Peter Shapiro has already revitalized the historic Capitol Theatre so that it truly honors the likes of the great musicians that once graced its stage.
And now, he is on his way to revitalizing the music scene that fed the theater’s glory days of the '70s when The Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin captured audiences there.
Port Chester natives that remember watching Pink Floyd belt ballads and The Rolling Stones strut around the stage are returning to see acts like My Morning Jacket, moe, Al Green, Fionna Apple and Phil Lesh and Friends do the same.
Baby Boomers’ hipster children accustomed to visiting New York City’s great music halls are hopping on the Metro North to check out Regina Spektor and what Port Chester has to offer. Middle-aged Connecticut couples are staking out spots in the front row of funk shows to get the best view, while jam band fans from upstate are rocking out behind them.
The passion for great concerts is there, and Shapiro wants it to flourish at his new theatre, which opened on Sept. 4 with an enthusiastic performance by music legend Bob Dylan.
“We have been really happy to see a response from people," Shapiro said. "When they come in, their eyes get big.”
Light projections against the ornate walls and massive ceiling dome have concertgoers staring up in awe during the shows. The eclectic mix of artists who have performed there during its first month have enjoyed the state of the art sound and light technology, Shapiro said.
“The technology we have in there is truly at a level that I don’t think any other theater has,” he said.
The 1,800-seat theater opened in 1926 and reached its heyday in the '70s, then returning briefly with hallmark performances by Phish, David Bowie and The Rolling Stones in the '90s. In 1976, the Village of Port Chester enacted a ban on live music past 1 a.m., leaving The Cap abandoned. In the early 1980s, local developer Marvin Ravikoff bought the historic landmark and used it mostly for theater before turning it into primarily a private event venue while renting it out to bands for practice.
After years of conversations with Shapiro, already an established music industry entrepreneur, Ravikoff agreed to lease it to the Brooklyn Bowl owner for concerts. Shapiro turned The Cap into his baby, dedicated to give it the best the music industry has to offer.
The first month has gone pretty much as expected, Shapiro said. But he has found weekday tickets do not sell as well as weekend tickets and he attributes that to the area’s “DNA.”
“We are hopeful that the younger people will venture out," Shapiro said. "That people will go see shows on weekdays. I don’t think there’s a big culture in Westchester and southern New England of going out during the week."
"It’s not in the DNA now,” Shapiro added. “We hope to change that. There is a new thing in town.”
In the first month, true to Shapiro’s goal to “have a little bit of everything,” a wide range of musicians have performed including Blondie, Sleigh Bells, The Dirty Projectors, the Roots, Galactic and more. Shapiro said some shows are selling better than others, which was to be expected.
Four nights of Phil Lesh and Friends in November sold out within hours.
“I think we are hopefully going to build a culture in the area where people know they have one of the premier major concert venues in the middle of Port Chester in Westchester," Shapiro said.
The Cap will present about 150 shows a year, an ambitious number for a theater of that size in a suburban environment, according to the owner.
Shapiro, who once owned the Wetlands venue in Manhattan’s Tribeca, also currently owns Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg, a widely successful music venue, restaurant and bowling alley. You can rent a lane, bowl, eat, drink and dance in its lounge area while maintaining a perfect view of the stage.
While a historic theater does not have much in common as a newly constructed bowling alley/music venue, Shapiro incorporated his signature touch to both, booking a wide range of musical acts, integrating visual shows and design, and dedication to excellent sound.
“We have integrated design into all parts. There is a lot of attention to the carpets, every paint color, door, door handle, bathroom,” Shapiro explained. “I think people notice that."
Shapiro is hopeful The Cap will become an attraction for music lovers across the Tri-State area and further, but also hopes locals make it their newest hang out. He mentioned the closing of Peekskill’s Paramount Center for the Arts and paused when asked if that was concerning.
“We think it will take a little time, but we hope people will treat The Cap like their neighborhood bar in a way,” Shapiro said. “We want to build a culture where the local population are regulars. We try to have our staff treat customers like that.”
Shapiro plans to open the large bar to the side of the front hall soon, which he thinks will help get people to consider the theater as more than just a place to see live music.
“I think that will be really important to creating a scene and a vibe earlier in the night,” he said.
While it may seem that The Cap's stellar line-up this season would be easy for a successful venue owner, Shapiro said it took a lot of effort to book some of the best performing artists from different genres. Now, he just needs people to keep showing up.
“If people go to the shows, we will keep getting great bands.”
This weekend catch Warren Haynes acoustic on Thursday, and Haynes with his band and the New Orleans Soul Rebels Band on Friday. Saturday, Blues Travelers are playing with the Spin Doctors and jam band favorite Umphreys McGee will be there on Wed. Oct. 17.
View the full line-up and buy tickets here.