There's no question that the reopening of the State Theatre has people in this town pretty damn excited. As photos of the reconstruction have leaked out, the fever has built, often almost completely irrespective of that bands that have so far been lined up to play its stage.
Who cares who's been booked? At least the State Theatre won't be an embarrassing husk of rotting store-front space, home only to wind-swept wrappers and bums looking for a corner to piss in. That transformation alone is an incredible psychological boost to a Congress Street that is already one of the premier live-music corridors on the East Coast.
The thing is, those fond memories of State Theatre shows past that help build this excitement are all tinged with addendums: the bathrooms were a disaster, the seats were scummy, the floor was sticky, there was more bondo on the woodwork than on a 1963 Impala, you felt decidedly unsafe in the balcony, the sound sucked (especially in the low end), and the bar was like something set up at the Yarmouth Clam Festival.
There's a probably-true story about Ray LaMontagne refusing to ever play there again because his wife was so repulsed by the state of the green room. I believe the story because I saw the green room.
So, when you take a peek inside and see the brand-new red seats (many of them removable for GA shows), the gilded woodwork restored, the fresh paint, the new flooring, it makes the five fallow years completely worth it.
New general manager Lauren Wayne told Portland Magazine last year that the State Theatre needed three things to be successful: "money, an astute business sense, and a working knowledge of concert promotion and marketing."
With Wayne, as respected a music-industry veteran as we have in this town, plus the Bowery Ballroom-Higher Ground management that has put its money up, we have those things. Perhaps most exciting for me as a long-time observer of our little music scene here is that I'm pretty sure they won't fuck this up. This isn't a fly-by-night, wish-and-a-prayer, we-need-volunteers operation like the one that last opened the State's doors. It's not the kind of thing where the people, gosh-darn-it, mean well, but will ultimately lose interest and money (if they ever had any).
These are actually people who've opened clubs in other cities that kick ass. The Bowery Ballroom and Higher Ground are two of the most admired clubs in the country, places that attract the best and brightest acts. To be associated with them is half the battle for a booker trying to bring quality shows to the State.
Even better is that Wayne will continue to book both the Port City Music Hall and the State Theatre, which means a complementary booking philosophy that will put the right bands in the right rooms. Could OK Go have gone in the State? Maybe. But they will absolutely kick ass at the PCMH. Would Kansas have agreed to play the PCMH? Maybe. But you don't see Kansas in a club. The proper strata for bands on the make is finally complete in Portland, from coffee house to small club to big club to mid-sized theater to arena (sort of — we'll deal with the Civic Center next).
This is going to work, people. That's what's really exciting. Well, that and the new bar and bathrooms.