Music is in the Air This Summer at Many Hudson Valley Venues

Mary Prenon | June 2018

Capitol Theatre

Summer is coming and that translates to the feel of beach sand on bare feet, the aroma of dinner on the barbecue grill, and the sounds of everything from classic rock to jazz to country music filling concert halls throughout the Hudson Valley.

Bands like Kansas, Poison, Yes, America, Jefferson Starship, Lady Antebellum and Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues are just a short drive away. Comedians like Steve Martin, Martin Short, Kevin Hart, Wanda Sykes and Lisa Lampanelli will also be on the marquee at suburban New York City venues.

Local concert halls are now offering the same star quality of entertainment without the headache of traffic jams heading into New York City or Long Island, and all of them seem to be thriving.

The Tarrytown Music Hall, which is the oldest theater in Westchester County, is featuring Joe Jackson, Dave Mason with Steve Cropper, Justin Hayward, and Kansas this summer. The historic 843-seat Music Hall built in 1885 by chocolate manufacturer William Wallace is also one of just six percent of theaters in the U.S. built before 1900.

“We’re also the only independent non-profit theater venue in Westchester,” said Bjorn Olsson, executive director of the Tarrytown Music Hall. “We own the building and we have to raise all of the money ourselves to keep it going. It really takes a community to keep us alive.”

The Music Hall was designed by architects Theodore DeLemos and August Cordes, who also built New York City’s Grand Central Palace and the Macy’s building at Herald Square. Its facade is considered to be one of the best examples of Queen Anne decorative brickwork in the county.

During the early 1900s, the Music Hall was one of the first theaters to show silent films. It also became the venue for several national causes, including women’s suffrage in 1915. Antonin Dvorak, Rafael Jossefy, Mae West, and Woodrow Wilson are among the first performers and speakers there.

Beginning in the 1930s, the theater showed first-run films, but the rise of television and multiplexes eventually led to its closure in 1976. Four years later, the Friends of Mozartina Musical Arts Conservatory saved the theater from being torn down to make way for a parking lot.

Extensive renovations were needed to make the theater operational again. When it reopened, there was no funding available for staff, so the Music Hall was operated completely by volunteers for the next 23 years.

Now listed on the National Register for Historic Places, the Music Hall today is a fully operating theater, offering music, theater, dance, and film. There is a full-time staff, more than 60 freelancers, and more than 200 volunteers. The theater attracts some 85,000 people annually from the tri-state area.

A part of the Music Hall family since 2001, Olsson said they give back to the community as much as possible with free tickets to school children, free open house family days and support to performing arts organizations in the area. “We have a resident symphony, youth theater, ballet company and dance recitals,” he added. Every Holiday season, the Music Hall offers a $5 viewing of the classic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

“I think that’s such a special feeling for everyone to watch the movie together in a large 130-year-old theater,” said Olsson.

Some notable entertainers over the years have included BB King, Bonnie Raitt, Chris Isaak, Cyndi Lauper, Gregg Allman, the Indigo Girls, Lyle Lovett, Michael Bolton, Norah Jones, Tony Bennett, and Wynton Marsalis. Comedians such as Joan Rivers, Brian Regan, Lewis Black and Steven Wright have also taken the stage there.

In addition, the Music Hall has been the setting for several films and commercials starring actors such as Denzel Washington, Jessica Alba, James Caan, Keanu Reeves, Matt Damon, Michael Keaton and Robert DeNiro.

This summer will mark the debut of the Music Hall Academy, which will offer performing arts education from acting to behind the scenes for students in grades 2 to 12. “I think art is something that you should do and it should become a natural part of your life,” said Olsson. “It doesn’t matter whether you become a real estate agent or an opera singer, art is something that you can carry inside of you throughout your life.”

Meanwhile, on the east side of Westchester, Port Chester’s Capitol Theatre is gearing up for its summer lineup including performers like Buddy Guy, Glen Hansard, Jeff Beck, Rufus Wainwright and Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead, who has played the Capitol over 70 times in the past six years.

Legendary musical artist Bob Dylan was the first to grace the stage when the Capitol re-opened in September 2012. “The Theater underwent a multi-million dollar renovation to make it look just like it did when it first opened in 1926,” said Stephanie May, marketing director for the Capitol Theatre. “We kept the historic architecture of the building and added state-of-the art sound, lighting and projection systems.”

