College Street Turns Two

The Decemberists perform at College Street Music Hall. Photo courtesy College Street Music Hall.

The Decemberists perform at College Street Music Hall. Photo courtesy College Street Music Hall.

The following is a Q&A with local music promoter Keith Mahler from College Street Music Hall. 

Your title?

Director of Artist & Fan Happiness

The companies you run?

Premier Facilities LLC, which is the facility manager for College Street Music Hall. On the concert business side of things, I am president of Manic Presents/Premier Concerts which are owned by PKM Presents LLC.

Every time we look, College Street Music Hall has amazing national performers on the calendar. How has College Street been so successful in just 2 years?

It’s really about the quality of the venue. When the Board of Directors brought me on board, the strategic vision was pretty similar to the venue we have created. We have filled a void in the entertainment/concert space in Connecticut as a midsize venue with flexible capacity. All of this while meeting all of the needs of the touring artist (backstage) and creating an unparalleled fan experience.

How much of that success can be attributed to the Palace Theater (which used to be housed where College Street is)?

None—dead buildings do not sell tickets. The Palace Theater no longer exists. But the building’s bones were basically solid, which made the refurbishment much simpler to execute. The venue was closed to the public in 2002 and has sat under the same ownership until we found each other and rebranded the building as College Street Music Hall. The original theater was called the Roger Sherman Theater until Joel Schiavone took control of the building and renamed the facility the Palace Theater in approximately 1984.

hoto courtesy College Street Music Hall.

hoto courtesy College Street Music Hall.

The history of the theater itself really has nothing to do with the success of the building today. We have built the operation from the ground up and had to reestablish the venue credibility within the tour industry, which we were able to achieve rather quickly given our collective reputations in the concert business.

How would you describe the New Haven music scene?

Very much alive and well now that College Street Music Hall has opened. 

How does College Street Music Hall fit into the New Haven music scene?

Perfectly—it meets the demand for this type of venue in Connecticut and thankfully the venue is in the heart of New Haven.

What can audiences expect when they go to College Street Music Hall for a show?

Perfect sound and masterful lighting as a start—a great overall environment to enjoy a concert. Not to mention a superb selection of craft beers and great cocktails.

What is the show you are most proud to have produced?

Wow—tough call. I would say to date: Wilco/Regina Spektor/John Mulaney.

Any funny stories of groups coming through? i.e. any odd riders or special accommodations made?      

The old stories of providing the bands with blow and hookers are long gone! Now it’s all about a great shower and, of course, New Haven pizza. 

Are you at all the shows?

As long as I am not traveling, I try to go to most of the shows (with rare exceptions.)

Trombone Shorty at College Street. hoto courtesy College Street Music Hall.

Trombone Shorty at College Street. hoto courtesy College Street Music Hall.

Do you do the booking? Or does Mark Nussbaum from Manic Presents (formerly Manic Productions)?

I oversee the booking effort, which is currently handled day-to-day by Mark Nussbaum and Anthony Rhodes.

How has acquiring Manic Productions/Manic Presents effected your business?

Manic has been rebranded as Manic Presents to more properly reflect its business. Mark has always booked smaller club shows, so the new platform has allowed him to grow, expand, and learn. 

Who is someone you would love to see perform at College Street?

Great question— I would love to host the Trey Anastasio Band, Ray LaMontagne, and Little Steven & The Disciples of Soul. There are just so many artists that should be playing at College Street Music Hall.

Are all the events at College Street Music Hall your productions, or is it occasionally rented out?

The building is what’s known as an open building—there are a number of promoters that have presented concerts in the building.

How is College Street Music Hall connected to the New Haven Center for the Performing Arts?

As you know, the venue is owned and operated by New Haven Center for Performing Arts, Inc., which is a 501(c)(3) not for profit, so the Board of Directors provides the strategic direction while we carry out the day-to-day management function of the building.

What’s next for College Street Music Hall? 

We are always looking to diversify the audience base. College Street Music Hall is still in its infancy. Although we officially reopened to the public on May 1, 2015, there was a lot of details to finish and we really started to get the concerts up and running in September 2015, so the unofficial anniversary is right now— in September. 

Mahler’s answers have been edited for clarity and grammar. These are his opinions.