The curtain rises on the Civic Theater tonight!

The oldest theater in New Orleans is ready for prime time! After months of renovations the now state-of-the art Civic Theater, which dates to the first decade of the 20th century, hosts Empire of the Sun—the first of twenty or so concerts that are scheduled.

I enjoyed a private tour of the building that was reminiscent of a media visit to the House of Blues back in 1994 because of  the attention to detail that went into designing the space.


Among numerous other special amenities, including a sprung floor stage, eco-aware LED lighting, and top of the line audio, the bathroom lights can be synced with the stage lights! I can report that the theater is going to be an awesome addition to the city’s concert venues.

Fans line up at the box office on O’Keefe Avenue, which is actually at the back of the building, and proceed downriver along a wide alley that is accentuated by hanging globes of light, setting the stage for the gorgeous interior.

The room can be configured in a variety of ways depending on the act being presented. Seats can be set up or removed allowing promoters to specifically tailor the space. The floor can even be raised to create a ballroom.

There are two balconies, which provide fabulous sight lines to the stage, as well as opera boxes that may very well be the best seats in the house. Arguably, the top balcony also fits that bill providing a bird’s eye view of the stage and the lower level. Directly behind the last row is one of three bars in the theater. There are also restrooms up top as well.

Speaking of the bars (the lobby bar is pictured below), my guide stressed that the theater intends to create a special experience for concertgoers on every level. They have consulted with the owners of Cure, the leading specialty cocktail purveyors in the city, to insure that music lovers don’t have to drink watered-down Jack and Cokes. There are three signature cocktails including “The Awakening,” which is named for Kate Chopin’s famous novel.


I also spoke with Tim Sweetwood of The Bowery Presents about future plans for the new venue. He informed me that they plan on “easily doing 6-8 shows a month and 12-14 shows (a month) during the high season.” Late night shows during Jazz Fest are mostly fully booked, although he was not prepared to release any of the acts yet.

I asked Sweetwood about how the Civic will fit into the fabric of the city’s concert scene. Readers with long memories, or those that have read my book, Up Front and Center: New Orleans Music at the End of the 20th Century, will recall the hand wringing about competition when the House of Blues announced they were opening in New Orleans.


Sweetwood understands the intimate dynamic of the city, and took pains to assure me that they are not looking to create a booking war. Compared to Tipitina’s and the House of Blues he said, “We are little bigger and we are filling a gap.” Tonight’s show, the two performances by the Black Crowes in early October, comedian Russell Brand, and the two sold-out Neutral Milk Hotel shows in February bear that out.

Given their location in the heart of the CBD and steps from the parade route, don’t expect any major bookings during Carnival. Sweetwood said, “We are trying to be strategic about Mardi Gras. (Bookings) will be local.”

That sounds like music to this local’s ears.
Top photo: Michael Palumbo

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