STAR CROSSED: Inter Miami FC, despite the absence of global soccer star Lionel Messi, defeated D.C. United, 3-1, before 19,365 fans at Audi Field on Saturday. D.C. United officials plan to be active in the concert biz after signing a booking deal with independent promoter Dave Niedbalski. (AP Photo)

Broccoli City first event under agreement

Veteran concert promoter Dave Niedbalski, a man with nine lives in the festival space, has signed a multiyear deal with D.C. United to book concerts at Audi Field — and it kicks off in grand fashion with Broccoli City, an established hip-hop fest that’s relocated to the Major League Soccer venue from the Festival Grounds at RFK Campus.

The headliners for the 2024 event, set for July 27-28, are Megan Thee Stallion, Gunna, Lil Yachty and Concrete Family, plus PartyNextDoor, Victoria Monet, Kaytranada, Key Glock and Sexxy Red. The festival’s new home, dates and lineup were announced this morning.

Audi Field, the 20,000-capacity home of D.C. United, opened in 2018, but never got its footing in the concert biz due to the pandemic. The National Women’s Soccer League Washington Spirits and the UFL’s Washington Defenders also play their home games at Audi Field.

Niedbalski, a former Live Nation vice president with about 20 years of experience who grew the Peach Fest into one of the most successful rock fests in the country, and helped launch the Westville Music Bowl at an old tennis stadium repurposed for live music in 2021, struck out on his own over the past two years and rebranded his company as Grand Rising Curations.

In Washington, Grand Rising’s agreement is officially with D.C. Stadium LLC, parent company of the Major League Soccer team. The deal came together in part to the relationship between Niedbalski and Janine Brunson-Johnson, D.C. United’s senior director of events and entertainment and former promotions director at iHeartRadio in Philadelphia.

Over the years, the two worked together many times on radio-sponsored concerts such as Jingle Ball and Powerhouse at Wells Fargo Center. They called each other on a weekly basis, and as a result, Brunson-Johnson, with D.C. United for the past 2.5 years, felt comfortable teaming up again, Niedbalski said.

Niedbalski said, “With my background and my ability to work on events with a bigger promoter, I could make sure the promoter’s interest and (D.C. United’s) were both kept in mind. That was the start and finish of it.”

Conversations between D.C. United and Grand Rising Curations started about a year ago about potentially forming a partnership, said Danita Johnson, the team’s president of business operations. D.C. United has held a few festivals in the past at Audi Field, but not to the level D.C. United is targeting, Johnson said.

“From the onset of opening Audi Field, it’s always been important for us to get in the live show business,” she said. “Internally, we spent a long time looking at how to build it. From our initial call with Dave to meeting him in person, there was an instant connection of an understanding about the stadium and what we were trying to seek from the concert business.”

Audi Field fits well within the regional outdoor market in terms of capacity, falling between Commanders Field, the 67,000-seat NFL stadium in Landover, Maryland; and Nationals Park, the 41,500-seat MLB park that sits about a half-mile northeast of the soccer facility. Niedbalski likes Audi Field’s boutique feel, great sightlines across the board and scalability depending on the event.

Danita Johnson said Audi Field’s waterfront site in the middle of Buzzard Point, a residential development that encompasses The Anthem, a live music club, and Arena Stage, a theatrical venue, is a beautiful location and unique for shows in metro D.C.  For all events, the stadium draws regional ticket buyers from the District of Columbia, plus Maryland and Virginia, known as the DMV, Johnson said.

It’s a busy building, between the three sports tenants, the annual Hampton-Howard college football game, billed as the “Truth and Service Classic,” and international friendlies in soccer and rugby. To make way for concerts, Johnson said it was critical for D.C. United to form a map of recovery, juggling multiple schedules to ensure the natural grass field remains in pristine condition with more live events thrown into the mix.

The MLS season is one of the longest in the big leagues, but there are in-season breaks when teams play international opponents, providing windows of opportunity for concerts, she said.

Audi Field is an open room for all promoters, Niedbalski said, but at the same time, he’s out there searching for talent as well to fill a projected eight shows annually at the stadium, starting in 2025-26.

“For me, being a former Live Nation official and now as an indie promoter, having a booking deal at a 20,000-seat stadium in a major market, is a big deal,” he said. “What separates this venue is if somebody wants to play D.C. proper outdoors, it’s been the National Mall and Nats Park. This is another option.”

Festival Grounds, a fourth option in metro D.C., has two events on the books for this summer, Project Glow and the National Cannabis Festival. Events DC programs the RFK grounds.

Broccoli City, promoted by Live Nation Urban,  is not one of them after the Black-owned enterprise moved to Audi Field. The festival, co-founded by Brandon McEachern in Los Angeles in 2010, moved cross country to Washington in 2013. This year’s lineup extends to DJs, comedians and a “country hoedown” with emerging artist Tanner Adell, mixing the music with various aspects of Black art and culture.

Apart from Audi Field, Grand Rising Curations produces the Iron Blossom Festival in Richmond, Virginia; Point Break a reggae fest in Virginia Beach; and the Outside Festival in Denver, Colorado, in conjunction with Outside magazine. Last year, Niedbalski did Goosemas at Hampton Coliseum in Virginia, a holiday show revolving around jam band Goose.

In Washington, the programming will be diverse at Audi Field, according to Niedbalski.

“I’m stoked,” he said. “D.C. United wants to make a longstanding impact on Washington and bring larger events there across all styles of music. What they want to do fits 100% with the D.C. market. I love the energy and the challenges of playing in a soccer stadium. The reality is you are downtown with (public transit) in a scalable venue. At Peach Fest, I’m the guy who got 17,000 people to camp out on the site of a rattlesnake-infested ski slope in Scranton for Dead cover bands. If I can do that, I can make anything work.”