James Taylor used to play at Fenway Park. Now he will take his act across the street, to Fenway’s MGM Music Hall.
The 5,000-seat music venue, located behind the right-field bleachers at the intersection of Lansdowne and Ipswich Streets, had its grand opening Monday night. The new concert hall gives a polished atmosphere with high ceilings and excellent acoustics – catering to the high-profile clientele they’ve already booked, including James Taylor, Bruno Mars and Lil Nas X. Godsmack will name the place with its first official. show, a benefit concert, next week.
MGM Fenway is a joint venture between concert promoter Live Nation and Fenway Sports Group, which owns the Red Sox and Fenway Park. At a sprawling 91,500 square feet, spread over four levels, MGM Fenway is also the second largest music venue to open in Boston this year.
“To be able to put MGM’s name on this music hall — really, in my favorite city in the world — is truly amazing,” said Paul Salem, chairman of the board of MGM Resorts, at Monday night’s celebration.
The second opening in less than six months begs the question of whether Boston’s art scene is ready to support two new major venues while it’s still licking its pandemic-induced wounds. But local experts overwhelmingly told GBH News that, despite competition, success breeds success.
The Roadrunner, which offers 3,500 seats in Brighton, turned on the lights in March. Josh Bhatti, vice president of The Bowery Presents, which owns Roadrunner, Sinclair and Royal, told GBH News that it does not pose a threat to other venues. “I think it’s a good thing for people to go to more shows and have more options, places to go to see music,” Bhatti said.
Bhatti pointed out that Boston has long been underserved in many capacity sizes, but particularly in venues in the 2,000- to 5,000-seat range. Roadrunner and MGM Fenway aren’t just filling that gap, they’re bringing in more artists.
“Knowing that an artist only has so many days to run a tour — in the past they sometimes had to leave Boston if they didn’t have the right options,” he said. “It’s great to have these options now and will help serve the artists, which is what we do.”
But he recognized the nature of the business. “There will be some shows that we compete with that go to MGM, and vice versa,” he said.
Asked what makes the venue different, Bhatti said, “The James Taylors of the world are better served by having a room like the MGM where the demographic wants comfortable seats to sit and watch. I think Roadrunner caters to a demographic that likes to, you know, stand up and watch a show. I think it caters to two different fan bases. “
While fans have plenty to choose from, can Boston’s music scene sustain another big-capacity venue?
Two years ago, when Governor Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency, live performance venues were among the first to feel the effects in the arts and culture sector. According to the Mass Cultural Council, the state’s arts and culture sector has lost $588 million in the year since the Covid-19 shutdown. So, does the rise of venues like the Roadrunner and MGM Fenway signal a resurgence of the arts and culture scene? And can small venues coexist in this new entertainment ecosystem?
“I believe that participating in arts-related events is so personally enriching that it leads to greater participation in cultural activities,” Michael J. Bobbitt, executive director of the Mass Cultural Council, wrote in an email to GBH News. “The Mass Cultural Council welcomes this new place in Boston’s music scene and looks forward to its success. Furthermore, I hope they will be engaged and supportive partners in advancing the overall work of the cultural sector in Massachusetts.”
“With clubs and live music clubs, a rising tide floats all boats.”
Ralph Jacodine, a professor of music business and management at Berklee College of Music
Ralph Jacodine, professor of music business and management at Berklee College of Music, agreed. After attending MGM Fenway’s grand opening on Monday, he said, “With clubs and live music clubs, a rising tide floats all boats. Small venues and listening rooms, I think they’re stronger because the atmosphere for music — and live music — is stronger here in Boston. ”
Jacodine also emphasizes that these positions are good for students and musicians who are just starting out. “I see a lot of my students and alumni from Berklee that have jobs there. Whether they’re taking tickets or bartending or security or something like that, it’s hiring a lot of people. Students go on to get jobs at Roadrunner or Sinclair or House of Blues and now MGM.”
Salsa musician Sebastian Medina was among the Berklee students who not only attended the grand opening but performed at it. “As a vocal musician, you know, I’m very excited about the venue,” said Medina, who goes by the stage name SBM. “It’s a great place for a lot of musicians and young artists to see new shows.
“I was playing my own music, people were into it,” he added. “I thought it was fresh, it was a different atmosphere. People loved it.”
Standing outside the venue, away from the immediate fanfare of the grand opening, was Susan Robinson, a tour guide for Boston Dock Tours. His take on another music venue in Boston? “I think it’s wonderful. Bring it on. For us, as musicians, there’s no other way to entertain the general public. The more the merrier.”