Steely Dan, Jane’s Addiction, Alice Cooper, Billy Idol and Jeff Beck are just a handful of the bands that have performed at the Capitol. Currently hosting about 150 shows a year, the Theatre holds 2,000 people for standing concerts and 1,500 for seated shows. “We also offer a variety of indie rock bands like Modest Mouse,” added May.

Designed by noted architect Thomas Lamb, the Theatre opened in August 1926 with a 10-piece orchestra playing “The Star Spangled Banner,” and the showing of the movie Sea Wolf. An advertisement in the local newspaper boasted that the Capitol offered “the only theater refrigerating system in Westchester County.”

Peekskill’s Paramount Theater

As a movie house, it offered films like Casablanca, and Gone with the Wind, with movie-goers paying as little as five cents to see a double-feature Sunday matinee. However, by the late 1960s the climate had changed and the theatre was renovated as a psychedelic performance space. Musical acts like Janis Joplin, Traffic, Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead all played the stage there. In the early 1970s, a new village ordinance prohibiting live entertainment after 1 a.m. led to the theatre’s closure, and it remained dark for almost a decade.

The Capitol was purchased by local developer Marvin Ravikoff in 1983 and a new round of renovations began. One year later, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Over the next 10 years, it began hosting special events, including private performances from acts like Hootie and the Blowfish and Katy Perry.

In December 2011, club owner and promoter Peter Shapiro took over the reins of the Capitol. Previously the owner of Wetlands Preserve in Manhattan and the current owner of the Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg, Shapiro began another round of massive renovations.

“Today we’re attracting people from all over the tri-state area,” said May. “We even once had someone coming as far away as Spain to see a show!” The Theatre has its own parking lot and is also across the street from the Metro-North train station.

Heading north, Peekskill’s Paramount Theater will be hosting America, Yes, Gordon Lightfoot, the FIXX and Jefferson Starship this summer. Designated a Westchester County Landmark and listed on the New York State and National Registers of Historic Places, the Paramount has followed a similar path of ruins and renovations.

Dating back to 1930, the Paramount Theater in Peekskill was originally built as a 1,500-seat movie house by Publix Pictures, a subsidiary of Paramount Pictures. Its Grand Opening featured an overture by the Paramount Symphony Orchestra and an “all talking” movie, The Big Pond, starring Maurice Chevalier and Claudette Colbert.

At the time, the Paramount was built as a state-of-the-art facility that offered features like air conditioning, a furnished lounge and even a Wurlitzer theater organ. It remained prosperous for decades, but as television and shopping malls increased, the theater crowds began to decrease. In 1973, Paramount sold the building and the City of Peekskill later acquired it due to a tax default.

Four years later, the city leased it to the Peekskill Area Arts Council, Inc., a not-for-profit organization, which later became the Paramount Center for the Arts. A $1-million New York State grant in 2002 allowed for major improvements to the facility, including restoration of the walls and ceilings with original detail, the addition of an annex with dressing rooms and backstage dock, a new lighting and sound system, plus seating and rest room renovations.

In 2012, however, The Paramount shut its doors due to financial difficulties. Just one year later, Red House Entertainment acquired the theater. Formed by Kurt Heitmann, the new Paramount has become a vibrant downtown venue supported by diverse, weekly programming that is handed by the Paramount Hudson Valley Arts.

“I think the main reason that the theater has been so successful is that people from all over loved the Paramount and it was such a big loss when it closed temporarily,” said John Amato, executive director of the Paramount Hudson Valley Arts. “They had a very romantic relationship with this theater and now it’s almost like its’ been reborn.”

Amato credits a mix of well-known performers, smaller productions and original works from the Paramount Theater Group. “We also get a lot of shows that are heading toward Broadway so that makes it possible to bring in actors from New York City and not have to pay New York City rates,” he explained. “We’re a flex theater so we can work on multiple-level presentations.”

Another reason for the theater’s continued success is its constant community involvement. “We do lots of promotions in the schools and we also have a Paramount Kids program where young people can learn about acting, directing, production, set design, lighting and other technical aspects,” said Amato. Currently, they do two productions a year.

In addition, the theater offers a Recovery Rep, a resident theater company comprised of actors and artists who are currently in recovery from alcohol or drug addiction. “This gives them something significant to hold on to and we’re seeing major returns on the investment,” said Amato. Several Coffee Houses featuring these artists are planned for July. “It shows the community that these people have something to offer.”

Much of the Paramount’s programming is also consistent with what’s happening in New York City, including the showing of classic films on the big screen. “We actually have the original equipment from the 1930s for showing 35 millimeter films,” said Amato. “We’ve also been getting phone calls from all over the country from collectors looking for a venue to show their films.” Plans are already in the works for a 2019 convention for showing 35-millimeter films.

