasn't been established yet, but it's a good time to review the music that kept the old venue rocking.

Jan. 14, 2001: John Lee Hooker

July 19: Something Corporate

Oct. 19: Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros

Feb. 7, 2003: Foo Fighters

Nov. 20, 2004: Etta James (one of many)

Dec. 31: The Doors of the 21st Century

Jan. 16, 2005: The Hives

March 24: Fall Out Boy

Sept. 21: Dead Men Walking – Mike Peters of The Alarm, Slim Jim Phantom of Stray Cats, Captain Sensible of The Damned, Kirk Brandon of Spear of Destiny

Aug. 10, 2006: Justin Timberlake

Nov. 3: The Cramps

Jan. 13, 2007: The Family Stone

May 2: Britney Spears

Sept. 14: The Roots

Feb. 13, 2008: Common with Kanye West

April 28: A Beautiful Noise — Benefit for the family of Mike Conley featuring Social D, M.I.A., Cadillac Tramps, Jigsaw and Naked Soul

May 2, 2009: Chris Cornell

Jan. 19, 2010: Giving Back to Gabby — Benefit for Gabby Gaborno featuring Manic Hispanic, Pennywise, Adolescents, Cadillac Tramps and The Crowd

Jan. 19, 2011: Willie Nelson

Jan. 25: Motorhead

Feb. 7: B.B. King

Dec. 5, 2012: Social Distortion

March 19, 2013: Imagine Dragons

July 26: The Cult

Oct. 29: Tori Kelly

Jan. 14, 2014: Janelle Monae

Jan. 29, 2016: Dustin Lynch

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