Photo by Peter Marvin
Peter Shapiro (left) with the Capitol Theatre’s current owner, Marvin Ravikoff.
The 1926 Thomas W. Lamb-designed Capitol Theatre, sitting stately on Westchester Avenue in Port Chester, has hosted vaudeville acts, silent films, live music, weddings, bar mitzvahs, corporate events, and, well, even adult movies. Thankfully, it’s best known as a live music venue, with folks from around the tri-state area recalling the theater’s heyday in the ’60s and ’70s, when it was home to concerts with Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin (who performed one of her last live shows there), the Rolling Stones, and David Bowie (and, later, Phish and Blues Traveler).
Separately, Peter Shapiro, 39, has been making his own name in the live-music world. In the mid ’90s, he purchased the storied Wetlands Preserve—the TriBeCa club that introduced concertgoers to Pearl Jam and the Dave Matthews Band—from founder Larry Bloch. More recently, he opened Brooklyn Bowl, a swanky Williamsburg destination that combines 16 lanes of bowling with acts like Kanye West and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. By day, Shapiro is also publisher of Relix music magazine.
This year, we get to see what happens when Shapiro meets The Capitol Theatre. He’s leasing the space from the current Capitol owner, Marvin Ravikoff, to bring live music back to the venue. Booking will be done by The Bowery Presents, the company that books shows for New York City venues like the Bowery Ballroom, Mercury Lounge, Music Hall of Williamsburg, and Terminal 5 (and the Wellmont Theatre in New Jersey). While no opening date has been set—estimates are for mid 2012—we caught up with Shapiro to ask about his history in the industry and his plans for the venue.
How did you first get involved with presenting live music?
I was a film student at Northwestern. I ended up going on tour with the Grateful Dead and making a documentary film about the Dead and the culture around them in the 1990s. Later, I did another film, American Road, and Phish did the music for it. So I met all of these people, and I met the owner of the Wetlands right when I graduated college, and we started talking about my getting involved. I ended up taking over the Wetlands in 1996, when I was twenty three.
The Capitol Theatre stage is almost ready to return to live music.
What made you decide to combine music and bowling at Brooklyn Bowl?
After the Wetlands went away, right after 9/11, I wanted to do another venue. I was walking in Williamsburg with my partner from the Wetlands, Charley Ryan, and we just walked into this warehouse on North 11th Street and Wythe Avenue, an incredible space with amazing potential. After seeing it, we had the idea of combining bowling and live music and Blue Ribbon food all together. It worked out: Zagat rated Brooklyn Bowl the number-one venue for live music in New York City in 2010 and 2011.
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Did you go to The Capitol Theatre when it was a music venue?
Just once, for a Strangefolk concert in 1998.
So what made you want to turn it back into a music venue?
A friend, Stefanie Lacoff Jampole, made me aware that Marvin Ravikoff, the owner, would be open to discussing taking over the theater. When I saw the theater, I got really excited. I’m still really excited. It’s a beautiful theater, the location is great, and the history is so powerful.
What shape was the theater in when you got involved?
Marvin Ravikoff has done a great job, and it was in good shape. Now, we just have to tweak it. We’re going to optimize the infrastructure in order to create what should be the preeminent theater for live music on the East Coast.
What kind of improvements are you making?
We’re putting in really top-of-the-line sound, lighting, and projection technology. I produced the U2 3D concert film, so I have a background in that kind of technology. We’re really making that a priority. The layout—the theater has this dome feeling—makes it very friendly to innovative projection and lighting.
Are you going to be booking the same kinds of bands that you had in your other venues?
It’s going to be a notch up from that, because of its size. It has the capacity for some two thousand; that’s pretty big.