Westville Music Bowl Opens With Safe, Sold Out Shows, Happy Fans
NEW HAVEN — On the first weekend of May, live music came back to life in a big way at Connecticut’s newest large capacity concert venue — and fans could not have been happier.
For well over a year — and with its planned opening season scrapped because of the pandemic — New Haven Center for Performing Arts, Inc (NHCPA) patiently anticipated the Connecticut Tennis Center officially reopening as Westville Music Bowl (WMB). That opening came to fruition this spring with socially distanced shows and a beautifully renovated facility just off Route 34 in the Westville section of New Haven, adjacent to the Yale Bowl.
The team behind College Street Music Hall and last summer’s “Twilight Concerts on the Farm” at South Farms in rural Morris is excited to bring Connecticut another premier concert venue and experience.
When live music venues were shuttered last year due to COVID-19, the team reimagined “live” by creating a safety-first, pod-based socially distant concert series at South Farms that was highly lauded by the artists and fans alike.
This summer, Westville Music Bowl’s “Twilight Concerts Under the Stars” will again bring a safety-first music series to new levels by transforming the former tennis venue into a true concert experience with stadium quality sound, lights, and video.
WMB stands as the light at the end of the tunnel for large-scale events to make their return, providing an intimate setting and view from the stage while retaining enough space for six feet of social distancing from every group of seats for the safety and comfort of all those in attendance.
All seating is being sold in sets of two and four; floor seating will be sold in groups of four. Upon arrival and before entering the venue, all guests and staff will undergo a health check, including a temperature check and short questionnaire. Staff is required to wear masks at all times, while security will be on site to enforce social distancing etiquette.
Masks are not required while in guest seating, however, in accordance with Executive Order No 7NNN, “Effective immediately, any person in a public place in Connecticut, whether indoors or outdoors, who does not maintain a safe social distance of approximately six feet from every other person shall cover their mouth and nose with a mask or cloth face-covering.”
NHCPA and its operators are already seeing WMB becoming a prime New England destination for national touring artists. Venue booking policy will focus on a variety of music including Americana, indie, classic rock, adult contemporary, alternative modern rock, hip-hop, country, neo soul, R&B, and comedy; think College Street Music Hall but larger, outside and under the stars.
The first two weekends of operations included performances by Warren Haynes and Gov’t Mule — joined on May 2 by Ann Wilson of Heart — and two enthusiastic sets from the jam band Umphrey’s McGee.
On May 2, fans began arriving early, enjoying the mild evening while walking around the venue’s broad concourses.
Both sets of music were well received, with Wilson breathing fire into several Led Zeppelin tunes including “No Quarter,” “Black Dog,” and an explosive set-opening “Immigrant Song.” Not ignoring her musical heritage, Wilson amped up her Heart fans with “Magic Man,” featuring Haynes’ near note-for-note guitar work, along with a nod to Memphis Slim (“Mother Earth”) incorporating Willie Dixon’s “You Shook Me.”
Wilson also thrilled fans of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers with a first-ever rendition of “Luna.”
Gov’t Mule paid its own share of homage to the blues, ripping up Howlin Wolf’s “How Many More Years,” along with their own “32-20 Blues,” “Bad Little Doggie,” a crowd pleasing “Soulshine,” and a 12-minute “Thorazine Shuffle” among the dozen and a half tunes across the two sets.
Looking forward, a May 15 one-off show from Twiddle sold out quickly, as did an amazing six-night run with Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, a popular act that taps material from The Grateful Dead and its family of members and musicians.
Similarly, a two-night run with the Disco Biscuits (June 4-5), and a June 12 weekend’s worth of shows featuring Goose have similarly sold out.
Tickets are still available, however, for the May 21-22 shows with Greensky Bluegrass, a May 23 show with Dinosaur Jr, a pair of weekend shows June 10 and 11 with Lake Street Dive, and a June 26 stop with Pigeons Playing Ping Pong.
While the planned 2020 Tedeschi Trucks Band “Wheels of Soul” tour appearance has been bumped to July 6, 2022, band leaders Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks of the Allman Brothers are bringing a smaller band along for two intimate evenings billed as “Tedeschi Trucks: Fireside Live,” riffing off their popular series of winter musical webcasts.
Besides convenient parking within a few hundred feet of the venue, Westville Music Bowl is offering a large variety of local food, including vegan specials and options for those with dietary restrictions, as well as a full bar with beer (local/craft, domestic and imported), wine, cocktails, and soft drinks.
Built in 1991, the Connecticut Tennis Center originally served as host to the 1991 Volvo International Tennis Tournament. Since then it has hosted the annual Connecticut Open tennis tournament. After the announcement in 2019 that the venue would no longer host tennis, the building was destined to be become Connecticut’s premier outdoor venue.
Associate Editor John Voket is a NHCPA volunteer board member.
He can be reached at email@example.com.