Remembering The Boathouse


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.)


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 have ever come close to the experience that was The Boathouse.


  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.

    • Hey there MRT, just saw your post and I too was at that Anthrax show. That place was insane with the mosh pit. Nice to see a fellow ol skool metalhead here as well.

  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

    • I got to see Molly Hatchett backstage a couple of years later when a local band named Longshot opened for them. I got some nice shots of the band. The Boathouse was a great place for concerts and I saw quite a few bands there. Robin Trower was awesome.

  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.

  11. I saw many shows there. I kept all the ticket stubs so here goes. Megadeth/Overkill May 23, 87, Vinnie Vincent Invasion July 29, 88, L.A. Guns was supposed to play but cancelled after the place was half full. I think Slaughter opened for Vinnie Vincent. Tool, Feb 11, 94, Sepultra, Clutch, Fudge Tunnel March 4, 94, Slayer, Machine Head, Biohazzard, March 2, 95, Butthole Surfers Oct 22, 96, Limp Biscit, Sevendust, April 8, 98, Slayer, Fear Factory Sep 12, 98, (The ticket states ‘No crowd surfing’)Ratt Oct 29, 98. I’ve also seen George Througood there and my brother saw Korn on their first tour there. Alpha Music had the guitar, bass and drum competition there. Each year they had a contest you could enter they picked the contestsnts from audition tapes and the winners got sweet gear. I entered the bass competition but wasn’t selected. I remember the Circle Jerks played there a lot and it seemed like the Violent Fems were always there! Probably along with The Dead Milkmen!

  12. Seen John Kay steppenwolf there in the mid 80s awesome place

  13. I was just looking over the Liz Phair FB page and it reminded me of seeing 2 concerts at the Boathouse. Tesla (acoustic jam) and Letters to Clio. Tesla wasn’t that good in that location but only due to the sound system that night. I had heard them live before at a different location and they sounded great. I think it was just the location not being the best venue for them. But Letters to Clio was amazing. Hearing the song “Here and now” live was awesome. The song was at it’s highest on the charts. Can’t remember if Juliana Hatfield was there but I think it was the Boathouse.

  14. Don’t forget Beastie Boys Insane Clown Posse Marilyn Manson

  15. I have such great memories of this place. The very first band was the Ramones and I was hooked on the Boathouse to go see some amazing bands and musicians. Here’s my list
    Waxing Poetics, Hoodoo Gurus, Violent Femmes, The Call, Ocean Blue, Oingo Boingo, The Outfield, Jane’s Addiction, Concrete Blonde, The Smithereens, Chris Isaak, Peter Murphy, Alice In Chains, Gene Loves Jezebel, Matthew Sweet and my last show I went to was Toad the Wet Sprocket before I moved. I loved the small venue to see so many bands up close and personal.

    • I went to that Ramones show. Such good times, also saw the Smithereens, Waxing Poetics, the Connells, Ocean Blue and Hoodoo Gurus. What a small world!

  16. Best show I saw there was the Charlie Daniels Band. That was in 87 or 88. Absolutely tore the roof off the place when the second set started with South’s Gonna Do It Again. Memorable.

  17. Good afternoon,

    I am doing a marketing research project so I can finish my degree in Marketing and I came across your website about ‘THE BOATHOUSE’ in Norfolk, VA. You were the perfect person to communicate with regarding this project. Long story short, for this project, I have to select a subject rock band from the 80’s-90’s and follow their marketing. I then compare that with bands today who use different marketing methods and I have to show how marketing changed.
    That Said, my subject band I selected to illustrate the past marketing was called OINGO BOINGO. They actually performed 4 times at the Boathouse that I know of. Please see the dates listed below.

    05/02/87 (Sat)
    11/13/88 (Sun)
    05/05/90 (Sat)
    09/15/94 (Thu)

    I need the old advertising items for these shows. So my first question, is in your own reserach, did you uncover any Oingo Boingo concert handbills or flyers or anything that would be of a marketing nature? Lastly, what newspapers or alternative publications existed in the late 80’s and early 90’s that would have had the ads for these shows? Any help with this would be GREATLY appreciated and thank you!

  18. This was hands-down the best venue I have ever been to. One of my first concerts was the December 5, 1989 Alarm concert at the Boathouse. After 40+ concerts almost 30 years later, I am again getting to see the Alarm tonight in Austin, Texas at the new ACL310 venue. Brought back some great memories from the Boathouse & ODU days!

  19. Saw Marshall Tucker Band (MTB) there for the second time in June 85 with my brother. Brother is gone now but was an awesome venues and hellacious show.

