Venue Reviews

Welcome to Venue Reviews -  a section dedicated to just that, giving you our thoughts coupled with some information about various music venues in New England (We'd take this nationwide, but Backstage Press works exclusively out of New England... for now). Once a month, we'll post a review of a different venue somewhere in the region. You can expect to find out the skinny on everything from small clubs to the biggest amphitheaters. So read up, and help keep rock 'n' roll alive.
July 2011
Review: Comcast Theatre
Location: Hartford, Connecticut
In keeping with the tradition of summer fun in the sun, we've decided to introduce you to yet another outdoor spot in New England to catch a show this season - the Comcast Theatre in Hartford, Connecticut (formerly known as The Meadows & Dodge Music Center).
Bearing many resemblances to its sister amphitheater of almost the same name - Massachusetts' Comcast Center - Connecticut's Comcast Theatre stands as one of the largest music venues in all of New England
Located just north of downtown Hartford, the venue is steps away from Interstate 91, thus making it extremely easy to get to. Though, as with any large-scale concert, battling the pre-show traffic will be your biggest hardship.
Your only way in, or out for that matter, is down the Reverend Moody Overpass - which is always loaded with show traffic, parking lot vendors and a ton of police detail (never in short supply in Hartford).
Parking is a bit of a nightmare at the Comcast Theatre. The venue sits almost directly next to a number of businesses, so there isn't a large deal of up-close parking to be had. Chances are you'll be walking a few blocks from a pay lot (expect to cough up $10 - $15 per car, as well).
Due to that fact, tailgating isn't as common in Hartford as it would be in other places that had one large venue parking lot. Add to that the number of post-show riots of previous years, and it seems that it makes more sense not to grill and drink in Connecticut's capital city.
Once inside the gates, you'll notice the Comcast Theatre is your typical amphitheater. Merch tables are everywhere, overpriced beer and concessions are abundant and lines for just about anything will be long.
Finding your seats shouldn't be too hard, though. If you have pit tickets or seats up close, you'll enter your section through the covered building (where the restrooms are located) that is directly in front of the main entrance.
For seats higher up, i.e. - lawn or back pavilion sections, walk to the left once inside the gates. Proceed up the stair case and then look for your section. Everything is clearly marked, so it shouldn't be a problem.
Acoustics are generally decent at the Comcast Theatre. As with other large-scale venues, it needs to be overly loud to reach everyone there. The venue has a capacity of around 25,000, so take that into consideration when looking at sound quality.
All in all, the Comcast Theatre in Hartford, Connecticut isn't a terrible place to see a show. It's centrally located - allowing all of Connecticut, southern Massachusetts and even parts of Rhode Island a convenient venue to see many of the summer's hottest tours.
You get what you'd expect there in Hartford. There's nothing overdone or fancy, but rest assured you'll get a good show without having to drive too far from home.

