Venue Review: College Street Music Hall

College Street Music Hall

New Haven, CT

College Street Music Hall (CSMH) in New Haven, CT is one of New England’s newest musical treasures, having only opened in May of 2015. Located at 238 College St., long-time New Haven locals recall the venue’s predecessors. The building was originally constructed in 1926 as the Roger Sherman Theatre and has thus evolved over time (the Palace Theatre, born in 1984 and abandoned in 2002, until CSMH was created and opened in 2015).

Location (9) & Accessibility (7):
The venue is located in the heart of New Haven’s arts district and the infamous Yale University campus. After concerts, attendees may find themselves at any of the popular bars and restaurants surrounding the venue as well. Patrons come from all over New England for concerts at CSMH, and it is highly accessible via the Metro-North railroad, bus, cab, car, or foot. Finding parking will never be an issue for concert-goers, as the Crown Street and Temple Street garages are close within walking distance from the venue and have inexpensive hourly rates. However, you should be prepared to wait a while on your way out as traffic gets backed up very easily in these tight, multi-level garages. 

Crowd Capacity (10):
CSMH is considered a “multi-capacity” venue, though its max settles around 2,000 attendees. Depending on the act and event, the seating chart can be altered. The venue itself has three major sections: the floor (which may be seated or general admission standing), the balcony (seated), and the loge (seated). The venue also has an ADA section for patrons that request for accommodations, located on the floor for greater accessibility. For most smaller scale shows, there is a GA floor with optional balcony seating that is unreserved. For some of the bigger acts, there is a reserved seated floor, with the balcony and loge also being reserved. Again, the seating will vary each night, so be sure to check the seating chart for your event before you purchase your tickets. The venue is quite large from the inside, and the tiered floor section allows for higher visibility—unlike most venues that have a single-level standing room. That being said, do not be afraid of GA floor shows at CSMH! If you can’t get to the front row, find a sweet spot on the barricade on one of the tiers and you’re guaranteed a great view for the night.

Sound (9):
Although sound is something that will vary depending on the band performing and who is working the booth that night, CSMH is very well equipped for just about anything. The sound system for the most part is filling and crisp. I have never had an issue hearing an instrument during a show—that is, as long as the band’s sound crew remembers to turn up the vocalist’s mic. For a greater majority of shows I’ve attended at CSMH though, the sound is controlled by one of the venue’s house engineers, of which there have rarely been any complications.

Drink selection (8):
Personally, I have never been to any of the bars at CSMH, but I can comment on the accessibility and success of them. There is a large bar inside where floor access begins, with at least 4 bartenders working throughout the night. Drink selection is pretty wide, as there are a plethora of beers on tap, several shrines of hard liquor, and wine for those keepin’ it classy at the rock show. There is also a soda + water bar towards the center back where under-aged attendees can get their fix without having to wait in line with the hard-hitters going back for their 4th beer. On the second floor “lobby,” there are two more bars for easier access from the balcony and loge sections. I must say, the designers were quite intelligent to put the restrooms on either sides of every bar as well. I have heard that drinks are a little over-priced, but isn’t that expected at higher scale venues anyway? You get what you pay for, for sure.

Staff (10) & Security (10)
I may be a bit biased being part of the staff at CSMH, but I must say: of the venues that I’ve been to, I’ve never endured friendlier or more efficient staff and security. A good amount of the employees at CSMH work for or with the promoters, like Manic Presents (formerly Manic Productions; the people who probably put on your favorite shows in CT since… ever), so working at CSMH is far from their first rodeo. For smaller shows or shows that have a GA floor, many of the ushers double-up with security to ensure safety of patrons and to make sure everything is running smoothly. The security guards are also very approachable and know how to focus on the important things at shows. I have only been to one show at CSMH where I’ve witnessed crowdsurfing (I’ll discuss why in the section about shows & tours), but the security worked quickly and with care. Also, as a photographer, I must commend the staff and security on their planning and attention to detail. Many venues that I’ve been to, they are not aware of what press and tour passes look like before the show, and I often tussle with security trying to get into the pit because of this. CSMH employees are well aware of what each pass looks like and will only give you a hard time when they know you’re where you aren’t supposed to be. Claps all around.

Photo by: Bradford Mahler Photography (2015)

Photo by: Bradford Mahler Photography (2015)

Cleanliness (10)
Without a doubt, CSMH is one of the cleanest—if not the cleanest—venues I’ve ever been to. Yes, a great percentage of this can be due to the fact that the venue is still too new to have wear-and-tear damage yet, but the age of the venue does not necessarily correlate to its housekeeping. Beer spills don’t last very long, as a member of the cleaning crew has probably already wiped it up by the time you get back to your seat. The bathrooms are usually pretty well maintained as well. Of course, cups and left over items are inescapable after a show, but I have never been grossed out in any of my own experiences at CSMH thus far.

Expected Shows & Tours (7):
Before I go into explaining my lower score on this section, I must prelude by saying that due to how new CSMH really is (only two years old as of May 2017), as well as its size compared to other venues in CT, the tours that come around are often less connected to our underground music scene. Thus, I have usually been less familiar with the bands that have played here in the past. The promoters that book shows at CSMH have put on amazing shows at any and all of our other venues (The Space, Webster Theater, Oakdale Theater, etc.), but up until recently many bands making the underground scene’s headlines have not stepped foot. CSMH has had some of the scene’s highlights in the past—Every Time I Die’s tour with Real Friends was one of the first to hit CSMH’s stage shortly after it opened—but there are certainly shows to look forward to coming up this year. Mayday Parade’s tour with Knuckle Puck, Julien Baker, City & Colour, Flogging Molly, and Thrice are just a few to name, with plenty still to be announced. Though I will keep the score low, as CSMH’s roster is still blooming, I guarantee by the end of this year you will notice more of your favorite bands’ tours stopping by CSMH for the night.

Overall Experience (9):
All in all, the only way to have a bad night at College Street Music Hall is to ruin it yourself. Walk around downtown and grab a bite to eat (or pregame, if you’re into that kinda thing) as New Haven’s nightlife is always thriving in this area. The staff and security keep the place running beyond par and are actually good at their jobs. There’s not a bad seat in the house for any show, but like any other venue just make sure you’re purchasing the kind of seating arrangement that you’re actually interested in. The seating chart may get tricky if it’s your first time here, so it’s imperative that you check before buying your tickets (unless it’s a GA show—you have one choice). I, personally, am excited to see more bands in our scene take on CSMH’s stage, as it is an acoustically pleasing space with heavenly architecture and holds all the ingredients to make a perfect concert experience. 

Total Score: 89