Tom Bailey Rejuvenates Port Chester’s Capitol Theatre, Making It the Hottest Venue in Town. Again.
The former rock mecca returns to its original state, thanks to the influence of the concert-biz veteran.
GM Tom Bailey at the recently reopened Capitol Theatre in Port Chester
photo by Meghan Von Stankevich
For County music lovers of a certain age (and their live-performance-starved progeny), the biggest local news in recent years has likely been the reopening of Port Chester’s historic Capitol Theatre, which, in its rock-mecca heyday of the late ’60s and early ’70s, hosted virtually every touring headliner from Janis Joplin to Pink Floyd. At the helm of the onceagain-popular theater is general manager Tom Bailey, a concert-biz pro, San Francisco native, and current Port Chester resident. We talked to Tom about his his enviable musicindustry career and what it’s like to run “The Cap.”
What exactly do you do as general manager?
A little bit of everything, from hiring staff to establishing marketing deals to paying the bills to streamlining operations to helping book talent to answering complaint letters to analyzing how things can run better—anything and everything.
You started out working at Bill Graham’s Shoreline Amphitheatre and even worked at the legendary Fillmore. Your last job was as GM for the Blue Note in Manhattan, one of the most famous clubs in the world. How is your current position different?
The Blue Note is a legendary jazz club; I learned a lot there. The Capitol Theatre is unlike any other place. Nothing can compare to the sound, lighting, and projection capabilities a band can employ here. It’s unparalleled. Peter Shapiro [Capitol Theatre owner and operator] had a vision, and we have done everything we can do to make this the best venue in America. And we’ve just been nominated by [concert industry magazine] Pollstar as the Best New Major Concert Venue in America.
Who are some of your favorite live artists?
Some of my favorite live acts include Tom Petty, Wilco, X, Chris Botti, Junior Brown...
Have you ever been star-struck?
Not so much anymore.
The first time I met Pete Townshend I was in awe. That was a long time ago.
How has the concert industry changed since you began your career?
It used to be that concert tours were to support record sales. Now, nobody sells records and the money is in live concerts. And that was always where the excitement was.
How did you become involved with The Capitol Theatre?
I was introduced to Peter Shapiro by Jim Glancy, a founder of The Bowery Presents, our talent-buying organization for The Capitol, and the top promoter in the East Coast. I have a lot of respect for Glancy, so, when he said, ‘You should talk to Peter Shapiro about a place he wants to open,’ I met Shapiro and then visited The Capitol with my girlfriend—I pretended I was booking a wedding. And the place had so much potential, I couldn’t believe it. Glancy knew it. Shapiro knew it. I couldn’t wait to get in on it. So I began to change my life to get to Westchester—I moved to Rye—and make this place work.
Aside from the obvious city/suburb distinction, are there differences between a New York City venue and one in an area like Port Chester?
If you have a great venue, people will come there to see shows. It just takes a little encouragement on our part. But once people visit The Cap, they keep coming back... and Port Chester is becoming increasingly well known, for restaurants in particular, and is well positioned for future growth.
Lots of music-industry people long for the ‘old days.’ Do you feel that way? Is there anything that’s better about the industry today?
Production quality has increased greatly. Live shows have the potential to sound so much better than they used to. Technology is always moving forward—with the exception of autotuning, which I detest.
Is there a moment that shines above all others in your career?
The way I got promoted to house manager at The Fillmore went something like this: The GM, Joe Pags, and I were watching Iggy Pop play, and a fan slam-danced his way onstage and smacked into Iggy. Security grabbed him and took him to the edge of the stage and Pags had him ejected from the venue—the fan did hit Iggy rather hard. I told Pags, ‘I wouldn’t have done that; the slam-dancing thing has a code, you know, where that is permitted, and Iggy may not like it that you tossed him.’ Sure enough, ten minutes later, Iggy stopped the show and was asking for the fan to be brought back inside before he would continue. Pags came back to me and said, ‘How’d you like to run some shows here?’
In the ’70s and ’80s, going to a concert was not that much more expensive than going to the movies or out to dinner. Today, it’s an event—good tickets for a top act are out of reach for many. Why?
The brief answer is that record sales do not support artists like they used to, and ticket prices are really set by the artists now, not by promoters. If we want to bring in a certain band, it costs this much, or we don’t get them and the act goes elsewhere.
What do you like/dislike most about living and working in Westchester?
I’m a late-night guy, and my girlfriend is vegan. There aren’t a lot of great vegan restaurants in Westchester, at least not close to Port Chester. And little is open past midnight. But I’m learning to live with this.