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Providence’s Civic Center, now called The AMP, celebrates 50 Years

A look back at the milestones, names, and musical numbers from the venue that’s pretty much seen it all

Providence fans storm the court as Providence defeats Creighton in an NCAA college basketball game to win the regular season Big East Title, Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022, in Providence, R.I.Stew Milne/Associated Press

Whether you think of it as the Providence Civic Center, the Dunk, or the AMP, it’s been a pulsing hub of culture, sports and activity in Rhode Island for half a century.

On Jan. 17, the venue now known as the Amica Mutual Pavilion officially turns the big 5-0. They plan to celebrate with a series of events throughout the year.

While a soft opening was held Nov. 3, 1972 with a Providence Reds hockey game — President Richard Nixon was invited, but declined to attend — the official ribbon-cutting was on Jan. 17, 1973, according to news reports at the time.

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“The Providence Civic Center will be formally dedicated today, with a full program of events and entertainment that will continue well into the evening,” read the original announcement in the Providence Journal. “The center, which has been operating for more than two months while its restaurant, offices and exhibit hall were being completed, already has had more than 300,000 persons pass through its turnstiles. Ceremonies begin at 9:45 a.m. with a processional march. A ribbon-cutting is scheduled at 10 and a reception at 10:50. The evening dedication begins at 8.”

The Providence Civic Center was part of Mayor Joseph A. Doorley Jr’s vision for downtown Providence, dubbed “Doorley’s Dream.” When he died in July, his obituary called the center his “crowning achievement.” The Civic Center was built as a replacement for the aging Rhode Island Auditorium, which had hosted sports and entertainment performances for nearly 50 years (the 5,300-capacity auditorium was finally demolished in 1989).

Today, the 14,000-seat, 31,000 square-foot arena has a ceiling height of 86 feet, a 25,000-square-foot concourse, a 9,000-square-foot lobby, 20 luxury suites, and five meeting/hospitality rooms, according to its website.

In June 2001, Dunkin’ Donuts announced in a press release that “The Providence Civic Center Authority and Dunkin’ Donuts have signed a 10-year agreement for naming and marketing rights to the city-owned facility.” Then-mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci Jr. called the $8.65 million agreement a “honey-glazed, cream puff of a deal” for the city.

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The Dunkin’ Donuts Center became the Amica Mutual Pavilion in September 2022.

Significant shows

The first artist to ever perform on stage? Johnny Cash in November 1972, according to a spokesperson for the AMP. According to Johnny Cash’s tour history, that show took place Nov. 23, 1972.

But there have been many, many, MANY other incredible shows since then. In fact, ‘73-’74 was straight fire, according to concertarchives.org, with performances by the Allman Brothers, the Beach Boys, Elvis, The Eagles, Cat Stevens, Grand Funk Railroad, Deep Purple, the Kinks, The Grateful Dead, Jethro Tull, the Jackson 5, Frank Zappa, Paul Butterfield’s Better Days, Sad Barrett, and Pink Floyd, just to name a few.

Just to name a few more: Bob Dylan rolled up with his Rolling Thunder Revue Nov. 4, 1975, and again on Oct. 7, 1978. George Harrison played Dec. 11, 1974 with his “Dark Horse” tour, and brought Ravi Shankar, Jim Keltner, and Billy Preston along for the ride. Fleetwood Mac brought “Rumours” to town July 7, 1977. David Bowie played there only one time: In 1978, for his Isolar II Tour. The Jacksons played Aug.16, 1981. The Talking Heads rocked Oct. 4, 1983. Joni Mitchell played Aug. 27, 1979. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers played Aug. 8, 1981. They would return March 25, 1983 and Feb. 1, 1990. Prince played Feb. 10, 1983. And Miley Cyrus rocked PVD in December 2007.

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Elvis played the center three times in the ‘70s — his final show there was May 23, 1977, according to AMP archives. The last song the King sang in Rhode Island? “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” You can experience the magic in the player below (thanks, YouTube).

