But the concert business has become increasingly dominated by two giant conglomerates, Live Nation and AEG. Each has bought a string of smaller players in recent years, tightening its share of the $7 billion North American touring market. Live Nation has acquired the Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo and Governors Ball festivals, and this year AEG took over the Bowery Presents in New York.
In a move that can squeeze out independents like I.M.P., these companies often sign top artists to national touring contracts. The annual lineup at Merriweather, Mr. Hurwitz said, consists mostly of artists not tied to such deals; this summer, for example, OneRepublic, Chris Stapleton, Lauryn Hill and Nas were all on tours produced by Live Nation and booked at Jiffy Lube Live, Merriweather’s rival amphitheater in Bristow, Va. (Still, Merriweather didn’t do too badly, with a lineup that included Dave Matthews, Paul Simon, the XX and the Vans Warped Tour.)
To compete, Mr. Hurwitz said, he must operate the best venues and cultivate artists’ loyalty by pampering them once they arrive. That may be the mantra of every promoter. But Mr. Hurwitz, who is 58 and started booking concerts as a teenager, has developed a reputation for catering to artists’ needs on the road and employing some clever branding along the way. (The 9:30’s signature cupcakes inevitably end up on artists’ Instagram feeds.)
“We have to win the hearts and minds of performers,” Mr. Hurwitz said. “I have no choice but to be different. That’s my only chance at survival.”
Merriweather, which opened 50 years ago with a design by Frank Gehry, is one example of this strategy. I.M.P. began putting on concerts there in 2004, after a community effort saved the amphitheater from being shut down. It is now in the midst of a $55 million renovation that has vastly expanded the backstage area, adding amenities like two swimming pools and massage cabanas for artists and their entourages.
“We can play dives and have a great show,” said Britt Daniel of the band Spoon, which…