Live Music to Return to a Storied Theater
Joe Cocker, center, at the Capitol in 1970. In those days A-list bands like Pink Floyd, Traffic and Santana appeared at the theater, which is now being renovated.
By C. J. HUGHES
But the concert that Dennis Bochichio, 60, who handled the lighting for more than 100 concerts and who continues to do maintenance work at the Capitol, most remembers featured Joe Cocker, who had people dancing in their seats till dawn. “FM radio at the time was really coming alive, and people wanted to see all those bands,” he said. And because of the Capitol’s steeply pitched two-level space, which offered crisp sound, “no seat was a bad seat,” he added.
In recent years the Capitol has become a place for corporate get-togethers, bar mitzvahs and even a circus. But if Peter Shapiro, an owner of Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg, has his way, the Cap, as it is known to many fans, will recapture some of its past glory. Starting this spring Mr. Shapiro will produce about 100 performances a year in the 1,835-seat theater.
Along the post-Woodstock-era East Coast, the Capitol wasn’t alone among midsize stages attracting A-list rock talent. There was Bill Graham’s better known Fillmore East, in the East Village. But this Capitol, along with theCapitol Theater in Passaic, N.J., was also influential. Both Capitol Theaters played a key role in bringing big-name bands to the suburbs, a relationship that flourished because the halls were far enough away from Manhattan not to compete with clubs there.
The Capitol in Port Chester saw a brief resurgence of concerts in the early 1990s, when jam bands like Phish, Blues Traveler and Max Creek headlined. But there hasn’t been a rock concert for the public here since 1997, when the Rolling Stones taped an MTV special. (That same year there were also nine Amway seminars.)
As part of a deal with the theater’s owner, Marvin Ravikoff, announced this month, Mr. Shapiro will lease the space for “more than 10 years,” said Mr. Ravikoff, who declined to discuss exact terms.
The Capitol, a 1926 landmark designed by the architect Thomas W. Lamb, who also designed the United Palace Theater in Upper Manhattan, will undergo a four-month, $2 million renovation. The work will include replacing carpets, repainting walls and upgrading bathrooms, as well as adding state-of-the-art light, sound and video systems, Mr. Shapiro said.
Much of the interior, which Mr. Ravikoff has restored over the years, won’t be touched, including ceiling medallions, filigreed columns and a gold-colored arch over the stage.
“This is rock ’n’ roll royalty,” said Mr. Shapiro on a recent morning at the theater here. Above him a disco ball dangled from a domed 65-foot ceiling. “We will give her the treatment she deserves.”
Mr. Shapiro declined to name his first act, though his music-industry credentials may provide a hint. He owned the Wetlands Preserve, a former club in Manhattan, which gave a boost to many jam bands. He is also the publisher of Relix, a monthly magazine with a similar bent.
Though mindful of the Capitol’s history, Mr. Shapiro, 39, whose first Capital concert was the jam band Strangefolk in 1998, said he would not take a time-capsule approach to programming. He said he planned to feature jazz and blues along with comedy shows. He may also book Latin acts, in a nod to Port Chester’s sizable Latino population. In many ways the eclectic lineups will echo those of his two-year-old Brooklyn Bowl, where recent performers included Chaka Khan, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem.
John Scher, a longtime New York-area promoter, sees nostalgia working in the Capitol’s favor because the structure is one of the last of those ’70s-era theaters still standing. (The Fillmore’s old lobby is now a bank.)
“It’s an older theater with great acoustics that was not living up to its potential for many decades, so to have live music there again is a positive thing,” said Mr. Scher, who saw only one show at the Port Chester Capitol, but booked it for Simon and Garfunkel three times in the past seven years so they could prepare for tours.
But Mr. Scher worries that there now may be too many places to play in the area. A handful of like-minded theaters have opened in Westchester County and in Connecticut since the 1970s.
And, because many of these theaters demand that bands honor “radius clauses” — agreeing not to play rival stages for a set amount of time before and after a show — the Capitol could face stiff competition in terms of booking.
For instance, the 500-seat Ridgefield Playhouse in Connecticut, which is about 30 miles from Port Chester and puts on about 100 concerts a year, insists that musicians not play within 60 miles for two months before a concert and one month after. The Paramount Center for the Arts, a 960-seat theater in Peekskill, N.Y., also about 30 miles from the Capitol, in recent years has presented shows with Gregg Allman, Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, and the B-52s. It has even stricter stipulations: bands must not play within a 90-mile radius for two months before and three months after a concert.
Lisa Reiss, the Paramount Center’s executive director, said the clause is necessary because there is an abundance of theaters but a limited pool of ticket buyers. “For the most part, people are very selective about where they will spend their $60,” she said.
Mr. Shapiro said he would not make similar demands of acts, partly because he does not consider it necessary. The Capitol, he argued, is much larger than those other stages, so he can court a different caliber of band. The theater is also more accessible than other theaters because it is close to Interstate 95 and a short walk from a Metro-North train station, he said.
And its legacy is important, not just for the audiences but also for the bands, which will relish being part of music history, said Jim Glancy, a partner with the promoter Bowery Presents, which is not an investor but will help book acts at the Capitol.
“There’s a real connection there, which artists find exciting,” Mr. Glancy said. “It will give us a leg up coming out of the block.”