The concept of The Capitol Sessions: Songs from a Rock Palace That Impacted the World was to honor the musicallegacy of the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York. Built in 1926, the suburban theater hosted vaudeville, films, plays, comedy, weddings, and bar mitzvahs in its history, yet it is best remembered as a rock palace from 1970 to the 1980s, with a few concerts in the 1990s. The theater returned as a concert hall in 2012. The songs that would be played live on December 17 would be songs that were played at the theater in its glory days.
Did the Capitol Theatre truly impact the world? Well, maybe equally as much as hundreds of other rock concert halls in the world, in that this circuit of theaters gave the Woodstock generation frequent opportunities to gather around live rock music. Perhaps the venue’s most impactful point is that thanks to its newest owner, Peter Shapiro, the 1,800-capacity venue is hosting live music again.
Larry Campbell organized the Capitol Sessions concert, which benefitted HeadCount, a not-for-profit organization specializing in voter registration among concert attendees. For several years, Campbell was the musical director for Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble barn concert series in Woodstock, New York, so not surprisingly, Campbell invited many of his friends to participate. In the promotions for the Capitol Sessions concert, the participating roster started to look much like what a Midnight Ramble event might look like today.
Naturally, the Capitol Sessions concert could not include songs by all the musicians who ever played the Capitol Theatre. This concert also would not recall the diverse catalogues performed there by Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Judas Priest, the Ramones, Parliament-Funkadelic, Skrillex, B.B. King, Yes, Foreigner, Herbie Hancock, Ruben Blades, Dawes, Alice Cooper, the Rascals, Al Green, Elvis Costello, and so many others. Instead, the concert circled mostly around a Woodstock vibe and the majority of the songs hailed back to about 1970.
The Capitol Sessions concert began with Larry Campbell and his wife, Teresa Williams, singing a song that might have dated back to around the time of the original opening of the Capitol Theatre. “Samson and Delilah” is a traditional song of uncertain origin, popularized by the Grateful Dead, who learned it from Rev. Gary Davis. Under an earlier title, however, the song “If I Had My Way I’d Tear the Building Down,” also known as “Oh Lord If I Had My Way,” was recorded by Blind Willie Johnson in 1927. No one mentioned this link, however.
Regrettably, the production of the Capitol Sessions concert lacked a pronounced sense of history. The producers provided no visual display of the storied musicians who had performed at the theatre in years past. No booklet with a history of the theater was distributed. As the songs were performed, none of the musicians offered a context, saying who originally performed the song there or when it was played. For a concert that was intended to honor the history of theater, these were glaring omissions.
The Chambers Brothers headlined the very first rock concert at the Capitol Theater on February 6, 1970. That band was represented when Ms. Lisa Fischer sang “Time Has Come Today.” The connection was not elaborated to the audience, however.
Other high points in history were completely overlooked. Legend has it that Janis Joplin introduced the song “Mercedes Benz” to the world from that stage, but the song was not performed. Bob Dylan was the first musician to headline the theater when it reopened in 2012, but no song from that set was played. Campbell suggested at the end of the night that this concert would become the first of an annual series, so there will be future opportunities to make the events a clearer tribute to the theater’s legacy.
The Capitol Sessions concert instead became an opportunity for music fans to enjoy a certain coterie of musicians working together as an all-star cover band playing a classic rock jukebox. Jackson Browne and Jorma Kaukonen (Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna) were listed as the headliners, but several lesser-known musicians spent more time on stage than the headliners did.
In all, more than a dozen musicians got their chance to shine in the ensemble performances. Marco Benevento, Larry Campbell (Bob Dylan, Levin Helm), James Casey (Trey Anastasio Band), Elaine Caswell, Ms. Lisa Fischer (Luther Vandross, the Rolling Stones), Amy Helm (Levon Helm), Connor Kennedy (Steely Dan, Amy Helm), Eric Krasno (Soulive, Lettuce), Tony Leone (Levon Helm, Chris Robinson Brotherhood), Grahame Lesh (Phil Lesh & Friends), Adam Minkoff (Zappa Plays Zappa, the Machine), Karina Rykman, and Teresa Williams (Levon Helm) were among the musicians who more than glowed when they had their chances to shine. (The War and Treaty were listed but were unable to travel.) These musicians paid tribute in song to Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, John Prine, Jefferson Airplane, the Chambers Brothers, Mountain, the Rolling Stones, Leon Russell, Traffic, Eric Clapton, and more artists from the Capitol Theatre’s history.
Samson and Delilah (traditional song, with Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams on vocals)
Time Has Come Today (The Chambers Brothers cover, with Ms. Lisa Fischer on lead vocal)
People Get Ready (The Impressions cover, with Ms. Lisa Fischer & Jackson Browne on vocals)
Only You Know and I Know (Dave Mason cover, with Amy Helm & Connor Kennedy on vocals)
Angel From Montgomery (John Prine cover) (with Amy Helm on lead vocal)
Mississippi Queen (Mountain cover, with Adam Minkoff on lead vocals & Karina Rykman on guitar)
Out in the Woods (Leon Russell cover, with Marco Benevento & Karina Rykman on vocals)
Can’t Find My Way Home (Steve Winwood cover, with Adam Minkoff on lead vocal)
Dear Mr. Fantasy (Traffic cover, with Larry Campbell on lead vocal)
Piece of My Heart (Erma Franklin cover, with Elaine Caswell on lead vocal)
Layla (Derek and the Dominos cover, with Connor Kennedy on lead vocal)
Express Yourself (Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band cover, with James Casey on vocal & saxophone
Shakedown Street (Grateful Dead cover, with Grahame Lesh, James Casey, & Connor Kennedy on vocals)
Deal (Jerry Garcia cover, with Eric Krasno on lead vocal)
Brokedown Palace (Grateful Dead cover, with Grahame Lesh, Amy Helm, & Connor Kennedy on vocals)
Sugaree (Jerry Garcia cover, with Teresa Williams on lead vocal & Jorma Kaukonen on lead guitar)
Hesitation Blues (traditional song, with Jorma Kaukonen on vocal and guitar & Larry Campbell on fiddle)
White Rabbit (Jefferson Airplane cover, with Teresa Williams on vocal & Jorma Kaukonen on lead guitar)
Somebody to Love (The Great Society cover, with Teresa Williams on lead vocal & Jorma Kaukonen on lead guitar)
Wild Horses (The Rolling Stones cover, with Ms. Lisa Fischer on lead vocal)
Gimme Shelter (The Rolling Stones cover, with Ms. Lisa Fischer on lead vocal)
Doctor My Eyes (Jackson Browne song, with Jackson Browne on lead vocal)
Running on Empty (Jackson Browne song, with Jackson Browne on lead vocal)
With a Little Help From My Friends (The Beatles cover, with Lisa Fischer on lead vocal & all performers onstage)
FOR THE FULL REVIEW AND ALL PHOTOGRAPHS FROM THE CAPITOL SESSIONS BY EVERYNIGHT CHARLEY FOR THE MANHATTAN BEAT, CLICK HERE!