Wandering the lobby during the J.Geils pre-shows, it’s hard not to be reminded of the venue’s storied history.
Wallpaper that went up during a 2004 renovation consist of show billboards of the acts that have played here. Images of Diana Ross, Tom Jones, Kenny Loggins and Chris Isaak adorn the interior perimeter.
Outside the inner theater, throngs enjoy the still-balmy night while listening to a DJ from WBAB. It wasn’t hard to make the acquaintance of longtime friends Bob Gold and Dr. Roland Rogers in this middle-aged crowd.
As the two rib each other in a way that only people who’ve known each other over three decades can, Rogers defers to his friend when discussing Westbury and insists he’s motivated him to come to his fair share of shows here.
“I’ve seen a lot of shows throughout the years,” smiles Gold, of Rockville Centre. “It’s one of my favorite venues. I had tickets to see The Carpenters a few years ago before Karen passed away. My first show here was Cheech and Chong about 30 years ago. [What’s amazing] is that it’s still pretty much the same as it’s always been.”
“You can still see pretty well from almost any seat and it’s about 15 minutes from my house, so that’s a big selling point,” adds Rogers. “It’s homey and very comfortable. It’s like a big living room.”
When the J. Geils Band finally takes the stage (minus the guitarist for whom the group is named because of a legal mess), Westbury’s much-cited intimacy becomes apparent—the liveliness of the band in such a small space creates the kind of atmosphere you might feel at a much smaller club. Even with all the gear crammed on the stage along with two very comely and curvy back-up singers, the Boston outfit kicks off the evening with the syncopated Albert Collins shuffle “Sno-Cone.”
Frontman Peter Wolf sings and scats while his bandmates lay down grooves layered with Seth Justman’s keyboard runs and Magic Dick’s wailing harp solos; the stage ever-so slightly rotating just enough that you realize you’re seeing the musicians at a different vantage point without ever really seeing the band move.
Rick Eberle, a longtime LI music scene veteran and publicist for Loaded Rock Shows, gives the revolving stage a thumbs-up. He raves about how “it gives everyone a chance to check out the best seats in the house so to speak, [which makes for a live experience that is] interesting and unique.”
Eberle, who’s seen about 15 shows here, gushes about stand-out performances by the Counting Crows, Pat Benatar and the Allman Brothers Band. He’s also quick to recognize the role the theatre continues to have.
“Westbury gives us a chance to see acts that draw 3,000-plus, like the Ringo Starrs and The Whos of the world,” he says. “It’s very important to have a nice mid-size venue to be able to go see a national act without having to travel to the city. It’s also a landmark in my opinion, having been around since the drive-in movie theatre was next door.”
While Jim Morrison can no longer torment audiences in the round or otherwise and these days The Who, now down to Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, are firmly ensconced as an arena act, big names continue to play on Westbury’s revolving stage.
Upcoming weeks will see Al Green, Melissa Etheridge, Tony Bennett, Martina McBride and Kenny Rogers rolling through, to name a few. It’s this combination of top-flight talent showing up in LI’s backyard that gives Stone reason to reiterate what a special place the Theatre at Westbury has been and, hopefully, will always continue to be.
It’s so much more than just a music venue, Stone says.
“Westbury is not a theater, it is not a business,” he says. “Westbury is a family that loves what they do every day, and it is all for the love of each other. These are your neighbors that work here. These are your friends that wake up every day with so much love in their hearts for this place we call home, Westbury.”
Tags: Carle Place, Chuck Berry, Cover Story, Doors, featured, featured-scroll, Frank Sinatra, Jason Stone, John Tesh, Judy Garland, live nation, Long Island, Nina Simone, NYCB Theatre at Westbury, Rockville Centre, Steve Vai, westbury, Westbury Music Fair, WHO