by Caitlyn Tarney
The marquee overlooking High Street in Columbus, Ohio, has become iconic to anyone familiar with the rock and roll scene. In the heart of Ohio State University’s campus, Newport Music Hall stands as “America’s Longest Continually Running Rock Club.” The 1,700-capacity venue has hosted artists from AC/DC to U2 on their journey to the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Not only the longest-running rock club but also one of the most famous, Newport Music Hall has helped to launch careers of artists like O.A.R. and the Smashing Pumpkins. The hall has seen what is now considered some of the most iconic moments in dozens of artists’ careers.
Opening as the State Theater, the venue was built in 1923 as a movie theater. Rechristened the Agora Ballroom in 1970, Ted Nugent kicked off over fifty years of rock history as the first national artist to play. Known and loved for its intimacy, many artists have visited frequently since the doors opened in 1970. Nugent has made regular appearances over the decades, last hitting the stage in 2014. In the 50th anniversary documentary, If These Walls Could Talk (2020), Nugent commented on the feeling that is present in the venue. It was the close-knit crowd and lack of noise regulations, he claimed, that kept him coming back. For nearly fifteen years, the Agora Ballroom was the life of High Street, welcoming campus students or anyone looking for a good time. REO Speedwagon played a series of Welfare Wednesdays, where a $2 admission covered the show and as much beer as guests could drink. B.B. King took the stage around the holiday season, which became a tradition enjoyed by Columbus families for years to come. Rock legends like Queen or James Brown could be seen for $3.50, equivalent to today’s $20.
The first hint of trouble came in 1984 when the owners decided to turn the building into a shopping center. Determined to save the legendary rock hall, the CEO of Promowest Productions, Scott Steinecker, stepped in and purchased the venue. Reopening the same year, Neil Young performed the first show at the newly renamed Newport Music Hall. History continued to be made. Steinecker recalls one of his fondest memories of the venue in If These Walls Could Talk (2020). As if it were yesterday, he remembers KISS’s show interrupted by a power outage. Candles from Gene Simmons’ candelabra on stage were distributed to audience members, and they continued to play. Melissa Etheridge covered an acoustic version of Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz” after a power outage, which became a staple at Etheridge’s future shows.
The venue has recently been known for artists like Green Day, Snoop Dogg, and Paramore. Twenty-One Pilots completed a historical tour of Columbus venues, visiting the Newport ten times in as many years. Live recordings of a sold-out 2011 show during the duo’s Regional at Best tour were filmed and released on YouTube. Today, the Newport stands with its familiar palm tree decor and the same layout that it was built with when it first appeared on the scene. Covering the walls are posters advertising the iconic names that have passed through the building and the next names to take over the stage. At the center of rock and roll, performers and crowds come from all over the world to share one common goal: to keep rocking.
Find out more about Newport Music Hall and find tickets to upcoming shows here!