June 2011
Review: Comcast Center
Location: Mansfield, Massachusetts
With the summer concert season fast approaching, flocks of people will be heading outdoors in the coming months for a slew of festivals and large-scale shows. After all, there's nothing better than enjoying your favorite band play while hanging outside in the warm summer weather.
With that said, we at Backstage Press thought it was important to bring you some info on the popular amphitheaters around New England. This month's selection is the Comcast Center (formerly the Tweeter Center & Great Woods) in Mansfield, Massachusetts - a hotbed for some of the world's most famous acts and a popular stop for many summer festivals including the Vans Warped Tour.
Often referred to as the Boston stop on many tours, the Comcast Center actually sits about 45 minutes south of Beantown. Just a few miles from the intersection of Interstates 95 and 495, finding the venue is an easy task. In fact, you'll usually know you're close when you start hitting the show traffic on I-495. The exit usually gets backed up, and you'll notice a flurry of police detail directing traffic to the parking lots.
Parking is FREE at the Comcast Center. Don't get sucked into a nearby pay lot - unless you'd like to avoid mass amounts of traffic following the show.
The venue has a vast amount of parking space available. The lots just seem to go on forever, and can often lead to you having no clue where your car is parked post-show. You might consider leaving a trail of clues behind to find your way back. It's that daunting.
Getting there early for decent parking is not a bad idea. Tailgating is allowed, so be sure to bring something to eat or grill, and plenty to drink. Don't count on grabbing beer or food near the venue. The surrounding area is fairly void of businesses. There's a small gas station about a mile away which offers soda and snacks, and a restaurant nearby, but nothing significant enough to stock your coolers with.
We mentioned earlier that leaving the venue ground post-show is a hassle. That's because the Comcast Center only has one exit point. That's right, a seemingly infinite amount of parking and only one exit. Be prepared to wait. Just another reason why tailgating seems like such a great idea. Many people opt for round two after the show lets out. 
But enough about parking. Let's talk about the real reason you're there - the show. For the non-festival events, standard amphitheater seating is available. Right up front is the pit area (General Admission & standing-room only), followed by covered pavilion seating, open-air seats and finally the General Admission lawn area way up top. (For those who have never been, lawn actually refers to grass. Find a place to sit or stand and cross your fingers that you'll see the stage.)
The acoustics are generally okay for shows of this caliber. It can, at times, get echoey and will undoubtedly be loud. After all, the PA system is set up so that nearly 20,000 people can hear the show. 
For those summer festivals like the Warped Tour, the venue will usually open a side stage and a back parking lot for vendors, more stages and whatever else they can squeeze into the area. Also, for most festivals, the pavilion seating will be open to the general public. So feel free to grab a seat and get out of the sun if you need to.
As with any large-scale production, food and beer are readily on hand, but at a price. Be prepared to dish out some dough for those crummy concessions. Again, another reason why tailgating makes sense.
Overall, the Comcast Center is a decent place to catch that big act or summer festival this year. So long as the weather is nice, you can rest assured that it will be a good night out. There's nothing like a summer amphitheater show. Those concerts always seem to make great memories.
May 2011
Review: The Met
Location: Pawtucket, Rhode Island
There's a lot that goes into making a music venue a decent place to see a show. First and foremost, there's the question of location; followed by the size of the place, view of the stage, sound system, bar area, security, ext. You need the right combination to make the place work.
And when it comes to The Met in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, it seems that they've got it down. 
Let's start with location. The Met is tucked away in the renovated Hope Artiste Village - a series of brick mill spaces that cater to the arts in all forms. In other words, the perfect place to see a show. 
Sitting just over Providence city limits, The Met is centrally located near the Rhode Island capital. And with Providence offering a plethora of bars, record stores and other attractions, it's the perfect place to spend the day before heading to the venue.
Getting there is easy, too. Just a few turns off I-95 and you've arrived. No worries about parking either. The Met offers, and encourages use of, their three (3) free parking lots. One sits directly across from the venue, and the other two are around the corner within close walking distance.
Once you head in you'll notice that The Met is about as intimate a setting as you can have for a show that's not in a coffee shop. The club is mid-size at best, boasting a 600 person capacity. There's no rail/barrier to divide fans from artists. If you're up front, you're literally leaning on the stage. 
For those who would rather watch from afar, you've got a number of options. The back wall and bar areas are lined with elevated tables and chairs, but still offer a close view of the stage. If you're searching for a different look, try standing behind the soundboard (stage right), which puts you almost in line with the drummer, and provides an interesting view of the show from the musician's perspective.
The only real issue with The Met seems to be the number of columns/supports throughout the room. They're everywhere, and can somewhat obstruct your view depending on where you're standing. Also, a word of caution - there are a few in the pit area, so watch where you're moshing, kids.
Aside from that, the venue near perfect. They offer cheap drinks, food, have ample room for merch tables, the sound system is clear and you can usually find a fairly well-known act gracing their calendar.
With a modern feel, top end location and intimate setting, The Met may just be the next up-and-comer in the Rhode Island and New England music scene. 
April 2011
Review: Toad's Place
Location: New Haven, Connecticut
If there's any city in Connecticut where rock 'n' roll still has a heartbeat, it's New Haven. And that's due likely in part to Toad's Place - the iconic venue that's helped keep memorable tours and acts coming back to the city year after year.
Having opened in the '70s, Toad's has stood as a constant in New Haven's changing cityscape.
Sitting snug next to Yale's campus, the venue has become a popular hangout for college kids, hipsters and pretty much the rest of Connecticut's youth. It's also within driving distance of New York City, offering a sort of safe, yet edgy, getaway from the big city lights.
And again, being so close to the city, Toad's stands as a key stop for most national touring acts on their way up or down the coast.
Getting to the venue is easy. Located at virtually the intersection of Interstates 91 and 95, you won't have a tough time finding the place. If you can find the Yale campus, you're there. Seriously, the more beards, bikes and PBR cans you see, the closer you are.
Parking isn't that bad either. Being in such a cosmopolitan place, there are plenty of pay-to-park lots and garages within a few blocks of the venue. And prices are reasonable, too. New Haven has a hint of big city stardom without actually being a big city, so prices aren't insane to park your ride.
Once inside Toad's Place, you'll notice this venue was made for live music. There's a small lobby-ish area for merch that also doubles as a safe place to catch the show side-stage if you don't want to subject yourself to the pit.
The floor itself is wide and open. There are no poles or columns to obstruct your viewing, and the sound and lighting boards are even upstairs at the back of the room, leaving more space for the crowd to do their thing.
No matter what type of music you're into, Toad's will certainly have something to suit your taste. Their calendar is almost always filled with notable acts from all over the musical spectrum. Toad's also tends to favor local Connecticut bands - an aspect of the club that undoubtedly helps keep music alive in the city.
The area has plenty to keep you busy even after the show, too. There are record stores, restaurants and bars all within walking distance of the venue that will make for a well rounded night out.

