Port Chester, NY (December 10, 2021)—At many venues around the country, reopening after being shuttered for so long has been a strange but exciting experience. As for The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY? Well, it’s been there before.
Located 20 minutes outside of New York City, the Cap (as it’s known locally) is an 1,800-seat facility built in 1926 that became a bona fide rock palace in the 1970s. Pink Floyd, Santana, The Grateful Dead, Frank Zappa, Derek and the Dominos and Jefferson Airplane all played legendary shows inside the revered venue; heck, Janis Joplin even wrote “Mercedes Benz” there one afternoon after soundcheck and debuted it that night. Later, in the 1990s, the Rolling Stones and David Bowie taped MTV concerts at the Cap—and then it went dark for decades, relegated to occasional use as a catering hall. At one point, the roof even caved in.
Music entrepreneur Peter Shapiro, founder of the numerous Brooklyn Bowl venues (not to mention New York City’s fondly remembered Wetlands), took over the dilapidated theatre in 2011 and poured more than $2 million into renovations. The following year, the Capitol reopened with a Bob Dylan show and never looked back. Now, more than 800 shows later, the likes of Ringo Starr, Skrillex, Bonnie Raitt, Snoop Dogg, Kacey Musgraves, The Strokes, Tom Petty, Cyndi Lauper, Willie Nelson, Don Henley, Kevin Hart, Elvis Costello and hundreds more have all graced its stage.
As it happens, the revitalized venue’s 12th show, back in October 2012, was a Regina Spektor gig; Bruce Wheeler, her production manager/FOH engineer at the time, recalls, “I remember being impressed with the rig and the venue, especially with the place only being open for about a month at that point.” The experience was good enough that when the opportunity arose, Wheeler became director of production at the Capitol Theatre in 2017, and later moved into his current role as general manager in 2019. A music industry journeyman, Wheeler has held positions at labels and artist managements over the years, in addition to working as an FOH engineer, production manager and tour manager on the road, and as GM of Central Park Summerstage in New York City. Today, all those roles inform his approach to running the Cap, ensuring that the venue is equally welcoming for artists, crews and audiences.
“When tours come in, they know that they’re getting a quality audio rig, timed and tuned for the room, that any engineer should be able to have a really good night on,” said Wheeler. “Most headline acts will come in with their own consoles, mic pack and all that kind of stuff, but we have an Avid VENUE Profile console out front, a Yamaha CL7 at monitors and a pretty extensive mic pack with Shure, Sennheiser, Audio-Technica, Telefunken and Beyerdynamic, so we have anything they might ask for. For the PA, we have a great d&b audiotechnik V Series rig—10 boxes a side with some flown V-SUBs, plus some more subs on the ground; a Lake LM 44 processor is driving it all. Also, we have supplemental coverage with some 10S boxes throughout the venue, like under our balcony to fill our rear orchestra, and in our Presidential Boxes. Monitors are M4 wedges.”
One of the revitalized venue’s touchstones has been its fully projectionmapped dome and walls; overseen by video/projection tech Juliette Smith, the 10 Barco RLM-W12 projector system can present visuals from the Cap’s content library of abstract textures, psychedelic imagery, full-motion video and more. “When people see it for the first time, whether they’re a patron or a performer, they’re just blown away,” said Wheeler. “It’s a totally extrasensory experience.”
The Cap has its regulars—many come all the time to see artists like Phil Lesh, who has an ongoing residency—but even they likely felt like first-timers when the theater reopened in September after months of closure due to COVID-19. The staff is vaccinated and patrons are expected to show vax cards or negative tests for entry, but most find it’s a small inconvenience for the chance to see finally live music again. “I’ve had patrons actually pull me aside and thank us for doing that,” said Wheeler. “We want them to come in, relax, have a beverage and really focus on the performance, rather than be ‘Oh my God, am I safe?’ So, like so many other things here, it comes down to the comfort level of our patronage. We want them to enjoy themselves, and that’s what they’re doing.”