Intermission is over!
The region’s larger venues kick into high gear this summer
Photo of the Niswonger Performing Arts Center in Van wert by Darin Hohman.
June 30, 2021
Live music is back.
So are plays, musicals, ice shows, burlesque, and stand-up comedy. Even stage psychics are back, but we’re not telling them anything they don’t already know.
Inside this section is a look at what’s happening at the region’s larger venues.
Niswonger Performing Arts Center
10700 State Route 118, Van Wert, Ohio (419) 238-6722
Of all the regional venues affected by the pandemic, the Niswonger in Van Wert will undergo the most lasting change.
Executive Director Tafi Stober applied for a Shuttered Venue Operators Grant but still hasn’t seen any money from it. So the shows she is programming for fall are “risk averse.”
“With the events we are programming now, we will succeed even at 60 percent of house,” she said, meaning that the shows will be profitable even if only 60 percent of the tickets sell.
She is not ready to announce those shows yet.
The venue has traded its discounting model for ticket sales for a lowest price model, Stober said.
The former model rewarded people who could buy season passes. In other words, it rewarded people with financial means.
The new model is more democratic.
And the venue is doing away with seasons, perhaps its most radical step. Many venues announce a fall-winter-spring season of shows during the preceding summer.
Stober calls the new model “dynamic programming.”
“We will probably not go back to presenting a season at a time,” she said. “We want our scheduling to be rolling.”
The dynamic programming model will allow Stober to schedule more last-minute shows. And it will keep potential patrons attentive to new announcements.
Baker Street Centre
323 W. Baker St., Fort Wayne
About a year ago, the venue formerly known as C2G Music Hall announced ambitious plans.
Among them, that it would soon formerly be known as C2G Music Hall.
Other plans had to be put on hold, however, because there was a pandemic going on.
Recently, the plans resumed. But before we get into that, a little backstory: C2G, aka Come2Go, was founded in 2003 by pastor Mark Minnick. Minnick’s idea was to have a musical ministry wherein Christian and secular acts would be presented that would glorify Jesus explicitly through lyrics or implicitly through the joy of creating and appreciating music.
Then, in 2011, the management of legendary Woodstock act Richie Havens balked at all the religious trappings on the C2G website.
So Minnick made a decision: He split the concert venue from the church and rechristened the former the C2G Music Hall.
A decade later, downtown Fort Wayne has exploded and continues exploding in the best sense.
Minnick decided that C2G Music Hall had become a rather sleepy place, given all the bustle surrounding it, much of it generated in the summer by TinCaps games.
So he decided that a reinvention was in order.
C2G Music Hall is now called Baker Street Centre.
Minnick is raising money to add a second performance space, a professional kitchen, a bar, and an outdoor patio.
The Embassy Theatre
125 W. Jefferson Blvd., Fort Wayne
During the pandemic, the Embassy provided a model for how a venue presents entertainment safely under trying circumstances.
And it helped other arts organizations stay afloat: It partnered with the Civic Theatre and Cinema Center to present stage shows and the Hobnobbin Film Festival, respectively.
Now things are getting back to normal, and the Embassy’s chief marketing officer Carly Myers said an array of fall shows (including psychic Theresa Caputo, comedian Jo Koy, and the vocal group, Straight No Chaser) are selling well.
The announcement in late May that the Fort Wayne Philharmonic’s board of directors had reached an agreement with the orchestra’s musicians after a long impasse means that classical music will return to the Embassy this fall.
And the Festival of Trees will also return. Not the truncated pandemic-era version, but the full-fledged event.
And don’t think for a moment that community partnerships formed during the pandemic will be dissolved because the worst of the pandemic is over, Myers said.
The Embassy Theatre will once again present the Hobnobbin Film Festival and it has teamed up with Three Rivers Music Theatre to present a series of cabaret shows.
Sweetwater Performance Pavilion
5501 U.S. Highway 30 W., Fort Wayne
(260) 432-8176 x1137
The 2020 season of summer shows had to be canceled, of course, but only two acts were unable to reschedule for the upcoming summer, according to Thad Tegtmeyer, VP of campus sales operations & artist relations at Sweetwater Sound.
This summer’s lineup includes Styx, Whiskey Myers, Warrant, Gladys Knight, Kenny Wayne Shephard, Samantha Fish, Kool & the Gang, Pure Prairie League, Tower of Power, and Pink Droyd.
It was touch and go there for a while, Tegtmeyer said, while they awaited word from Gov. Eric Holcomb about the viability of such shows.
They’d sold more seats than would have been allowed under strict social distancing guidelines.
But it’s full speed ahead (and full capacity) now.
