James Taylor used to play Fenway Park. Now he’ll take his act across the street to MGM Music Hall at Fenway.
The 5,000-seat music venue, located behind the right-field bleachers at the intersection of Lansdowne Street and Ipswich Street, had its grand opening Monday night. The new concert hall delivers 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 christen the place with the 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 whopping 91,500 square feet, on four levels, MGM Fenway is also the second large-scale music venue to open in Boston this year.
“To be able to put the MGM name on this music hall — in, frankly, 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 raises the question of whether Boston’s art scene is ready to support two major new venues while still licking its wounds caused by the pandemic. But local experts overwhelmingly told GBH News that, although there is competition, success breeds success.
Roadrunner, which offers 3,500 seats in Brighton, switched on the lights in March. Josh Bhatti, vice president for The Bowery Presents – which owns Roadrunner, Sinclair and Royale – told GBH News it does not pose a threat to other venues. “I think getting people to come out to more shows and having more options, a place to see music, is a good thing,” Bhatti said.
Bhatti noted that Boston has long been underserved in larger capacity venues, but particularly in the 2,000- to 5,000-seat range. Roadrunner and MGM Fenway are not only bridging this gap, but bringing in more artists.
“Knowing that an artist only has so many days to run a tour — in the past sometimes they would have to skip Boston if they didn’t have the right options,” he said. “Having these options now is great 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 will compete for that will go to MGM and vice versa,” he said.
When asked what sets the venues apart, Bhatti said, “The James Taylors of the world are well served by having a room like the MGM where the demographic wants comfortable seats to sit and watch to watch the show. I think Roadrunner might cater to a demographic that likes to stay in and watch the show. I think it caters to two different fan bases.”
As fans have more to choose from, can Boston’s music scene sustain another large-capacity venue?
Two years ago, when Governor Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency, live performance venues were among the first in the arts and culture sector to feel the effects. According to the Mass Cultural Council, the state’s arts and culture sector took a $588 million hit in the year after the COVID-19 shutdown. So does the emergence of venues like the Roadrunner and MGM Fenway signify a resurgent arts and culture scene? And can smaller venues coexist in this new entertainment ecosystem?
“I believe that attending arts-related events is so personally enriching that it leads to more participation in cultural activities,” Michael J. Bobbit, executive director of the Mass Cultural Council, wrote in an email to GBH News. “Mass Cultural Council welcomes this new venue to the Boston music scene and hopes for its success. Further, I hope they will be engaged and collaborative 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 Jaccodine, professor of music business and management at Berklee College of Music
Ralph Jaccodine, a 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. Smaller venues and listening rooms, I feel like they’re strong because the environment here in Boston for music — and live music — is strong.”
Jaccodine also points out that these places are good for students and musicians who are just starting out. “I saw some of my students and alumni from Berkeley who had jobs there. So whether they’re taking tickets, bartending, 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 also performed at it. “As a vocal musician, you know, I’m very excited about the country,” said Medina, who goes by the stage name SBM. “It’s a really great place for a lot of young musicians and artists to see new shows.
“I’m playing my music, people were interested,” he added. “I felt like it was fresh, it was a different environment. People loved it.”
Standing outside the venue, away from the immediate buzz of the grand opening, was Susan Robinson, a tour guide for Boston Duck Tours. Her take on another music venue in Boston? “I think it’s wonderful. Bring it on. There are no more ways for us musicians to entertain the general public. The more the merrier.”