So if you're looking for that big city edge for your next show without all the hassle of actually having to go to a big city, consider Toad's Place. Its quaint location and intimate setting will satisfy your tastes for everything from that city feel to the grittiness of rock 'n' roll. It's the perfect venue to experience if you're new to the scene or just a jaded hipster just looking for a place that feels like home.
March 2011
Review: Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom
Location: Hampton Beach, New Hampshire
The Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom is unlike any other venue in New England, due mostly in part to its unusual location - across the street from the beach. Sitting directly in the heart of Hampton's "strip" (New England's version of the Jersey Shore), the Casino Ballroom remains one of the region's oldest and most well known venues.
The Casino Ballroom was first opened in 1899 as a social gathering place - somewhere that patrons could go to grab a drink, dance, play pool, ext. Over the decades, music slowly became the main draw of the venue. From the Big Band Era of the mid-30s to the emergence of rock 'n' roll in the 60s, the musical roots of this iconic club were starting to grow.
In fact, a walk through the Ballroom today will show you a number of old concert posters ranging from Jethro Tull to Ray Orbison, Led Zeppelin and more. Oh, and don't let the word "casino" fool you. There's no gambling going on here. Back when the club was named, "casino" actually meant "summer house."
And this place sort of is like a summer house for beach and concert-goers. Only open between April and October, the venue is made for the summer crowd. Again, it's located directly across the street from the beach and Atlantic Ocean, and situated smack in the middle of shore shops, ice cream parlors, crappy bars and arcades. Not exactly the place you'd expect to see a rock show, but it works.
Parking there is as easy as it gets. There's a $5 lot directly behind the venue, and countless other cheap lots within a half mile walk. 
If it's nice out on the day of your show, consider heading there early. There's plenty to do, whether it be a walk on the beach, grabbing a bite to eat, getting a spray-on tattoo or picking up your mother a Christmas ornament made out of a sand dollar. You've got options.
Once inside the Casino Ballroom you'll notice there's not a whole lot to see. A far cry from newer or seedier rock venues, the Ballroom offers a simple cash-only bar, some old concert posters adorning the walls and a stage that seems awkwardly placed. 
Backstage doesn't even really feel like backstage. With only a curtain and small barricade separating fans from bands, the concert experience can feel more like an indoor version of Warped Tour rather than a rock club.
What the venue does have going for it, though, is the great view you'll get from almost anywhere inside. Free from obstructions, whether you're side stage, way in back, right up front or in a luxury box, you're guaranteed an up close view of the show. The stellar sound and lighting systems also make for a great experience. 
Capacity for the Casino Ballroom is 2,200 standing - which is large enough to bring out some of today's bigger acts, but small enough to keep the concert experience intimate. So while you might not be seeing any household names here anytime soon, you might just get to discover your new favorite band playing on that modestly sized stage. 
Overall, the Casino Ballroom is worth the trip. Only 45 minutes from Boston, and 20 from Manchester, NH, the historical value and unusualness of the venue make it worth the extra gallon or two of gas to get there.
February 2011
Review: House Of Blues Boston
Location: Boston, Massachusetts
Boston's Fenway Park is one of the most iconic landmarks in the city. And sitting just behind its left field wall, or Green Monstah as it's known locally, is Lansdowne Street, a strip of road as iconic to the rock 'n' roll community as Fenway is to baseball world.
The street that once played host to the Boston hardcore scene's early days, complete with its fights and straight-edge punks, has transformed into the premier place to see a live show in the city.
Where the Axis and Avalon once stood, now sits the House Of Blues - yet another icon to the rock 'n' roll world. This 2,425-person capacity venue is complete with its signature restaurant and retail store, making the HOB Boston an all-around experience. 
Getting there is fairly easy. The venue sits a short walk from the "T" and Kenmore Station (Green Line), which is probably your best bet. If you're driving, there are a generous amount of parking garages in the general vicinity. But be aware that these fill up fast, and are pricey, on Red Sox game days.
Once at the venue, it's important to note that Will Call is to the right of the entrance. If you don't need to pick up or buy tickets, then hop in line. Yes, the long one that's probably wrapping up the street and back toward Kenmore. If you don't have VIP tickets or a Press pass, then that's your line. As always, have your ID ready if you're drinking. The line moves quick once doors open.
Once inside you've got a number of options as to how you'd like to see the show. The HOB Boston is a three-story venue. The first floor is most always General Admission. This includes the pit and the perimeter of the bar areas. Great places to watch up close.
If you don't feel like getting caught up in the melee that is rock 'n' roll, head upstairs to the second level. There are some great views from right on the rail overlooking the pit/stage. But be advised that rail space is limited and fills up fast. If you want to go upstairs, make that decision early on and stick with it. If not, you might end up with only a partial view of the bassist.
The second floor is also the place where you'll be able to buy alcohol. There's one bar, stage left, that serves up your beverage of choice. Also, it's good to know that for some shows, upstairs is 21+. So again, have that ID ready, and don't lose your bracelet.
The third floor is stadium seating. But don't even waste your time trying to get up there unless you're a big shot. Off limits, people.
Restrooms are located on the first floor by the staircase entrances, and are usually fully stocked and staffed by an attendant. All merch tables are downstairs, as well, and are located in a variety of places. Opening acts usually set up their swag either directly stage left or stage right at the end of the bar. Main acts mostly sell their stuff in the main lobby by the entrance.
Overall, the House Of Blues Boston is one of the best places to see a show in New England. The sound is crisp and clear, the views are almost always unobstructed and the ambiance of the place just breathes rock 'n' roll. 
With a solid lineup night after night, a stage large enough for some of today's biggest acts and a location so deeply wound in the history of Boston rock 'n' roll, it's evident that the House Of Blues Boston is here to stay.
Rock on, Bean Town.

