Crescent Ballroom Opens With Packed House and Powerful Performances

If last night's debut of the Crescent Ballroom is any indication, the new music and nightlife venue has a grand future ahead of it.

A sold out crowd of more than 400 people were in attendance to break in the posh concert hall for its grand opening and there were few complaints to be heard. The outdoor patio and main room were packed with drinkers, scenesters, music fans, and urbanites as Portland indie folk ensemble Blind Pilot performed.

According to Jeremiah Gratza of promoter Stateside Presents (which owns the venue), the "christening the Crescent" went on without many hitches.

"Everything's been smooth tonight, very few problems at all," Gratza says. "There are little touches here and there that need to be taken care of, tweaking the details."

It may have taken around three months of renovations to change the old Bentley's Nightclub into the Crescent, a permanent home for Stateside's concerts has been years in the making. Gratza says that Stateside czar Charlie Levy has been wanting a venue of his very own since the closing of the famed Nita's Hideaway in Tempe (where he ran shows for years) in 2002.

"It took awhile for Charlie to find the right spot, the right venue with the right size that also had a certain 'cool factor,'" Gratza says.

A wealth of changes took place over the summer inside the 1917-era building that houses Crescent Ballroom. Stucco was stripped from the exterior, the ceiling and plumbing were redone, and the interior was redesigned in arty fashion.

The results are quite stunning. The lounge in front is a mix of dark woods, wrought iron furnishing, and a darkened lighting scheme and is populated by a piano for performances and a bar where both microbrews and premium booze is poured. Sliding glass doors lead to the outdoor patio filled with tall tables lit by candles.

Crescent Ballroom mixes all the best parts of other downtown Phoenix venues both past and present into its milieu. There's the exposed brick and wooden rafters look and intimate indie vibe of Modified Arts back when it hosted regular shows. Its centralized location and large stage evokes the feel of the bygone Brickhouse, while the arty drink selection and darkened ambience of the lounge reminds you of the Lost Leaf

The adjacent main room, where concerts will take place, also offers amenities unlike any other music venue in the Valley. A series of bleacher-like wooden seats are located along the back wall, allowing patrons a clear view of the bands without having to jockey for position amidst a packed house. Moveable pews are also arranged along the side of the stage for those who'd like to sit.

As good as Crescent looks, Gratza says there's still work to be done, like installing signage outside and getting the kitchen going. And if the comments made by Blind Pilot's Israel Nebeker are any indication, the P.A. system might need some fine-tuning. The vocalist and guitarist joked between songs near the beginning of the band's set that the new sound system was "a little tricky."

Things sounded great from where I was standing, however, as Blind Pilot's lush instrumentalist sound (which includes organs, harmoniums, and xylophones) filled the air in the main room. Between songs, Nebeker commented on the newness of the venue and how it was "pretty cool" that they had the honor of popping its cherry.

"This is their first show here," Nebeker stated. "We're going to spill as much on the carpet as we can. There's not nearly enough like sweat and beer residue [here] yet, but its gonna happen."

Blind Pilot ultimately didn't make good on their threats of staining the blue stage carpet with sweat and spillage, but instead chose to leave their mark in distinctive fashion. Their set ended with Nebeker, bassist Luke Ydstie, and banjo player Kati Claborn unplugging their instruments, climbing off the stage into the audience, and performing an intimate, lo-fi version of their hit "3 Rounds and a Sound" as the audience sang along quietly.

"This is a really quiet song and we'd love to do it unplugged," Nebeker says. "It only will work if everybody is really, really quiet, but if you feel like singing along, please do so."

The Crescent Ballroom is sure to be filled with the sounds of roaring guitars and killer beats in the months and years ahead as indie rock's biggest tastemakers bands grace its stage. On its opening night, however, a stripped-down sing-along seemed far more epic.

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