  20. First time was in Winston Salem with CDB and headlined by Molly Hatchet in 83. The best of times.

  21. Hi, I’m doing research about the Jane’s Addiction tour of 1990. Was anyone at that concert at The Boathouse on 11/15/1990?

    • Yes I was there! It was snowing the evening of the concert and I was designated driver…tourney my colleges had all dropped acid before I picked them up haha!! Great show.

  22. Lita Ford and Yngwie Malmsteen! July, 1988. Stationed in Norfolk as a 17 year old Jarhead, a bunch of us took cabs from Norfolk Naval Base got whacked and watched Lita. Her album had just come out. Ain’t no big thing

  23. BEST INTIMATE VENUE EVER. Remember seeing NiN (pretty hate machine era) open for Peter Murphy, The Ramones (required 6 stitches to my lower lip after a combat boot stage diver caught me unaware in the face) George Thorogood & the Destroyers (bar open till concert was over) and Faith no More ( Angel Dust tour, Helmet opened) went home with only 1 Doc Marten boot. NiN came back around on tour with Jesus & Mary Chain . Oh yeah,I almost forgot the Bad Religion show. I rest my case.

  24. Went to my first concert there in 1988 when I saw UB40

  25. Wow…what a place to see some live acts. The best show I experienced was what I believe was called Rock ‘n roll revue(?)…Dave Edmunds, Graham Parker, Dion, and Kim Wilson (Fabulous Thunderbirds singer).

    I also saw Robin Trower, the Ramones at least 5 times, the Smithereens, Chris Isaak, Collective Soul, Squeeze, and many others.

    The atmosphere there was absolutely perfect for rock ‘n roll shows. Its’ layout was such yhat you could walk anywhere inside the venue and yet never seem too far from the bands, visually or sound-wise; if you wanted a break just walk out of the building and be near the water…with beer in hand! Such wonderful memories of that place.

  26. I was stationed at Dam Neck and I thought I saw Concrete Blonde there in 92…. Anyone know if they were there then?

  27. I saw Quiet Riot,Keel and Poison but can’t find a date for the show anywhere.

    • That show was Sept 19th, 1986.
      I was stationed at Dam Neck, VA Naval Training Station and went to that show with a friend of mine. Some kid in front of me caught a drum stick during Quiet Riot’s set, only to have some drunk, shirtless dude grab it from him and shove him. I punched the dude in the mouth and then the kid joined me in pummeling him. A big empty circle formed around us as Quiet Riot singer, Kevin Dubrow, was calling the fight like a ring-side announcer. Shortly thereafter I was struck on the side of my head by a glass pitcher , from whom I can only assume was the shirtless dude’s friend. Eventually the shirtless dude and glass pitcher guy were tossed out and continually pummeled by
      bouncers. My friend and I stayed for the rest of the show (holding a bar rag to my head to slow the bleeding. After the show I received seven stitches in my head at Oceana Naval Air Station.
      Good times!
      K. F.

  28. I was in the Navy down there from 19 88 to 1992 and saw quite a few great shows there, including fishbone ,Suicidal Tendencies and Jane’s Addiction….Good Times

  29. Stevie Ray Vaughn Nov (?) 1985 when i was in the Navy. GREAT show ! Atmosphere was awesome !

  30. This is probably the one and only couple that was created by the BOATHOUSE! We worked there! Still together after twenty- some years! It was a place that lives on in many people’s hearts!

    • He sweetie – I was there for the Megadeth concert May 23 1987 – looking for my lost Navy friends – any pictures would be greatly appreciated

  31. Yes, I was at the Concrete Blonde concert. I was pretty lit from hanging out in the beer garden but remember the band were all wearing black and when they started singing Bloodletting, the stage lights went dark times!

  32. I was reminiscing about the boathouse and found this blog in a search. So sad to hear it’s gone but glad there is something left to to remember it. I saw Pat Travers in the mid 80’s. My old 69 camero engine blew on the way so me and my buddy had to hitch a ride the last few miles. Such an awesome show and venue, up close and intimate with the band and I loved the boats pulling up on the water to listen as the night lights reflected on the water.

  33. Ran across this article and brings back a lot of memories! Great place to see some great bands back in late high school and college years. Some headliners that come to mind include the Rollins Band, The Connells, The Ocean Blue, and Alice in Chains. Even had good opening acts like Dillon Fence, Screaming Trees, Gruntruck, and Riverside (Pennsylvania band). Thanks for publishing this article!

  34. Was stationed at NOB Norfolk from 1989 to 1992. Remember seeing Joan Jett and the Blackhearts there in April of 1990. Had a blast!

