The Boston area has mourned the loss of beloved concert halls since the pandemic hit two years ago. But tonight a new club is opening in Allston-Brighton, and it’s a big club.
Roadrunner is billed as the largest indoor general admission venue in New England. We took a tour to find out how and why the team behind Roadrunner designed it to be a better experience for audiences and performers.
When you walk into a concert hall, it can be chaotic. You often end up meandering from the box office, through a herd of dazed people, down cramped hallways to find the stage. At Roadrunner, it’s one of the first things you see.
On a recent afternoon, house audio technician Reid Calkin stood alone on the arena-sized stage, which is 60 feet wide. The club’s state-of-the-art sound system had been installed a few days earlier.
“Check one, check two,” he intoned deeply, then added, “Welcome. This is my first time speaking through the AP – feel good, feel good .
Calkin is not alone in his elation.
“Just hearing that PA come on – the sound goes – is something we’ve been thinking about for over four years,” Josh Bhatti said with a smile, “and it’s like being a proud parent. “
Bhatti has overseen the construction of Roadrunner from the start. He heads the Boston office for The Bowery Presents, a New York-based company that owns and books other local clubs, including the Sinclair and the Royale. Bhatti said they were looking for a new location with enough volume to expand their concert footprint.
“We had the option for bands to play in a 500 capacity venue and a 1200 capacity venue,” he said, “and then we were limited in our options as to where we could hold these shows.”
(The Bowery also features promoted shows at the more intimate Great Scott, which closed in 2020).
Then they found this 50,000 square foot space in the Boston Landing development in Allston-Brighton. It was originally built as a Celtics practice facility which eventually moved across the street. The newly built vacant space was a blank slate for Bhatti’s team to design a venue of their dreams – backed by a partnership with entertainment giant AEG. Bhatti said their goal was to create a more thoughtful experience for artists and fans that goes beyond the music.
“How do you get that person who goes to one or two shows a year to go to three or four shows a year? Or the person who goes to 15 or 20 concerts a year, how do you get them to go to 25? he said they wondered. “Nobody is forced to go to a concert, so how can you get people to come there?”
To that end, the tiered Roadrunner’s vibe is fun and quite whimsical. It has two dressing rooms, four large bars and numerous bathrooms. Playful decor evokes skateboard parks, Boston sports, and local music history. A colorful mural near the entrance pays homage to the club’s namesake: local legend Jonathan Richman’s classic song, “Roadrunner.”
But the views throughout the space, as well as the sound, were top priority. Bhatti said he and his team constantly wonder, “Can everyone in this room see the show and can everyone hear it well?” What’s the line of sight from here, what’s the line of sight from there? »
Stephane Martyak — who also designed the Sinclair a decade ago — said he was proud of the ADA-compliant sections. “Especially on the balcony, which has some of the best sightlines in the entire room.”
As they set out to create a playground for music fans, Martyak and Bhatti wanted to show us areas of Roadrunner that are invisible to the public. Touring artists have needs too, they explained as we pushed open a heavy soundproof door leading backstage.
Life on the road can be relentless for musicians, so there are five well-appointed dressing rooms with showers, a soft catering kitchen and a cozy lounge where they can recharge their batteries.
“These artists travel everywhere, they have limited sleep, so we provide good equipment to allow them to perform at their highest level,” Bhatti said. “It’s no different to an athlete where if he’s comfortable and feels like he’s had a good day, he has a better show.”
And if the artists have a better show, he added, “the fans feel it.”
Bhatti is particularly excited about a not-so-sexy amenity that he says is actually luxurious: the air-conditioned indoor off-street loading dock.
Drivers and road crews often have to park on city streets or squeeze through narrow alleys to get their jobs done. Bhatti has been promoting and supporting bands since high school and has hauled his fair share of heavy equipment up ramps amid snowstorms. He feels for the roadies.
“Like in Boston, New York, big cities, it’s almost impossible to drive to a place with trucks and buses and leave them there,” Jared Herman said via Zoom ahead of a show in South Carolina, “Anytime a team comes in, and they see it’s going to come and go quickly and they’re going to shower really quickly at the end of the night, it’s usually a good day.
Herman is tour manager and sound engineer for the Boston band Diving in the street of the lake. He recently took a look inside Roadrunner and also appreciates the separate showers for the crew members as well as the washer and dryer. “Having laundry behind the scenes is huge,” he added.
Lake Street Dive is headlining Roadrunner this summer, but Herman predicts it will be especially game-changing in the winter. “There’s no 3,000 capacity indoor hall in New England,” he said, “and it’s pretty cold most months.”
Career musicians need to sell tickets year-round, according to Lake Street Dive drummer Michael Calabrese. “It’s how you make a living now,” he said, “not to make a tirade, but the advent of streaming services has really decimated anyone’s music financial base. which group.”
Lake Street Dive formed at the New England Conservatory in 2004. The band’s first gigs were at bubble cafes. The genre-spanning five-piece band moved to clubs like the Lizard Lounge, then – with promotional support from The Bowery Presents – to Sinclair and Wang. Calabrese said graduating to bigger venues is the goal for bands like his, and he hopes Roadrunner will relieve the pressure on Boston’s struggling venue ecosystem that never has. enough venues for local artists to perform.
“That could mean other bands can start playing Sinclair…which means other bands can start playing Lizard Lounge…and then other bands can start playing Toad,” he said. declared. “And you can kind of open up the space that’s available not just out of town, but also for local artists, to get on stage.”
Josh Bhatti said he is committed to developing artists as they grow. He and the Roadrunner crew see their new location as a love letter to Boston’s musical heritage, just as Jonathan Richman’s signature song pays homage to Massachusetts and rock ‘n’ roll.
Stephen Martyak recalls listening to The Modern Lovers’ LP “Roadrunner” on repeat while designing the space, “and even the main room’s indigo blue color is inspired by the album.”
Roadrunner opens March 15 with Grammy-winning guitarist and vocalist Billy Strings. Other bands on deck include the Dropkick Murphys, Olivia Rodrigo, Mitski, LCD Soundsystem and The Decemberists.