Courtesy photo by BNHP staff photographer
By ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILFORD — It was in 1996 that The Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion was founded. Then known as Meadowbrook Farm, its first concert was held on Labor Day, with a temporary stage and temporary seating, with the legendary Johnny Cash as the headliner. Each year, under the leadership of founder Bob Harding, and later, his son R.J., the facility has grown in scale and prominence. Now, for its 20th season, the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion can lay claim to the title of premier outdoor concert venue in northern New England, and perhaps even further.
"It's been a little bit of progress in each year," said Marci DeCarli, marketing director for Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion.
Those "little bits" of growth have added up to something big. As of the 2014 season, the venue had grown to accommodate 8,000 fans, 5,500 under the roof and 3,500 on lawn seating. This year, the venue is offering fans the option to pitch a tent to stay overnight after the show. And, all along, the management team has leveraged the nearby attributes of the area – namely, Lake Winnipesaukee – to provide visiting artists a welcome respite in the middle of a grueling tour schedule.
Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion provides its musical guests with mountain bikes to ride through trails on its nearly 100-acre property. The backstage area provides a camp-like atmosphere, and artists can avail themselves of a boat or two to spend some time on the lake.
"Once an artist has been here, it is a place they want to return," said DeCarli. "I have to believe it's the atmosphere we provide. We want them to come here ... and be like a working vacation for the artists."
Over the years, the venue has made a name for itself by bringing in shows with strong audiences within a particular genre. For example, Meadowbrook/Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion has been nominated six times for the Academy of Country Music Association's Venue of the Year honor. The Pavilion has crossed a threshold this year, though, booking several acts that have broad, cross-genre appeal. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band, and Rod Stewart are all on the show list this year. The best example of the venue's rising profile, though, is the booking of the Dave Matthews Band for two consecutive nights in July, which sold out quickly after their announcement.
As DeCarli explained, word of the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion experience has spread within the music industry, and now artists that can sell out larger venues are willing to find a spot in their schedule for a short stay in Gilford. The Zac Brown Band has stopped several times in Gilford, going back to the Meadowbrook days. That band's management company recommended Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion to one of its higher profile clients, Luke Bryan. That management company was so pleased with the treatment of its talent that it booked a third client, The Dave Matthews Band.
"In the industry, as some of the larger artists are coming here, word of mouth spreads," said DeCarli.
The venue has also worked to cultivate a similar, fun environment for the fans.
"We enjoy having people come as soon as parking opens," said DeCarli. Tailgating in the parking area is encouraged by management, though alcohol is prohibited outside of the gates. Once through the gates, guests are entertained by small stages in a concourse area, which is ringed by food and drink concessions. Those food service areas are being improved this year, with permanent structures taking the place of tents and trailers, and a new food and beverage contractor, Best Beverage Catering Company, serving audience members.
"There's going to be an overhaul of what's available at the venue," said DeCarli.
Less visible than the new dining options, but just as important, is the new, in-house public address system installed this spring. Until this season, the venue relied on PA systems provided by the visiting artists. It was a bit awkward, with Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion staff having to ask the tour's sound crew to use their system to make announcements. More significantly, the in-house PA system will allow the venue to make broader use of the facility.
One of the new ways that the venue can be utilized is for movie nights, for kind of a drive-in movie feel but without all the cars. The first movie night, held this year as a kind of experiment, will feature a double-header of '80s classics "Sixteen Candles" and "The Breakfast Club." The movie night will be held on Monday, Aug. 8, beginning at 6:30 p.m. It will cost just $5 to get in and see both films.
"I think it will be cool. I'm super excited about it," said DeCarli.
For more information, visit www.banknhpavilion.com.
The Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion can seat 5.500 fans under its roof, and another 3,500 on its lawn. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Adam Drapcho)