It's been almost 15 years since the 250-capacity Mercury Lounge opened on a dingy East Village block in New York City, offering new and interesting live music in a bar setting. Since then, owner Michael Swier — who also opened the neighborhood's beloved dive bar, 2A, 10 years before Mercury Lounge — has formed the independent live music booking group known as Bowery Presents. Under the management of Swier and his two business partners, John Moore and Jim Glancy, Bowery Presents owns and operates Mercury Lounge, the 550-capacity Bowery Ballroom (a favorite among musicians and fans alike), and the newly opened 550-capacity Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn's trendiest neighborhood. Now comes their biggest venture, the 3,000-capacity Terminal 5, which officially opened in October.
“It all started with a vision of combining [the bar] 2A with a place where people could go to listen to live music,” Swier says. “Music has always been a focus of mine, and it's all about making the music sound great live a priority and providing a venue for people to see as well as hear the bands live.” In 2004, Bowery Presents also began booking at Webster Music Hall, a 1,400-capacity venue, and the group has since booked shows at Madison Square Garden (including last year's White Stripes sold-out show at MSG, “Hello, Operator,” Live Design, October 2007) and Carnegie Hall, but Terminal 5 is a totally different endeavor.
Formerly known as Club Exit, the space was closed in 2003 during New York City's crackdown on illegal drugs in nightclubs. The new name is a tribute to architect Eero Saarinen's famed TWA Terminal at John F. Kennedy Airport. Saarinen's Terminal 5 was known for being spacious as well as abstract and futuristic for its time.
The venue will not be revisiting its previous incarnation as a nightclub. Bowery Presents focuses solely on bringing live music and special events to New York City and has, in recent years, become a third contender among national booking giants Live Nation and AEG Live. An interesting side note: up until a year-and-a-half ago, Bowery Presents partner Jim Glancy was the president of the New York division of Live Nation.
The 40,000sq-ft., three-level space is being touted as “the largest Midtown Manhattan music venue to open in more than a decade,” and it's got bragging rights for its impressive multi-level verticality. Spectators can line wrap-around mezzanines along the upper two levels that reach right up to the front of the stage, allowing for an intimate feel in the mid-sized venue. Forty-foot ceilings and a 41'×30'stage contribute to unobstructed sightlines. Like other Bowery Presents venues, this all-general admission space (with a separate VIP section) gives visitors the freedom to move around in the large, airy space and soak up the scenery.
Architect Brian Swier, who also designed the other Bowery Presents venues, created a polychromatic scheme with all the horizontal surfaces painted black and the vertical surfaces white. Couches, benches, stools, and high-top tables are scattered below warm glowing chandeliers to create a comfortable atmosphere for people to mingle and relax. Although Bowery Presents prides itself as a booking organization that nurtures new talent and promising bands, Terminal 5 will also be open for special events and parties, offering an onsite kitchen for catering as well as bars on each level.
“From the time that we signed the lease and got community board approval for the liquor license in the summer, we only had a few months until the first act was booked for the beginning of October, so it's remarkable that we got so much work done in such a short amount of time,” Michael Swier says.
While there are challenges with every venue, Terminal 5 has a unique grid system attached to its high ceiling that wasn't specifically built for performance, especially in terms of hanging lights. “We pretty much had to go with what was here until we were able to make some changes that allowed us great flexibility in the room,” explains Terminal 5 production manager, Christopher Burrows. “We just designed the systems based upon what we had in the ceiling. On the lighting side — I think it's a good mixture of moving and non-moving lights — it's very versatile. LDs can come in and use their own systems and integrate them into our system. We've definitely had acts come in here and incorporate their own lights and truss into ours, and we have an in-house lighting designer, as well.”
Luciano Savedra, Terminal 5's LD, does all his programming on an MA Lighting grandMA light with a grandMA micro as a back up to run the six Robe ColorSpot 1200s. He also has a Leprecon LP-1524 24/48 console configured through the grandMA for his cues. What the club lacks in moving heads, it makes up for with 18 six-lamp PAR bars with Altman PAR64 NSPs, four 4-lamp ACL bars, and four 4-light blinders, giving the space a retro feel. Eight Source Four ellipsoidals (five 19° and three 26°) and eight High End Systems Cyberlight CXs hung on 5' truss towers round out the venue's lighting rig. Effects are enhanced via two Reel EFX DF-50 Diffusion Hazers.
In addition to the unique grid system, air ducts come out of the ceiling, so all of the rigging is done with beam clamps. “There is one beam near an air duct that is about 15" wide, so I had to order special I-beam clamps to fit on it, but other than that, it's not too bad,” Savedra explains. The rigging includes a 12"×35'box truss for banners, three 20.5"×35' trusses — one each upstage, midstage, and downstage — and a 10'×20' oval truss over the house with a 4' mirror ball that drops through its center. All truss is by James Thomas Engineering. The power and dimming system includes two 48-channel ETC Sensor+ touring dimmer racks; two 400A, three-phase disconnects for lighting; a 24-way 208V PD; a 24-way 110V PD; and a lighting snake with four 5-pin DMX and two Edison runs.
Since 60 to 70% of the acts have their own LDs, one of Savedra's main priorities is making sure that they have the proper infrastructure, so they can just tie-in to Terminal 5's power with ease. “I have two separate 400A, three-phase panels dedicated for the lighting power,” he notes.
As for the times when he's designing for the performers, he basically feels it out the day of the show. “If I have time, I'll do a YouTube search to check them out and see what they're all about, and they tell me if they have any cues,” he explains. “My workhorses on this rig are definitely the Robe units because they can take care of anything on the fly. I love the ACLs because they are old-school, and I think they give a nice look to the space, which can feel clubby because of its size, almost warehouse-y,” he adds.
All the lighting gear is from BML, and Savedra has been happy with the supplier. “They're great,” he says. “Anytime I have a question or need anything, I just call them.”
In the four months since it's opening, Terminal 5 hasn't become as famous as its namesake at JFK Airport, which has National Landmark status, but it has been booked solid with sold-out shows as well as with special events including Fashion Week fêtes and sit-down dinners. With no plans to slow down on the schedule, this venue won't be taking five anytime soon.