Get ready for the Met.
The Philadelphia concert landscape is about to be reshaped by a spectacular venue on North Broad street that’s at once brand new and more than 100 years old.
Fittingly, the Met Philadelphia — the aged, eye-popping opera house built by impresario Oscar Hammerstein that opened in 1908 — will begin its 21st-century rebirth on Dec. 3 with another venerable legend when Bob Dylan inaugurates the refurbished room.
The result of a $56 million renovation undertaken by concert giant Live Nation in partnership with developer Eric Blumenfeld, who co-owns the building with the Holy Ghost Headquarters Church, the Met is a vast, gorgeously contoured room with 3,400 seats. After decades as one of Philadelphia’s most beautiful little-seen ruins, it instantly becomes the most alluring mid-size music showplace in the city.
“All venues have their own character,” said Geoff Gordon, the Live Nation head who admits he’s sticking his neck out by betting on the grand North Philly auditorium. “But this one seems to be the prettiest.”
That’s an understatement. The Met’s only real competition for concertgoing elegance in town is the 2,500-seat Academy of Music, the opera house a mile and half south on Broad Street. They’ve historically been competitors: The Met started vying for music-lovers attention from the day it opened in 1908 with a 700-person production of Bizet’s Carmen. The Academy countered with superstar tenor Enrico Caruso.
But these days, the more ornate Academy, which is home to the Pennsylvania Ballet and Opera Company of Philadelphia and which is undergoing its own major renovations, is an entirely different style of venue than the Met intends to be.
Hammerstein’s gilded palace has been restored to its former glory, with gold-painted rosettes rising up the 38-foot proscenium arch above an enormous 94-foot-wide stage (where full-court basketball games were once played).
When that “wow” factor is calculated in and when you look at the concert business as a numbers game — the more venues there are, the more bodies are needed to fill them — the Met would appear to be a threat both to Live Nation’s competitors and maybe even to itself.
The city is flush with venues in the 2,000- to 3,000-seat range, including the Fillmore and Tower, but also the Franklin Music Hall (formerly the Electric Factory), which is part of the ecosystem of AEG Live, Live Nation’s biggest national competitor. Not to mention Kimmel Center Presents, which puts on shows on South Broad Street at the Kimmel Center, the Merriam Theater, and the Academy of Music, some of which are promoted by Live Nation itself.
The Met would seem to have competitive advantages over all. Beside being bigger, it’s newer, sexier — and even with its luxurious lounge, the Grand Salle, not likely to be completed in time for opening night — much plusher than the competition.
And, most important, with 25 bars throughout the building, drink lines will not be long.
The plan is to keep the Francisville venue busy with “in the neighborhood of 125 shows a year,” says Met chief programmer Walter McDonald, who moved to Philly from Live Nation’s Beverly Hills office, where he booked national tours for Lionel Richie and Demi Lovato, among others. And it won’t just be a rock, or hip-hop, or R&B, or country venue. The idea is to tick all those boxes and more. “It’s important for us to not pick a genre of a certain type of music,” says Gordon. “We want to show a wider range. This is for the community.”
December’s schedule is packed, in part to establish the Met brand, and also because its grand opening — a Dec. 3 ribbon-cutting ceremony will be attended by Hammerstein’s great-great-grandson Will and his son Oscar IV — coincides neatly with the busy holiday music touring season. John Legend (Dec. 4), a capella super-group Pentatonix (Dec. 15 and 16), and violinist Lindsey Sterling (Dec. 18) are all doing holiday shows.
There are plenty of nonseasonal attractions, too. Rockers Weezer play Dec. 12 (with Philly-suburbs-bred duo Mt. Joy opening), and New Hope jam band iconoclasts Ween take a cue from Queen with a show billed as A Night at the Opera … House on Dec. 14th. Ticket information for all shows is at themetphilly.com.
Christmas week is strong. Philly rapper and singer PnB Rock plays Dec. 28. Local rock hero Kurt Vile tops a bill that includes indie vets the Feelies and upstart Snail Mail (Dec. 29). HBO comic John Oliver does two shows each Dec. 30 and New Year’s Eve.
The Met’s ability to reach out to all kinds of audiences is enabled by its versatility. It has 3,400 seats. But curtaining off various sections in the building’s two-level balcony — which is raked at a soft angle, rather than stacked high like the Academy — can bring that number down to 2,700 or 1,900.
Also, 835 of the seats in front of the stage on the floor can be removed, creating standing room that brings the capacity for general admission shows like Weezer and PnB Rock to as high as 4,000.
When work began on the ghostly building in May 2017, the floor was slanted upward, but has since been flattened. That means standing all night at an EDM show won’t hurt your back (the way it might at the Theater of Living Arts or Tower Theatre, two other Live Nation venues). It also means the Met can present a wide range of more intimate events — or awards shows, or Latin dance parties, or boxing matches where the ring will be on the floor, rather than up on stage.
“One of the most critical decisions we made was to get the floor seats removed,” says McDonald. “That way we can create that GA vibe,” and counter the impression that a theater as posh as the Met is only for older sedentary acts.
And for those who choose to sit for shows like Dylan or the Tedeschi Trucks Band on Feb. 26 or Mark Knopfler on Aug. 17 (the latter two of which are being put on by Live Nation in conjunction with local promoter BRE Presents), it appears the Met will be a comfortable place to plop your backside.
The removable seats on sleds are the plushest provisional concert chairs I’ve ever sat in, with 18 inches of leg room that should be plenty for anyone on the shorter side of Joel Embiid.
The Met’s sound is being engineered by the globally renowned Lititz, Pa., firm Clair Bros., who also do the sound at the Tower and the Fillmore, the busy 2,400-capacity Fishtown venue that Live Nation opened in 2015.
Josh Sadd, the company’s chief engineer, said of the Met, “a lot of rooms were made before sound reinforcement, and naturally the acoustics of a room like that are going to be excellent. Just in the realm of musicality, having a natural room is a great thing.”
After the Met spent so many years hidden behind its neoclassical facade, bands and music industry types are typically blown away when they see it for the first time. “They just can’t believe that this is here,” Gordon says. “Everybody has the same reaction: ‘Whoa: This is awesome.’ Even when I first saw it, with the terrible condition it was in. You feel it. You feel it when you come in here."
So does that mean the Met’s entrance into the market will threaten other promoters' business, or even take business away from Live Nation’s other venues?
Gordon doesn’t see it that way. The same questions arose, he points out, when the Fillmore opened in 2015.
“People were like, ‘There’s not enough shows to go around.’ That’s always of concern, but I can’t worry about it and stop building or stop creating jobs, especially with the growth of the city.” (The Met will employ approximately 200 part- or full-time people, Live Nation says.)
“Ten years ago, would you have built a $30 million club in Fishtown?” Gordon asks, referring to the Fillmore. “Heck, no. The time is right for [the Met] now because of the way the city is growing. When I was growing up, people wanted to get out of the city. Now, younger folks and even empty-nesters want to get back in the city. You go where the people are, and it’s a different city now. Not that Philadelphia hasn’t always been great. But it’s a different city now.”