Just as the appetite for indoor concerts returns, a new venue — made to fit a standing crowd of 3,500 people — will open in Allston-Brighton Tuesday.
Nestled below The Track at New Balance sports complex on Guest Street is Roadrunner, a 50,000 square-foot concert venue billed as the largest of its kind in New England.
With a 60-foot-wide stage, over 30 speakers, and half a dozen bars sprinkled on all sides, the place is built for crowds. Indeed, the floor fits 2,000 concertgoers, with room for another 1,500 in the seven tiered rows on the balcony. Tucked behind the tallest seats is a lounge-style sitting area, positioned away from the music but not enough to drown out the sound. Its back wall dons an expansive “Roadrunner” sign fashioned from white and yellow reflective road markers.
Five years in the making, the venue 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 manage bookings at the Royale, a concert hall and nightclub downtown.
In 2018, pieces began to fall into place when The Bowery forged a deal with New Balance Development Group at the massive campus that the shoemaker is building in Brighton. They broke ground in April 2019. Then came the pandemic. Live music went on a widespread hiatus. Roadrunner’s planned launch in summer of 2021 was put off to this spring, which — depending on how you look at it — could count as serendipitous timing.
Today, Bhatti said, people are craving live music. And in Boston, the indoor mask mandate and proof-of-vaccination requirement has been recently lifted, paving the way for a “normal” concert experience. (Artists at Roadrunner can still request that the vaccination requirement remain in place for their shows.)
“Streaming is a good supplement for entertainment,” he said. “But you can’t replace — even if you use virtual reality goggles with a friend from Florida — the live experience. You can’t replace being there.”
Business for The Bowery — which runs venues across the Northeast and in a few Southern cities —has not yet reached pre-pandemic levels, but revenue is climbing. Bhatti said customers sometimes buy tickets months in advance and then choose not to attend when case counts worsen. But the company has not canceled a block of concerts since the first wave, though individual artists have scrapped dates after testing positive for COVID.
Still, Bhatti has come to expect change.
“In our world, one thing we’ve learned is patience,” he said. “None of us are public health experts. We book concerts, and we produce shows. So we’re always waiting to see what’s around the corner and doing what’s best for our audience.”
Long term, though, The Bowery’s team hopes they’ve designed Roadrunner in a way that gives artists “a reason to choose this as the venue they want to play at — and audiences a reason to come here,” he said.
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 Boston shows. That makes Roadrunner the “perfect middle ground” for burgeoning performers, or established mid-sized acts, Bhatti said.
“This is big enough for artists to make a real living from their music,” he said. “They can take one year to tour and then another off to write. They can have a sustainable career.”
Design helps too. The site — with the vast track above — was planned for athletics, free of obstructive columns that would block concertgoers’ sightline. Designer Stephen Martyak drew inspiration for Roadrunner from a 1970s fieldhouse and added exposed steel beams, reclaimed oak finishes, and glass block windows. A mural by Felipe Ortiz near the entrance pulls together traditional Boston symbols: the Allston Railyard, the Prudential building, and a three-decker. A red Plymouth Roadrunner — a nod to the venue’s name — speeds away on the right side of the piece.
And of course, the name itself is a nod to the city’s rock history, The Modern Lovers’ 1972 hit “Roadrunner.”
Backstage, The Bowery placed the loading dock and artists’ bus parking, just feet from a stage. There’s also a production office, bar room for performers’ guests, a mailbox to send postcards from the road, and kitchen. It’s scattered with art: 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 “Roadrunner” song’s intro “One, two, three, four” count-off in the bottom left corner of the frames.) The four dressing rooms are adorned with custom skateboards, plastered with album covers from Boston-native bands from Donna Summer to The Cars.
Later this week, the shows begin. Grammy Award-winning guitarist and singer Billy Strings will be the first musician to play at Roadrunner on March 15. The Bowery has announced dates for Bleachers, JoJo, Lake Street Dive, Lane 8, Mitski, and more, too.
He’s already starting to talk with artists about shows for this time next year. Roadrunner, he said, has a long road ahead.
“Now,” Bhatti said, “we’re just excited to see people in here.”