Remembering The Boathouse

IMG_1604

This morning I found this concert ticket at the back of my dresser drawer while rummaging about for something or other. That Crash Test Dummies show back in 1996 was the last time I ever set foot in my favorite concert venue, The Boathouse in Norfolk. It was also my second date with she who would become my wife (presently of 17 years). I’m glad she got to see it before it died.

Here’s a bit of history about The Boathouse from a 2004 Virginian-Pilot article that has also faded out of existence (thanks Internet Archive):

The Boathouse started as an adjunct to Bessie’s Place, the cavernous farmers/flea market that opened in mid-1983 where Harbor Park now stands.

The market’s management asked Cellar Door Concert’s Bill Reid to look at the old warehouse on a pier to see if it might be usable.

Reid, now president of Rising Tide Productions, remembers walking into the decrepit place.

“You could literally see the water underneath when we walked in,” Reid said. But he got it into shape and began booking bands to play. The first were the Skip Castro Band and the Knighthawks.

He innovated by offering all-ages shows, one of the first venues in the country to do so. Those of drinking age were segregated from those who weren’t by a moveable wall of chicken wire.

“At the time, there just wasn’t a good concert venue for smaller drawing acts,” said Maisey, also a free-lance music writer for The Virginian-Pilot .

Sadly, late 2003 brought Hurricane Isabel and it was more than that wondrous warehouse on a pier on the Elizabeth River could bear.

The Boathouse was an incredible concert hall and I have a great many wonderful memories enjoying concerts there with friends throughout high school and college. I’ve been on both sides of that chicken-wire fence as the years rolled by. I even arm-wrestled a bouncer. (He won.)

Boathouse-Old-1_big-500x326

Some of the headliners I recall seeing at The Boathouse include They Might Be Giants, Violent Femmes, Waxing Poetics, The Smithereens, Bad Religion, James, The Replacements, Pixies, The Connells, Faith No More, BoDeans, Tori Amos, and Crash Test Dummies. And yes, I saw the best concert of my life there: They Might Be Giants on their Flood tour in 1990. Here’s a nearly complete concert setlist running from 1983 to 2003.

I’ve been to a number of venues that are pointed in the same direction, but none has ever come close to the experience that was The Boathouse.

10 Comments

  1. This place was the best! 2 Skinnee J’s, Live, I saw so many great shows there in high school and college. No way this place would ever exist today. thanks for sharing!

  2. first concert ever, at 15/16yo, foreign exchange student no less.

    I saw Anthrax at The Boathouse

    I think I still have a very faded ticket stub somewhere. I certain do still have the signed guitar pick from the bass player…despite as young&dumb as I was, I somehow kept that thing in a plastic case to preserve it.

    Sure wish I would have seen at the time, just half the artist you mentioned.

    Thanks for posting this.

  3. I was at that Crash Test Dummies show. I started a mosh pit with one of my friends. We had a blast. The opening act was a band called Waterwork from VA Beach. They blew the place away.
    So many concerts at the Boathouse. Connells on several occasions. Many genres have played there. Peter Frampton, Limp Bizcuit, Slip Knot, The Wailers, Sevendust. I even saw ECW there. I had seat on the stage. You could look behind the curtain and see them all getting ready before the show started.

  4. I saw the Band and one to remember. I live up north and sorry to hear a great venue close

  5. Frankie Jackson

    April 16, 2017 at 2:20 am

    I am on ODU grade and worked at Omni Waterside mid 80’s. Awesome guests and shows at boathouse. Gregg Allman and Dickie Betts reunion to Allman Bros. Band. “Green Grass and High Tides” with all of the original OUTLAWS. Steve Ray Vaughan ripped threw so many Stratocasters….so wound up!!!

  6. I was at this concert also…. the best venue of my life I think.

  7. I saw Joan Jett and the Blackhearts there in mid 80’s. Joan appeared to be high on Coke too. She kept pointing to guys in audience yelling out, “I want to *uck you!” and giving the finger to the audience. LOL

  8. I saw blue oyster cult,George thorogood,asphalt ballet & great white,xyz& ace frehley,road ducks& 38 special twice at the boat house in the 80’s and early 90’s while I was in the navy, now I live back in Illinois Peoria area, Tidewater area was a great place for concerts and sports, Peoria doesn’t get a lot of big names here they usually go to Chicago, St. Louis area we get a lot of 2nd line acts here.

  9. I saw Molly Hatchett in the summer of 1985. I was old enough to be able to go in the beer garden as the drinking section was called. I will never forget that place

  10. Great article. I saw Kansas, Eddie Money, .38 Special, Peter Frampton, Chris Isaac & local boy Kyle Davisjust to name a few. Great venue, great music.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*