January 2011
Review: Webster Theater
Location: Hartford, Connecticut

Let's be honest, Hartford is an off-market when it comes to the rock 'n' roll and alternative scenes. The one thing the city really has going for it is its location. Situated directly between Boston and New York (critical stopping grounds for any touring band), Hartford offers a great place for bands to stop and make a few extra bucks.

Unfortunately, the city doesn't have much to offer in terms of venues. So, naturally, the Webster is probably the place you'll find yourself if you're seeing a show in Central Connecticut.

Every trip to the Webster can be an interesting one. Situated directly in the South End, the venue doesn't exactly market itself as the safest of places. The surrounding neighborhood isn't one you really want to explore. If you're there early for a show, stick to the venue. Also, stay away from the gas station across the street unless completely necessary. Safety issues, you know?

Parking is fairly easy at the Webster. There's a pay lot directly behind the venue which is usually open a while before doors, but it fills up quickly for big shows. Street parking is your next best option. It's free. And no one usually messes with your car, so long as your valuables are secured.

Once inside, you'll usually have two options for music. There's the main stage which offers room for 1,200 standing, and then the Webster Underground. The Underground is located to the right of the main entrance, and consists of a much smaller stage and viewing area (usually reserved for smaller and local acts). The Underground is usually open prior to the main stage area, as well.

This isn't the most lavish of venues. It's actually a 70+ year-old former movie theater (rumor has it that it was an adult theater in its heyday). It's got basically what you need for a show - the sound and lighting systems are decent, there's ample space for the merch area, a few bars with fairly priced beer, some seating and an unobstructed view wherever you might be watching from (ie, no beams).

The Webster is as seedy as a rock club gets. It's old and certainly shows its age, though recently the venue underwent renovations. However, these changes did more for the comfort of the bands rather than the fans.

Two dressing rooms were completely redone with cable TV, wireless internet, large amounts of seating and private bathrooms/showers. For fans, the Webster introduced a concession stand where a merch table once was out front. Walls were painted, new carpets were put down and pictures of famous rock acts were hung (though we contest that if you must hang pictures of musicians in a music venue, you're probably trying a little too hard).

Overall, the Webster has remained a constant in the Hartford rock scene for years. Despite its less than appealing location, the venue and its signature marquee can still warrant a decent crowd. There's always a show to be seen, and many large acts seem to frequent the venue year round - a tribute no doubt to a great booking staff. 

Though the Webster may not be the place to be seen in Hartford, it will definitely give you a decent night out at a fair price.
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