A year after the arrival of Roadrunner, the Bowery Presents is preparing to unveil its newest concert venue in Boston — an outdoor space for 8,500 concertgoers on the racetrack infield at Suffolk Downs. The Stage at Suffolk Downs will debut June 16 with a headlining set from Steve Lacy, the first night of the three-day touring festival known as Re:SET, which will also feature headliners LCD Soundsystem and boygenius June 17 and June 18.
It’s a reset for Suffolk Downs itself, which ran its last live horse race in 2019. The racetrack, established in 1935, is part of a 161-acre parcel purchased by the HYM Investment Group, which bought the property for $155 million in 2017. The developer is set to open its first residential building with 470 rental units by next spring, and has long-term plans to build a mixed-use village for as many as 15,000 residents, with retail and restaurants, a life science lab, and 40 acres of open space.
The concert grounds is the latest foray in Boston for the Bowery Presents, which operates various-sized venues from Maine to Virginia. The company is the East Coast regional partner of AEG Live, which is second only to Live Nation in concert promotion. In Boston and Cambridge, Bowery owns and operates Roadrunner, the Sinclair, and now the Stage at Suffolk Downs, and books Royale.
“We want this to be for everyone in the neighborhood,” said Josh Bhatti, senior vice president at Bowery Presents, during a walk-through of the site late last week.
Tom O’Brien, managing partner and CEO of HYM, noted that his group had met with residents of the abutting Beachmont and Orient Heights neighborhoods in East Boston repeatedly.
“We really built some great trust,” said O’Brien, former director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority (since renamed the Boston Planning and Development Agency). As he spoke, one of the locals who use the track and infield as a dog-walking park hoofed by with a four-legged friend. Behind him, huge, colorful murals created by young Bostonians involved with Artists for Humanity hung in the windows of the grandstand building.
Less than a month before Re:SET, a large rectangle of crushed stone marked the spot where the stage will be erected. The Suffolk Downs tote board, an iconic structure on the infield painted in Fenway green, will remain in place and likely be used as the venue’s ticketing area, O’Brien said.
Suffolk Downs has an intermittent history as a concert venue, having hosted Radiohead in 2001, Aerosmith (as the opening act for Sha Na Na) in 1973, and the Beatles, who drew 25,000 screaming fans in 1966.
The Stage at Suffolk Downs will give Bowery Presents another level on its “ladder” of performance spaces, an integrated approach that has been key to concert industry success in recent years. Whenever possible, promoters hope to nurture headlining acts from audiences of a few hundred up to several thousand. Live Nation books the House of Blues, the new MGM Music Hall at Fenway, Leader Bank Pavilion, and the Xfinity Center in Mansfield. “It’s absolutely healthy to have competition,” said Bhatti, a Plainville native. “So much of this is a relationship game. How can we service the artists and give them a better experience?”
The model for the Stage at Suffolk Downs, Bhatti said, is Forest Hills Stadium in the New York City borough of Queens. Following a renovation, the Bowery Presents began presenting concerts there several years ago.
“It started slow,” said Bhatti. “We had one show in year one. Now, all of a sudden, we have 30 shows there this summer.”
As of now, the Stage at Suffolk Downs has just one other major event planned for this year, a two-day electronic dance music festival called Breakaway in September. Bhatti said he expects there will be a few smaller-scale community events, and possibly one or two more major concerts, added to the summer schedule soon.
“No one gets everything right from the second they open,” he said. For now, his company is confident they’ve made a good bet.
James Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.