A few weeks back, on a sunny but ice-cold Sunday afternoon, my son and I decided to take in a concert at the City Auditorium in Concord. Pat and the Hats and Dusty Gray were playing (for free!) and raising money for a local kitchen. Good guys.
Having never heard of the venue (sad, since the Audi has been around since 1904) I figured on taking the ride north from Manchester and living it up a little on a Sunday instead of pacing the floors at home all day, readying myself for another dismal Monday morning.
It’s my fault, really, that I had never heard of the city-run auditorium. Being a Manchester guy who moonlights as a local DJ in the capital city, I know only a handful of local joints where live music is pumping. The Capitol Center, Penuche’s, Tandy’s, True Brew, The Barley House and the Draft. There are others, but these are the main players.
Yet what I envisioned as we searched out Prince Street, where the Audi is located, I figured this space to be more like a gymnasium instead of, well, instead of what it is – a majestic 850-seat music wonderland.
The City Auditorium has been around for over 100 years. That’s remarkable. It’s operated by the city parks and rec department and run by mostly volunteers. It has undergone numerous tweaks over the years and mostly caters to children’s plays, civic organizations, award ceremonies, lecture tours and the occasional concert, flutes and stuff.
Which blows me away. When I walked into the Audi, I stood in awe of its beauty – its gorgeous stage, the high, clean ceilings, the hanging lights, the orchestra and balcony sections, all of it. And the fact that this theater is used mostly for kids’ plays and handing out plaques, well, that irritated me to no end. Always does.
It’s like having a couple of fat sirloin steaks sitting in the fridge waiting to be cut into and grilled, but the wife tells you, “Hands off. We’re saving those for the 4th of July.”
See, as mentioned, I live in Manchester, home of the Palace Theater. And the Palace, as many people know, could be the Audi’s baby sister. It’s a bit different, but for the most part it holds the same amount of people, has the balconies, the big stage, the vaulted ceilings, that classic theater feel.
Classic and clueless, at least when it comes to booking current musical acts.
As a music lover, it drives me insane when I see a Bruce Springsteen or Bee Gees cover band booked at the Palace, while 20 minutes up the road the Capitol Center in Concord has booked original pioneers in the music business: Lucinda Williams, Willie Nelson and Steve Earle. Why am I as a resident of the Queen City forced to travel to Concord or Portland or Portsmouth to see these great performers when they should be booked at the Palace, not at the State Theater or the Music Hall?
Now, the Palace does a fantastic job with its theater, always has. But whoever books the musical acts for the Palace, well, probably shouldn’t be booking anything other than dinner reservations. When they could have gone out and booked Mumford and Son before they were “Mumford and Son” or the Avett Brothers before they were the “Avett Brothers,” they instead opt for posers and fossils.
That’s the truth, Ruth.
Which brings me back to the Audi and all its promise. I understand the sway the Capitol Center holds in Concord. And great for them . . . they are forward thinkers there, obviously up-to-date on current musical trends, and they fight for the great bookings.
But soon after the Sunday show at the Audi, I get a call from Dusty Gray. He’s fired up. “Man, we outta put a show on there,” he says. “Really blow that place out. It’s too great a place not to have music there.”
I agreed. So here is my pitch: Let’s bring in some of this amazing local talent kicking around Concord and utilize the Audi. Have a hootenanny with a bunch of Granite State bands and performers, something like The Band did with the Last Waltz or what the Ryman does in Nashville. Make it a regular thing. Maybe throw a “Granite State Opry” once a month. Re-brand the Audi and give it a name; not just as a place to book kids’ shows or award ceremonies, but introduce it as a viable, current venue to see viable, current acts.
Time to fill them balconies. Not just leave them sitting there like a couple big ol’ steaks waiting to be feasted on.
Let’s eat, folks! I’m starving.