Why Venues Matter to the Arts

You buy your tickets and you tell your friends. You grab the keys. You make it to Friday night and are out on the town walking towards the location of the concert. You reach for your sturdy piece of paper that grants you access and you pass through the revolving doors. You walk down the carpet and you enter the hall with your favorite mixed drink, cocktail, beer, or whatever. The house music comes to a fade and then to a silence. Everything goes dark. The show has begun.

But you stop and think for just a moment. What makes the occasion happen?

The countless promoters, advertisers, bartenders, club owners, bands, singers, dancers and poets all have a specific part in making the show go on, and therefore they must be the collective influence and ultimate reason as to why the arts thrive. But there is something else. In fact, this something else stands alone as the only thing between the mobility and success of the arts and their downfall: the venue.

In the early 20th century, entertainers particularly in cities like New York, Chicago, and New Orleans were pretty keen on what made real entertainment. Of course ballet and symphonies were already in existence, but with the onset of burlesque, gambling, comedy, and jazz, large spaces for such mediums were needed. Because of these things, the term venue has become quite popularized. Whether it’s for karaoke night, spoken, word, or a featured band, an event always needs a venue.

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photo by pixabay

Since the late mid to late 20th century, venues (particularly older ones) have been closing up shop in order to ring in the next hot thing. In reality, the old adage “out with the old and in with the new” has never been more appropriate when referring to the cycle of musical halls, art galleries, and the like.

One venue that has stood the test of time is the world-renowned Village Vanguard, a Greenwich Village club which has been responsible for over 80 years of artistic expression in a public setting. In an October 2014 issue of The Village Voice, a interesting summary was given, stating, “Of New York’s great jazz rooms, the Village Vanguard has the edge in terms of historical pedigree, sound, unique physical space, and ever-broadening booking policy, representing jazz across many generations and aesthetic viewpoints.” Suffice it to say, the jazz population and the boro of Manhattan have been well blessed with the continual operation and availability of a true legendary venue.

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The Village Vanguard in 1976; photo by Tom Marcello/Wikipedia Commons

Like the historic jazz venues of New York and around the U.S., there have been quite a few dinosaurs that housed country, opera, rock, and soul in existence as well. If you look to New York, you will undoubtedly come across the Madison Square Garden which has been been the home for countless sold out concerts and worldwide events since 1879. The current location for MSG opened in 1968, and in 1969 saw it’s first well-known sold out show for The Rolling Stones.

More recently, rock legend Billy Joel has been performing monthly at the renowned space. In fact, Joel has quite a fondness towards New York venues as his career has largely been based there. His 1978 critically acclaimed album was actually entitled, “52nd Street“. The record of course paid homage to the famous street in New York City that was littered with venues and clubs in its 20th century zenith. It goes without saying, venues have left a lasting impression on concerts goers and performers alike. This location treated jazz aficionados just the same as the regular men and women of the day.

“Either way you’re bound to function; Fifty-second street’s the junction”   

-Steely Dan

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52nd Street, July 1948 (W. Gottlieb/ Library of Congress)

On a smaller scale, a music venue in Philadelphia, The Legendary Dobbs stood on South Street as a landmark for a plethora of reasons. It was in 1974 or so that the original J.C. Dobbs got its start. The artists of the South Street region were able to duke it out, and because of this, history was made in several instances. The venue closed up shop in 1996 but was eventually reopened with new owners in 2010 as The Legendary Dobbs. It closed again in the Fall of 2015. People were born into this South street venue, inheriting a lucky star.

Just as there is a need for the arts in the main hubs of the greater U.S., there is a technically smaller, but equally important necessity in Smalltown, U.S.A. The truth is that every county of every state has a town center: a collaboration of the arts, style, excercise, food, sports, and overall entertainment. The city’s municipalities make it possible for towns to grow, budget, and operate properly. This is such the case in every county surrounding the Philadelphia and Greater South Jersey region. Here we have a lasting impression of the arts that carries on from generation to generation.

But the places that provide space for the arts don’t always last. There is always a struggle for a person, a group of people, or even a community to keep a venue afloat and running legally. That is why venues are so important. They take work to run, maintain, and serve the public. They allow the arts to be expressed.

I think that behind every wall of ever stage door to every venue, there is a story and a personality. That is why I am covering this beat. These Greater South Jersey venues need to be heard, and if I can help bring them to people in various forms, then that is what I will set out to do.

Look out for a photo gallery of my very first visit, the Grand Theater of Williamstown, NJ.

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