Grants and donations are a big part of keeping the theater afloat. “The good thing is that we don’t have to convince people to support the Paramount – they just want to do it, so we’re very fortunate,” added Amato. The theater attracts crowds from the lower Hudson Valley, Connecticut and New Jersey and has a fan base as far away as Paris and Japan.

The 1,000-seat Paramount Theatre in Middletown followed a similar path—a 1930 grand opening with a parade, Wurlitzer organ, and screening of The Big Pond.

The theatre thrived for years, remaining under the management of Paramount and its successor corporation, ABC, until it was sold in 1973 to Hallmark Releasing Corporation. After a succession of operators, it closed in 1978. One year later, the City of Middletown took ownership of the theatre for back taxes, and in 1981 it was sold to the Arts Council of Orange County.

Following restoration work, the theatre reopened in 1983 as a performing arts center. However, it was later re-acquired by the City of Middletown until Majestic-Star Entertainment Corporation took over management in 2010. Following additional renovations, including reinstating 35-millimeter film projection equipment, the Paramount reopened. A 2012 grant from the Orange County IDA allowed the theatre to upgrade its projection equipment to the new digital standard. As a result, first run movies were back on the marquis.

Since 2013, the City of Middletown Economic and Development Department has operated the theatre, adding live performances of music, comedy and educational lectures.

Bethel Woods Center for the Arts

One of the newest concert venues in the Hudson Valley, Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, sits on the grounds of the original Woodstock festival in 1969. Bethel Woods is the brainchild of its founder and chairman Alan Gerry, owner of the former Cablevision Industries Corp.

It all began in the early 1970s with the establishment of the Gerry Foundation, a not-for-profit organization charged with revitalizing Sullivan County after the collapse of the Catskill tourism industry. After purchasing the original 37-acre “Woodstock” field and hundreds of surrounding acres, the Gerry Foundation set its sights on creating a world-class performing arts center.

In 1999, the foundation produced a four-day music event, celebrating the 30th Anniversary of Woodstock. Just three years later, the architectural firm of Westlake Reed Leskosky was hired to plan and design the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts.

Construction on the $150-million project began in 2004 and the 15,000-seat Pavilion amphitheater opened to the public on the Fourth of July, 2006, with the New York Philharmonic. The facility also offers a more intimate 440-seat indoor Event Gallery, as well as dining options at Yasgur’s Farm Café or the Market Shed. Bethel Woods averages 20 Pavilion shows a year and 15 in the Event Gallery.

“The undeniable spirit of the 1969 Woodstock festival lives on at our beautiful 800-acre campus, from the feeling you get when you walk on the field to the energy artists experience singing on the stage – it’s unlike anywhere else,” said Darlene Fedun, CEO of Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. “It’s a place for people from every generation to gather in the spirit of peace, love, and music.”

Since then, artists such as Bob Dylan, Elton John, Phish, The Eagles, James Taylor, Jimmy Buffet, Luke Bryan and countless others have performed there. This summer’s lineup includes The Steve Miller Band with Peter Frampton, Jason Aldean, Steely Dan with the Doobie Brothers, Lady Antebellum with Darius Rucker, the Beach Boys, plus the comedy of Steve Martin and Martin Short.

In 2006, the Museum at Bethel Woods opened to the public. It offers a multi-media experience that combines film and interactive displays, text panels and artifacts telling the story of the1960s. The museum also expands programming and learning opportunities each year with changing special exhibits, film and lecture series.

“Bethel Woods Center for the Arts uses its unique place in history to inspire, educate, and empower individuals through the arts and humanities, by bringing creative exploration, learning, and the lessons of the ‘60s to people of all ages,” said Fedun. “Programming for families and teens encourage collaboration with peers and our summer programs expose youth to the arts and new forms of music, while encouraging them to bring their own voice to the creation of songs, music, and theater.”

Five years ago, the center also opened a Conservatory to accommodate planned growth of youth and teen educational and outreach programming.

Bethel Woods Center for the Arts remains committed to preserving the local environment and rural culture of the areas. Over 2,000 tress have been planted and the architecture of the buildings conforms to the region’s barns and rural structures. In addition, the venue offers a series of seasonal festivals including a Harvest Festival in September and Wine Festival in October.

So, no matter where you live or what type of music you prefer, there’s a myriad of choices just a stone’s throw away throughout the Hudson Valley.

Mary Prenon
HGAR, Director of Communications