"It's been in process for about five years," says Jim Biafore, general manager for House of Blues San Diego. "Any other normal company would have walked away and said it's not meant to happen, but we realize how important San Diego is to our company and to our brand and we want to be in this market."
May 11 will see the long-delayed opening of San Diego's House of Blues. The 1,200-seat venue is the third venue in San Diego operated by House of Blues Inc. (the other two are Coors Amphitheatre and Cox Arena). Presently the second-largest live-entertainment conglomerate in the U.S. after Clear Channel, it may surprise some to learn the somewhat humble beginnings of the House of Blues.
Opening their doors in 1992 in Cambridge, Mass., the first House of Blues occupied a 200-year-old home that had been converted to a 75-seat restaurant with an attached 200-seat music hall.
Founded by Isaac Tiger, House of Blues was originally intended to be a theme restaurant serving Southern-influenced cuisine, with folk and outsider art prominently on display. Tigrett had a heady history as a businessman who could turn novel restaurant/entertainment ideas into billion-dollar companies. In 1971, he and Peter Morton founded the Hard Rock Café in London; he reportedly sold his share in 1990 for around $100 million. He did a few things with that money, among them amassing a vast array of spiritual/religious art (that aesthetic is present in all House of Blues venues) and donating $49 million to open a hospital in India for the poor. But in 1992, at the behest of his spiritual master, Sri Sathya Sai Baba, he re-entered the music-eatery business with HOB.
"They had a lot of celebrity friends," said Biafore about the stars who invested in Tigrett's new blues-oriented venture, including Jim Belushi, River Phoenix, Paul Shaffer, members of Aerosmith and Harvard University. "A lot of people would come in and play... you never knew who was going to be on the stage. It didn't take [Isaac] long to realize that the music was a big part of his business."
Tigrett divested his share of the company in 1997, and was replaced by Greg Trojan, former CEO of California Pizza Kitchen. But Tigrett's mission statement for the company still guides its development: "To create a profitable, principled, global entertainment company; to celebrate the diversity and brotherhood of world culture; to promote racial and spiritual harmony through love, peace, truth, righteousness and non-violence."
But with time and its expansion (there are now locations in L.A., New Orleans, Anaheim, Chicago, Cleveland, Myrtle Beach, Las Vegas and Orlando, with Atlantic City in the works), the venue has definitely expanded away from the other part of its stated goal, "To educate the public about the blues, its roots and its excellence." While still a big proponent of the American roots genre, the chain now regularly books a wide array of performers including prog-rock acts like Yes and King Crimson, '70s jazz-fusion legends Brand X, '60s psychedelia icon Arthur Lee and Love, crooner Tony Bennett, hip-hop giants Jurassic 5 and '80s refugee Cyndi Lauper. "The biggest influencing factor on House of Blues is our motto, "unity and diversity,'" Biafore says.
Diversity is something of an understatement given the current slate of performers booked for San Diego, with a schedule including George Clinton, Ozomatli, Master P, Queens of the Stone Age, Dilated Peoples, Bad Religion, David Lee Roth, Peter Murphy and The Wailers.
The future of House of Blues will next move on to Atlantic City and then into Europe, with venues in London and Paris around the corner. For now, the future starts May 11 in downtown San Diego.