The Who were scheduled to play a show Dec. 17, 1979. But then-mayor Buddy Cianci canceled it after 11 fans were trampled to death in Ohio during the English Band’s Dec. 3, 1979 performance at the Riverfront Coliseum. When The Who finally returned to PVD in 2012 — and announced they’d honor the ‘79 tickets — 10 fans cashed in. Long-time ticket-holder Emery Lucier of Milford, Mass., was 50 when the band returned. He told the AP that when the ‘79 show was canceled, he was so angry he knocked over a chair in his high school classroom. He paid $25 for the ticket in 1979 (face value: $12.50, he said).

Many big-name bands returned to the Providence Civic Center over and over again. The Grateful Dead returned 19 times, as did Aerosmith and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Jethro Tull and Neil Diamond each had a dozen different engagements; KISS, Barry Manilow, and Frank Sinatra each had 11. And not all of of the performers were rock stars, though they were all, you know, rock stars: The Boston Pops tops the list with 27 separate visits.

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Musical Milestones

Live shows weren’t the only thing hosted by the Civic Center. The Grateful Dead recorded half of their live album “Dick’s Picks Volume 12″ there on June 26, 1974 (the other half was recorded in Boston), the current AMP reps confirm. The following June, Eric Clapton recorded part of his live album “E. C. Was Here.” David Bowie used his May 5, 1978 show to make his live album “Stage.” The Kinks recorded part of their live album and video for “One for the Road” there on Sept. 23, 1979. And the music video for Van Halen’s “Panama” was partially filmed during soundcheck on March 17 and 18, 1984.

Cianci presented Barry Manilow with a key to the city in July 1978, after Manilow set a record for three consecutive sold-out shows. In an interview before Manilow played the then-Dunkin’ Donuts Center in August 2022, he told the Globe, “When I was putting together the 1978 tour, we rehearsed in Providence in a big warehouse of some sort. We [kicked off the] tour in Providence — the tour that was debuting ‘Copacabana.’ The record hadn’t come out yet. I [performed it] for the first time in Providence.”

Memorable sports moments

Today, the venue is home to the Providence College Men’s Basketball team, which launched their 1972-1973 Season at the center. They still call the place home. But they weren’t the only ones.

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Rhode Island’s AHL team, the Providence Reds (later known as the Rhode Island Reds) played home games at the Providence Civic Center from 1972 to 1977. Today, Rhody’s Providence Bruins use the arena, and have since 1992, which is when AHL’s Maine Mariners moved south to PVD.

Since 1975 the Arena has been the site for 23 NCAA Tournaments, according to the AMP, including 8 NCAA Division I 1st & 2nd Round Men’s Basketball, 3 NCAA Division I East Regional Men’s Basketball, 5 NCAA Division I Regional Men’s Hockey, 6 NCAA Division I Men’s Hockey Frozen Four, 1 NCAA Women’s Hockey Frozen Four.

In February 1995, Providence hosted the National Figure Skating Championships.

Cranston’s Vinny Paz won his first world title with a 15-round win over reigning IBF world lightweight champ Greg Haugen June 7, 1987.

There have been many great pro wrestling moments at the venue. The center hosted WWF’s (now WWE) Royal Rumble pay-per-view event on Jan. 24, 1994. Lex Luger and Bret Hart were named co-winners after they simultaneously eliminated each other. (WWE has the old footage; grab your spandex and check it out because it was definitely not staged. Definitely. Not.)

Other unforgettable experiences

Many of us got vaxxed at the Dunk during the height of the pandemic– and have the little white cards to prove it.

Held at the Rhode Island Convention Center since 2012, Rhode Island Comic Con expanded its footprint into the former Dunk in 2015. It’s been held in both buildings ever since.



Lauren Daley can be reached at ldaley33@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurendaley1.