Some 6500 people flowed into Kingston’s Hutton Brickyards for back-to-back concerts by music legend and Nobel laureate Bob Dylan last weekend. While city officials and organizers dubbed the event a success, the concert’s promoter said that the riverfront venue would need major infrastructure improvements if big-ticket shows like Dylan’s were to become regular events.
The Hutton brickyard at 200 North Street was once a major driver of the city’s economy, employing hundreds of workers to quarry clay, make and bake bricks, and load them onto barges headed downstate. For more than a century, they were the raw material for New York City’s building boom.
In 1980, the brickyard shut down. It remained vacant until recently when Los Angeles-based developer MWest Holdings acquired the property. Last summer, the venue played host to an upstate offshoot of popular Brooklyn food festival Smorgasburg. This year, the food festival returned to the site where MWest has carried out improvements, including new parking lots and landscaping.
The Dylan shows were an undertaking of an entirely different magnitude. Conceived early this year as a partnership among Bardavon 1869 Opera House (parent company of Ulster Performing Arts Center and the eponymous Poughkeepsie theater) Hutton Brickyards and Smorgasburg Upstate, the plan called for converting a sprawling open-air metal-roofed shed into a 3500-seat venue capable of addressing the exacting standards of the artist. It also had to satisfy audience expectations and city officials concerns about traffic and safety.
“It was a real monster,” said Bardavon president and CEO Chris Silva. “It kind of took over our lives.”
Staff stress increases
In preparation for the show, Silva supplemented Bardavon staff with temporary hires to build a 100-person crew to prepare the site. Those preparations included building a stage, fencing off a production compound to accommodate Dylan and his crew, setting up lights, a sound system and generators to run both, and arranging some 3000 folding chairs.
Silva and his team worked with the city government to arrange shuttle bus service into the site and to mobilize a sizeable police detail to handle traffic control and security (all paid for by the concert promoter). Smorgasburg vendors set up bars and food stalls for attendees.
In the weeks leading up to the show, representatives from Bardavon, MWest and Smorgasburg held a series of meetings with city officials to work out details of how to move the expected crowds smoothly through the residential neighborhoods surrounding the brickyard.
“We did everything that we could to support the event and make sure it was successful,” said mayor Steve Noble, who was on the scene both nights to help coordinate city services. “And they recognized our concerns early on.”
Keep on learning
After some hitches during the first show — including long waits for shuttle service to the site and long lines at food and drink stations — event organizers made a couple of quick changes. A new bar was installed, and some of the food stalls were shifted outside the shed to ease congestion.
Kale Kaposhilin of Evolving Media Network, which handled some of the local promotion of the event, said he was impressed by the organizers’ ability to move quickly to address lessons learned on the first night. “Saturday went a lot better,” said Kaposhilin. “I think that was because of the professionalism of these different groups who were involved, they showed an ability to really pivot, keep learning and making things better.”
Could the Hutton Brickyards emerge as a permanent concert venue on the order of a more scenic Mid Hudson Civic Center? Much remains to be seen. Silva and MWest Principal Karl Slovin both characterized the shows as a success, but Silva cautioned that the amount of effort required to ensure everything ran smoothly was more than Bardavon could put forth on anything like a regular basis.
“We’re looking ahead to next year,” said Silva. “But for us to do it again there would definitely have to be infrastructure in place.”
MWest is due to present a site plan for approval at a July 10 meeting of the city planning board. Slovin said that he envisioned the Hutton Brickyards as a flexible space for a variety of events ranging from corporate retreats to weddings to concerts. In a June 28 email, he called the Dylan shows “a dream realized.” He said he was in talks with Silva about the future of live performance at the site.
“It is our intention to bring more artists of this caliber to Hutton Brickyards,” wrote Slovin. “Following these two concerts, we are debriefing with Chris and his team from Barvadon, and will consult with other professional producers to ensure we are putting in place infrastructure to continually improve on the experience that our guests have on-site.”