The show will go on: Boston’s new concert hall opens up a different world for concerts

Tucked behind the tallest seats is a lounge-style seating area with a large “Roadrunner” sign, fashioned from reflective road markers.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Five years in the making, the hall cost $20 million to build, said Josh Bhatti, Boston vice president of The Bowery Presents, which operates the concert hall. The Bowery came to the area to open the Sinclair, in Harvard Square, in 2012, and had been looking for a second music venue ever since. They also handle reservations at the Royale, a downtown concert venue and nightclub.

In 2018, the pieces began to fall into place when The Bowery struck a deal with New Balance Development Group on the huge campus the cobbler is building in Brighton. They paved the way in April 2019. Then came the pandemic. Live music went on a widespread hiatus. Roadrunner’s planned summer 2021 launch has been pushed back to this spring, which, depending on your perspective, could be considered a fortuitous timing.

Today, Bhatti said, people crave live music. And in Boston, the indoor mask mandate and proof of vaccination requirement were recently lifted, paving the way for a “normal” concert experience. (Roadrunner artists can still request that the vaccination requirement remain in place for their shows.)

“Streaming is a good complement for entertainment,” he said. “But you can’t replace – even if you use VR goggles with a friend from Florida – the live experience. You can’t replace being there.

Roadrunner’s floor can accommodate 2,000 spectators with room for another 1,500 in the seven tiered rows of the balcony.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Business for The Bowery – which runs sites in the northeast and a few southern towns — has not yet reached pre-pandemic levels, but incomes are growing. Bhatti said customers sometimes buy tickets months in advance and then choose not to attend when the number of cases gets worse. But the company hasn’t canceled a block of concerts since the first wave, although individual artists have canceled dates after testing positive for COVID.

Still, Bhatti expects changes.

“In our world, one thing we’ve learned is patience,” he said. “None of us are public health experts. We book gigs and we produce shows, so we’re still waiting to see what’s next and do what’s best for our audiences.”

In the long term, however, The Bowery team hopes to have designed Roadrunner in a way that gives artists “a reason to choose this place as the place where they want to play – and audiences a reason to come here”, he said. he declares.

A mid-sized venue, it’s a bridge between smaller local music clubs – Great Scott, Sinclair, Royale – and arenas, like Agganis Arena and TD Garden, where the biggest names in music play their shows in Boston . This makes Roadrunner the “perfect middle ground” for up-and-coming artists or established mid-size artists, Bhatti said.

“It’s big enough for artists to really make a living from their music,” he said. “They can take a year to shoot and then another to write. They can have a lasting career.

The design also helps. The venue – with the expansive track above – was planned for athletics, with no obstructive columns that would block spectators’ line of sight. Designer Stephen Marteck took inspiration for Roadrunner from a 1970s country house and added exposed steel beams, reclaimed oak finishes and glass block windows. A mural by Felipe Ortiz near the entrance brings together the traditional symbols of Boston: the Allston Railyard, the Prudential Building and a three-story building. A red Plymouth Roadrunner – a nod to the location’s name – speeds away on the right side of the room.

A mural by Felipe Ortiz near the entrance to the venue features a red 70s Plymouth Roadrunner in the lower right corner. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

And of course, the name itself is a nod to the town’s rock history, The Modern Lovers’ 1972 hit “Roadrunner.”

Behind the scenes, The Bowery has placed the loading dock and the parking lot for the artists’ buses, a few meters from a stage. There is also a production office, a bar for the artists’ guests, a mailbox for sending postcards from the road and a kitchen. It’s dotted with artwork: a construction paper creation of a running boy and four frames decorated with circular cutouts of aluminum cans. (If you look closely enough, you’ll see the intro to the song “Roadrunner” “One, two, three, four” counting down in the lower left corner of the frames.) The four dressing rooms are adorned with wooden boards. custom casters, plastered with album covers from Boston native bands from Donna Summer to The Cars.

Later this week the shows begin. Grammy-winning guitarist and vocalist Billy Strings will be the first musician to play Roadrunner on March 15. The Bowery has announced dates for Bleachers, JoJo, Lake Street Dive, Lane 8, Mitski, and more.

He is already starting to talk with performers for shows for this time next year. Roadrunner, he said, has a long way to go.

“Now,” Bhatti said, “we’re just happy to see people here.”

Four kitchen frames are decorated with circular cutouts of aluminum cans. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
Roadrunner’s backstage kitchen, complete with a post office mailbox (top left) for the cast and crew to send messages home.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
One of four dressing rooms for artists, with custom skateboards on the wall. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Diti Kohli can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @ditikohli_.

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