Tegtmeyer said he wants to expand pavilion offerings into the jazz and contemporary Christian genres in the future.
In that vein, the pavilion’s first jazz festival will happen at the pavilion on September 26.
3411 Sherman Blvd., Fort Wayne
With its own summer season canceled last year, the Foellinger Theatre helped the Civic Theatre save two of its shows.
After that, it was six months’ worth of contemplation for the parks department’s director of community outreach, Mitch Sheppard.
“Sometimes, a catastrophe like a pandemic can lead you to understand that what you thought was the truth forever maybe isn’t the truth,” Sheppard said. “And that’s OK. I think it shook us up creatively in a way that is going to benefit us.”
The fruits of that shaking up can be seen in two concert announcements: Incubus on September 6 and Pixies on September 14.
These may not have been considered appropriate Foellinger Theatre acts in the past, but times have changed.
“Pixies sold 900 tickets before the official on-sale,” Sheppard said.
The summer will still see many of the sort of acts that filled seats in the past, John Fogerty, the Beach Boys, and REO Speedwagon among them.
But Fort Wayne can expect some bolder programming in the future.
“Don’t think for a minute that there isn’t an audience for any type of music you can bring to Fort Wayne,” Sheppard said.
The Clyde Theatre
1808 Bluffton Road, FOrt Wayne
The Clyde Theatre will exit pandemic mode with a bang on July 3 when Fitz & the Tantrums perform.
After that, it’ll be tribute acts and the actual Billy Currington for the remainder of the summer and then the fall brings Toad the Wet Sprocket, Bruce Hornsby, Boney James, Jimmy Vaughan, Los Lobos, John Hiatt, Béla Fleck, and others.
Of course, the story here isn’t just the reopening of the Clyde. It is the reinvention of the Clyde’s sister venue, the Club Room.
During the pandemic, the Club Room became one of the few places in town where people could see live music safely.
“The Club Room reopened in July (2020),” said Gregg Coyle, the Clyde Theatre’s executive director. “We offered live entertainment there six nights a week. We’d get 200 to 400 people nightly.”
The Club Room presented, and still presents, themed music nights hosted by local musicians and disc jockeys and featuring regional acts and acts from neighboring states.
The Club Room got exceptionally good at to-go orders during the pandemic and it plans to get even better, Coyle said.
Next, the Clyde will offer a “pre-show dining experience” as an add-on to show tickets, Coyle said.
“We know we have 2,300 people coming,” he said. “And we know we can get them a great meal and get them in and out in under an hour.”
Coyle said the Club Room will also start offering more grab-and-go food options for people seeing shows at the Clyde.
Coyle said they are also redoing the parking lot and hiring parking lot attendants so patrons can park more quickly and efficiently on show nights.
Allen County War Memorial Coliseum
4000 Parnell Ave., Fort Wayne
Last year was a bad year for Memorial Coliseum, but this year may be worse.
That’s because pandemic mandates and strictures were not lifted until after many of the venue’s most lucrative annual shows and events had to be canceled.
“We’re going from a loss of $3 million last year to, potentially, a $6 million loss this year,” said Randy Brown, the soon-to-be-retired general manager of the coliseum.
The coliseum had been self-sustaining since it opened in 1952, but last year it had to be shored up by money from the city’s general fund. That will be the case this year as well.
Komets games have been running at less than 50 percent attendance, Brown said, because of lingering pandemic fears.
But things are slowly getting back to normal.
Unlike smaller venues where national acts are scheduled to return in the fall, Memorial Coliseum will have to wait until 2022 to be visited by most arena-level performers.
But Brown said next year’s calendar is looking packed with consumer shows, family shows, competitions, and sporting events through June.
275 W. Market St., Wabash · (260) 563-1102
106 W. Market St., Wabash · (260) 563-3272
890 N. State Road 13, Wabash · (260) 563-5745
The Honeywell Foundation owns the Honeywell Center and the Eagles Theatre and manages the 13-24 Drive-In for owner, Inguard Insurance of Wabash.
After a two-year, $18 million renovation, The Eagles Theatre reopened with a Crystal Gayle concert in February 2020.
A month later, the pandemic shut everything down.
The Honeywell Foundation, run by Tod Minnich, the recipient of a 2021 Arts United Award, pivoted nicely by turning the drive-in into an outdoor music venue.
Now that things are getting back to normal, the Honeywell Foundation has been making big moves.
It snagged the metal band Tesla for an August show in the Ford Theatre of the Honeywell Center.
But the biggest news was announced this week: Sammy Hagar & The Circle will perform at the 600-seat Eagles Theatre on August 13.
For more information on how that show could possibly be happening, see the sidebar.
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