Albany’s newest concert venue is set to go live on Thursday with a performance by Cold War Kids.
The 93 North Pearl St. venue, called Empire Live, is run by the same team that ran the now-closed Upstate Concert Hall in Clifton Park. It features two performance spaces; one with a 1,000-person capacity and the other a 400 person capacity, the latter of which is referred to as Empire Underground.
The building, owned by Redburn Development, is the former home of Capital Repertory Theatre. However, over the last year, the space has been transformed into more of a rock and roll venue, with a Cap Rep sign on the outside of the building being one of the few remaining clues that the building once presented dramas and musicals.
The theater seats were gutted, and new sound and lighting systems were installed, as well as a new stage. Two bars, which were longtime fixtures at Upstate, have been refinished and installed next to one another.
Thursday’s concert is a soft-opening for the venue, according to Ted Etoll, who co-owns it with Stan Levinstone. Etoll spoke with The Gazette earlier this week about the new venue and what it’s taken to open the doors.
“We were supposed to be in this space in August of 2020. That didn’t happen because of the pandemic,” Etoll said.
Even when they could move in and start construction late last year, there were labor shortages and other issues which delayed their initially planned opening in June of 2021. They had scheduled a few shows for Empire Underground earlier this summer, which they instead presented down the road at The Hollow. Empire Underground remains under construction, with the next show scheduled for September 12.
Despite the challenges, Etoll thinks that the new location will be “a million times better” than the one in Clifton Park.
“This is something that downtown Albany has been lusting for,” Etoll said. He was approached by Jeff Buell at Redburn with the idea of moving to Albany more than two years ago. According to Etoll, Buell’s idea was to create an entertainment district in downtown Albany.
“The reason they lured us down here was they wanted us to be the center of their entertainment district that they envision creating,” Etoll said.
Etoll was also attracted to the area because of Buell’s plan to have 800 apartments within walking distance of the district, most of which have already been built and/or renovated. There’s also going to be a synergy between the bars, restaurants and music venues along North Pearl Street, which Upstate Concert Hall lacked, according to Etoll.
When it comes to music, Empire Live and Empire Underground will feature the same caliber of shows as Upstate, including artists like Skillet, Dr. Dog, Caroline Rose and others.
Even as construction winds down and Etoll gears up for the soft-opening, he anticipates challenges ahead.
“All the shows were doing phenomenal until the pandemic hit. I mean, people had mass enthusiasm about concerts again,” Etoll said. “This is the end of the summer, this is the dog days of summer and . . . everybody’s broke, everybody’s in transition . . . it’s always a tractor pull but now couple it with the pandemic and don’t forget we’re still competing with SPAC; we’re still competing with the track.”
Following major concert presenters, Empire Live will require attendees to present proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours of the show. Masks will also be required.
“The protocols that we’ve implemented have mirrored all of the major companies that are in our business and our protocols are what they probably will be everywhere on the planet moving forward,” Etoll said.
Thursday’s Cold War Kids show is slated to kick off at 8 p.m. The indie rockers, including Nathan Willett, Matt Maust, David Quon, Matthew Schwartz and Joe Plummer, have become a staple on the alternative music scene. Known for songs like “First,” “Hang Me Up to Dry,” and “Love Is Mystical,” the band is on the verge of releasing the album “New Age Norms 3,” a follow-up from 2020’s “New Age Norms 2.”
Tickets to the show at Empire Live at $28. For more information visit empirelivealbany.com.