By Chadbyrne R. Dickens

There are a handful of truly iconic musical venues in this country (Red Rocks, Greek Theatre, Madison Square Garden) but next Tuesday, September 4th, another is set to reopen in Port Chester, New York.

The Capitol Theatre, closed to live music since 1997, was once the special space that showcased some of the most prolific artists in rock history including: The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Janis Joplin and Phish. The Grateful Dead provided many memorable moments over 18 incredible shows between 1970-71 alone. Originally built in 1926 for vaudeville and cinema, the intimate 1,835-seat concert hall – long included on the National Registry of Historic Places – had proven to be a lightning rod for quality performances. All it needed was the right leader to bring the magic back.

It is no accident that entrepreneur, Peter Shapiro, who has been so successful in building an impressive jam empire, would spearhead the ambitious project. Since the closing of the renowned Wetlands venue, which he owned, Shapiro has taken calculated risks that have paid dividends including his ownership (and leadership) roles at Brooklyn Bowl, Relix Magazine,, Sirius radio’s Jam On Station and The Jammy Awards, among others.

In the music community, Mr. Shapiro is as well-respected for his impresario presence and leadership ala Bill Graham, as he is for his modest, non-pretentious, and welcoming demeanor. Peter is the “player’s coach” you want to share a beer with as well as an approachable leader who can be seen casually soaking up tunes on the floor at the beloved Brooklyn Bowl.

A modest straight-shooter, Shapiro is considered the Messiah within the local NYC music community as part of the passionate driving force behind the resurgence in jam and other live music. He is celebrated for shepherding substantial resources in an attempt to deliver a plethora of quality music to the masses. His current efforts led to the announcement last December that he would reopen The Capitol Theatre. The occasion marks the reestablishment of Port Chester as a destination spot for music lovers and reintroduces Capitol Theatre as one of our premiere music venues; not just in New York, but in the country. With opening night fast approaching – a concert with the legendary Bob Dylan – I connected with Mr. Shapiro to learn more about the Capitol Theatre.
L4LM: How did you get the idea to revitalize the Capitol Theatre?

PS: The opportunity was brought to me by a friend, Stephanie Lacoff, who made me aware of it and I knew about the theatre and its incredible beauty and history and that a lot of people had tried to do things with it but the owner didn’t want to do shows. So I met with him over a course of years, talked about my vision for the theatre. I was aware of the history and the more I learned about the theatre, the more I spent time in the theatre, the more I got turned on by it, a true once in a lifetime opportunity.

L4LM: Why do you think the Capitol Theatre closed despite its initial historic success?

PS: It didn’t fail, it had issues. The owner decided not to do shows and preferred to do private events because they are easier to do than rock n’ roll, which has a smaller profit margin but the space, always suited to live music, never changed. It’s just the person who held the car keys wanted to drive to a different place, and in the 70’s, after a great run of shows, they ran into some problems with the Village of Port Chester, who had instituted a curfew. So they had to change what they were doing. Then in the 90’s the owner just wanted to do something else with it.

L4LM: With a reported 2 million in renovations, what can one expect in improvements?

PS: We did a lot of work with the sound system; lights, everything – and we’ll see if that penciled number is still accurate in the end, because we went above and beyond what our plan was. When you do these kind of things, it’s hard to stick to a budget because you get emotionally connected to it, excited. You want to give the theatre the best of everything – the people working on it went above and beyond with efforts, new carpets, new curtains, everything repainted, everything you will see in the theatre has kind of a new ‘coat’ to it.

L4LM: Is the Cap Center LEED Certified – did you approach it with the same ‘green’ agenda you had with Wetlands and Brooklyn Bowl?

PS: We will do things like not having bottled beer, but it is not LEED Certified green because it is almost a 100 year old theatre. The Brooklyn Bowl worked great because we built it from scratch and it was an important thing for us to do.

L4LM: What shows are you most excited about that are booked?

PS: The opening night is an exciting night, a little bit of a scary night just being Night One and putting Bob Dylan on first. There are some things that haven’t been announced yet that I am excited about and obviously having Bobby Weir there {writers note: on Shapiro’s b-day} as the Head Count event is exciting, and the three My Morning Jacket shows. Having grown up loving Phish, having Trey play there and Al Green…there is just a lot. I’m so focused on just finishing this thing, and it all sounds so exciting, but I’m in the realities of day to day and holding back on the excitement of future stuff and focusing on the work now.

L4LM: What is your relationship with The Bowery Presents?

PS: We have a great booking alliance with The Bowery Presents. I book the room with Anthony Makes over there and I have a great relationship with Jim and John who run it. They help me book Brooklyn Bowl and they have played a key role there and they are going to help us here at the Capitol. But the Cap is kinda like my baby.

L4LM: How did you decide on Bob Dylan as the inaugural act? Is it a coincidence that he was the first concert you ever worked?

PS: Yes, that was just a coincidence. As a senior at Northwestern, I worked on a Dylan show which was an exciting thing for me. With all the pressure of night one with the history here and everyone asking, ‘Who are you gonna get night one?’ it’s very exciting that we were able to get a performer that everyone universally is just like, ‘wow.’ So many people put so much effort putting this theatre together and when you are working on a project of this scale, you can develop a real connection with them. When you are working on it with a carpenter, electrician, lighting designer, plumber or sound engineer, you know you get to see people put so much into making it a special place. It already has great bones with Thomas Lamb, the architect, being one of the great architects in American history. So I am really excited about what’s coming.

L4LM: What can patrons expect in terms of parking in Port Chester near the Theatre?

PS: We are working on the lots that will be accessible to us around the Theatre and some new lots relating to Costco and the movie theater (that was not there last time around.)

L4LM: Thank you so much for taking the time, Peter. I’m looking forward to this.

PS: Thank you. See you at the Cap!