Jul 25, 2012

1971: Capitol Theater, Port Chester

ROCK THUMPED IN WESTCHESTER CO.

PORT CHESTER, N.Y. - Howard Stein does his best to lure this Westchester County hamlet's kids off the streets weekend evenings, and last year he was instrumental in closing down the town's lone skinflick palace.
But Port Chester's city fathers are not impressed with Stein's achievements, and the city council has been swapping restraining orders with him for the last six months in attempts to close the Capitol Theater and put Howard - the town's lone rock entrepeneur - out of business.
Since he took over operation of the Capitol Theater a little more than a year ago, Stein has booked some of the country's better bands, built up a steady regular audience, and spent about half of his time fighting city hall. And he's getting paranoid.
During a recent Grateful Dead concert, an anonymous phone caller tipped police that a bomb was planted in the theater. The cops relayed the message to the Capitol right after Stein had stepped out for a few minutes, and the responsibility for clearing the hall fell upon the on-duty fire marshal and Dead manager Sam Cutler.
The New Riders of the Purple Sage were into their fifth number as Cutler and the fire marshal rushed on stage to sound the alarm. But instead of racing for the exits, the audience roared back a fat chorus of "fuuuuuuck you!" Ushers and stagehands finally got the place cleared, and after the briefest of searches, the cops declared the bomb threat a hoax. The capacity crowd of slightly less than 2000 streamed back inside, reinforced by several hundred grinning crashers who proceeded to jam the aisles.
Stein said he saw several "shady figures" taking pictures of the aisle-squatters, who were, of course, violating fire ordinances. "I suspect," he declared, "the whole thing was set up."
The Capitol is currently operating thanks to a temporary restraining order blocking the city council's latest ordinance, which states that no establishment in which live entertainment is performed can operate after 1 AM.
"What they were saying effectively," said Stein, "was that the Capitol Theater will close... We'd go out of business because we couldn't do two shows a night. With a capacity of 1850, we have to do two shows or we can't make enough money to get the acts we need."
Dominick Pierro, attorney for the Port Chester city council, wouldn't discuss the town's specific reasons for wanting to close the theater except to say that "it was an undisciplined operation and creates problems for the local police department."
"We wish Stein operated elsewhere," Pierro added. "Our kids don't go to it."
Stein has no plans to pull out of Port Chester, but he will be operating elsewhere. He's obtained a summer lease on the Pavilion in Flushing Meadow Park, Queens, and hopes to stage a series of "mini-festivals."

(from Rolling Stone, April 1 1971)

3 comments:

  1. City Hall eventually won.

    "Crowds came from three states to attend the star-studded concerts, causing such havoc in Port Chester that the city government finally stopped them in 1971 by adopting a 1:00 AM curfew on live entertainment. Heavily damaged and plundered during the Stein regime, the Capitol became a XXX movie house before shutting down in 1976."
    http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/6780

    "By 1976, however, the theatre was shut down due to a new village ordinance that prohibited live entertainment after 1 a.m. It was at this time that Mother Nature became the sole owner of the Capitol Theatre. The roof decayed, and pigeons made the stage their new home. The theatre remained dark until the early 80’s."
    http://www.thecapitoltheatre.com/history/

    Bomb threats were actually quite common in those days. The suspicion is that many were called in by people without tickets who used it as a way to get in when the audience re-entered.
    I haven't traced just which show this bomb warning happened in.
    Marty Weinberg remembers, "At one of the shows, there was a bomb scare at the Capitol Theater, everyone had to evacuate the theater while they searched."

    McNally writes that that the Oct '70 Stony Brook show was "a totally chaotic show which included a bomb threat. The gym was cleared, the audience exited, and 2000 additional people entered. Scheduled for two shows, they played until midnight for the first show, and the turnover was anything but graceful."

    Also, the Dead were to play in Albany on Nov 15 '70, but ended up not playing: "When a bomb threat cleared the hall, the band left. 20 years later the reporter concluded that the threat was in fact an excuse for the promoter to end the show early, and the Dead never saw any money."
    http://lostlivedead.blogspot.com/2009/12/november-15-1970-armory-albany-ny.html

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  2. According to Ron Waloff's review in Deadbase X, 2/18/71 was the bomb threat show:

    "During the NRPS segment of the show...guys in fireman's uniforms walked down the aisle and got up on stage. The whole place had been filled with smoke from assorted sources, and in our state, we thought that's what these firemen were there for. The entire place was emptied out into the street, a bomb threat had been called. No bomb was found and they let everyone who was standing out on the main street of Port Chester near the theater back inside, no tickets asked for. People said it was called by folks wanting to get in but who didn't have tickets."

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  3. You can hear Weir say after Me & My Uncle on 2/24/71, "Whoever it was phoned in that bomb report, thanks a whole hell of a lot; I know you're out there, and you got in free. And it ain't a good idea..."

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