Some weeks back, the rumblings began in Manchester. Would that ugly old building at 23 Amherst Street, dressed in a filthy white primer for years, finally be sold to someone with actual vision?
Seriously. Am I dreaming?
The city bought the old Rex Theater, then later a brass knuckle night club, and proposals to purchase the building were due this past Tuesday.
Two of the leading progressive thinkers interested in the 350 seat space is Old Sol Productions, a company owned by Matt Wilhelm and his wife Jody, both from Manchester.
Their plan is to turn the building into a genuine music hall, just like the ones in Plymouth and Londonderry and Portland that helped reshape their towns.
National acts, contemporary theater, movies, comedy festivals, revivals, luncheons, whatever.
I went to the visionary meeting Old Sol ran a couple weekends back. Over 120 people showed of all ages, breaking off into think groups, hearing the team explain their vision, their game plan, their community minded approach.
It was a beautiful thing.
Sound Check talked with Matt Wilhelm about his hopes in launching the Old Sol Music Hall and what it’s going to take to make this dream complete.
1. For years, myself, as well as countless music loving Manchester residents, have been wanting a venue like what the Old Sol Music Hall could be. Why do you think it has taken so long for Manchester to “get it.”
It takes vision. Once Jody and I decided to have kids and committed to
slow down touring, we started wondering what might be possible at 23
Amherst Street. Over the summer, we heard that the Manchester
Development Corporation was purchasing the building. We began sharing
our vision for a mid-sized venue that could be both a cultural and
civic institution… first with friends and then with community
leaders. We love Manchester for a lot of reasons, but one of the
things we appreciate most right now is that it’s a city where you can
pitch a big idea and others are eager to roll up their sleeves and
help you make it happen.
2. Without reinventing the wheel, are you planning on going after the same quality of acts that venues like the Tupelo and the State Theater in Portland and the Flying Monkey fight to book? I sure hope so. Those places get it.
Old Sol Music Hall is definitely going to host national and regional
touring acts, but we’ll also produce a mix of comedy, film, theater,
lectures, and even some creative programming that we’ll curate
ourselves or in partnership with local colleges and arts
organizations. We envision Old Sol Music Hall to be as much an
entertainment venue as a community center. There were some great ideas
shared at our Community Visioning Session on March 5th, ranging from
beer tastings and haunted houses to family programming and even craft
fairs. One I especially liked was a winter farmers market! We’re
designing the space to be flexible, so hopefully we can maximize
partnership and rental opportunities.
3. Speaking of booking. Getting the right booking manager seems crucial to this experiment. What are you looking for in the potential candidate?
We’re starting with architects, engineers, and general contractors.
First things first!
4. In your minds eye, what do you see opening night being like if your proposal goes through? I know it’s a long time off, but what do you see?
If all goes well and the Manchester Development Corporation chooses
Old Sol to lead renovations and, ultimately, operate the former Rex
Theatre, we would aim to open in early-2017. There’s a lot of work to
do before then and we’re going to need all hands on deck!
5. I was at the visionary meeting a couple weeks ago and it was extremely inspirational with over 100 people showing up. How do you keep peoples interest alive over these next many months?
We’re going to engage that group — and hopefully others — in the
weeks and months to come. We’re not finished designing the space or
the programming calendar, so we’re going to continue to meeting to
make sure we stay on the right track with our vision and keep the
momentum going. One of the great ideas that came out of the Community
Visioning Session earlier this month was an outdoor festival to raise
awareness and build the Old Sol brand. We’re playing with the idea of
an outdoor music festival to celebrate the summer solstice.
(Solstice… Old Sol… get it?) Stay tuned on that one!
6. Well, from the bottom of my heart, thank you to you and everyone involved for the effort. This will get done. And the Old Sol will make a change. Guaranteed. Don’t you feel that way?
Definitely! We’ve been overwhelmed by the positive energy and
collaborative spirit that this project has attracted. Jody, Alyssa,
and I are grateful for the support and hope to continue working with
the community to build on the underground, but really thriving arts
scene here in town. Music strengthens community and we’re confident
that Old Sol Music Hall can be a institution that helps to attract,
engage, and retain young people in NH… and specifically Manchester.