  35. I was stationed in Oceana Naval Air Station from 96 through 98 and was able to see Collective Soul there! Great concert!

  36. i was stationed at Norfolk and got to see one show there in that time, and it was EPIC. Rollins Band in May of 1994. such a great venue.

  37. Was at the Megadeth Concert May 23 1987 – looking for lost Navy friends Scott & Paige – Danny – Rocky and that crew !!!

  38. I think the first concert in The Boathouse was Men Without Hats

  39. The Offspring and Rancid Oct. 30th 1994!

  40. A lot of great times were had at the Boathouse. My first concert was The Psychedelic Furs in ‘91. Violent Femmes multiple shows (Halloween ‘95 most memorable). The Connells, Dillon Fence, Bodeans, Juliana Hatfield, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, NIN, The Cult. Gin Blossoms rocked the place opening for Toad the Wet Sprocket who threatened to leave if everyone didn’t stop crowd surfing. The local bands too; Waxing Poetics, Hickey Necklace, and the one and only Left Wing Fascists.

  41. Danzig and Korn, 94 ish. Fun place!!

  42. BIG COUNTRY in the early 90’s. A food item for the needy was your admission in to the show.

  43. I grew up in Newport News in the 70s and early 80s then moved away. Tidewater always had the best concerts. Saw everyone from the Stones in 81 , Devo, B52s, Van Halen, Springsteen. When I would come back to visit family my bro took me to The Boathouse. Saw The Pretenders 95 or so. Then Night Ranger 96ish. The Offspring were playing that weekend for $15…too bad I had to fly back home to Maui. Great memories

  44. I saw Kittie and Slipknot at the Boathouse in around 2,000.

  45. Steele Pulse in the 80’s….you folks talk about epic.

  46. Most of the shows I saw at the Boathouse are on this list, but no Boathouse concert list I can find online has the incredible April 1996 show: The Fugees (right at the height of The Score!), Goodie Mob and The Roots. I found one article online from that week in Hampton Roads that mentions that it sold out and was packed, but it never makes any Boathouse concert lists. IT WAS CRAZY GOOD!

  47. I had David Crosby hand me a guitar pick

    August 21, 2020 at 10:45 pm

    I had David Crosby hand me a guitar pick from Deshi boathouse that was the greatest place in Norfolk I ever thought of for concerts back in the 80s always had a great time how lotta front row seats saw lotta great bands Gregg Allman the outlaws you just name it they were there

  48. I miss that place. I recall going to shows by Toad the Wet Sprocket, The Cranberries, Tori Amos, Berlin, The Outfield, Flock of Seagulls, Real Life, Waxing Poetics, a ZZ Top cover band. And there are plenty of concerts I have probably forgotten.

  49. Iggy Pop
    Jane’s Addiction
    Dead Milkmen
    Left Wing Fascists
    Those are the ones I can remember when I was a drunk sailor. I remember it being called Bessie’s Boat House!

  50. Ah so many good memories from my teenage years. I would often win tickets off the radio late at night. At the INXS show I met a boy and we kissed the entire show. It was the best kiss of my life! Then we went our separate ways. I would love to travel back in time to hear these bands again, I’ve not come across anything else like the Boathouse and the unbelievable bands at that time

  51. Timeless memories,great friends and awesome bands…The Boathouse rocked

  52. Awesome venue to see some great bands up close and personal. Was stationed at Ft. Story in Va. Beach from 87 to 89 and saw Jeff Beck which when hearing of hs passing reminded me of the killer show he put on to an intimate but packed venue. Also saw BöC and Molly Hatchet. The Hatchet show had a special memory of going there with the four of us and one of our mates, Bob, was underage so he had to stay on the outside of the fence barrier while the three of us drank beer near the stage. All of a sudden we heard “Look out” and Bob took a running leap over the barrier and quickly flew over it and into the drinking crowd. A personal memory we collectively called “the night Bob flew”. The Boathouse was legendary for so many reasons.

  53. Did the Dave Matthews Band ever play there?

  54. Saw the B52’s there. Great show. Some of the biggest, kindest bouncers that night.

  55. Alice n chains.. Layne Stayley was in a wheel chair.. from falling off the stage at the previous show..mid concert said Fuck this and did the rest of the concert standing up with a crutch. Pauly Shore, Henry Rollins he did spoken word and then Rollins band played.

  56. The Circle Jerks, in the mosh pit, some girl thankfully pulled me out. Cowboy Junkies a decade or so later.

  57. I was doing time with the U.S. Navy, I did see Allman Brothers . I want to say thank you to the boathouse…… Rest In Peace Dickie…..

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