Singing The Praises Of The Casino Ballroom

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By Cindy Burke

Herald Sunday -- February 7, 1999

What a long, strange trip it's been. That's what rock icons the Grateful Dead said. At this time, there doesn't seem to be a more appropriate phrase to describe what the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom is currently embarking on. The year 1999 is its centennial celebration, and there's quite a bit to celebrate!

Believe it or not, 100 years ago, a little place called the Hampton Beach Casino was built by the Exeter, Hampton and Amesbury (Street) Railway Co. This 21/2 story wood-frame building became the focal point of the beach, which, by night, was brilliantly illuminated by electric lights making for a spectacle of beauty. The sounds of big bands emanated from the facility's second story while a dining room, cafe, billiards and bowling alley lay on the first floor.

Big changes came in 1927, when a new dance hall was added to the south portion of the already existing facility. Now known as the Casino Ballroom, this venue was one of the largest on the Atlantic coast. Hampton Beach achieved the reputation of being the entertainment center of New Hampshire. In 1927, Rudy Vallee brought his crooning style to the venue, and ballroom dancing brought in nearly 20,000 people per week.

Casino at night

By the time 1940 rolled around, the Casino Ballroom was one of the highest-grossing ballrooms. Sammy Kaye, Frankie Lane, the Dorsey Brothers, Bing Crosby and numerous other internationally known orchestras filled the hall. The 1950s saw plenty of doo-wop acts, bobby socks and Fats Domino. In the 1960s and 1970s, the rock music scene exploded, and musical marvels such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin blew thousands away at the Casino Ballroom.

The 1980s welcomed Roy Orbison, Jerry Seinfeld, Bonnie Raitt, Melissa Etheridge and Phish, all of which found their way to mega stardom. In the early '90s, Sam Kinison, .38 Special, George Thorogood, the Village People, the Stray Cats, Lyle Lovett and Joan Rivers were just a few of the acts hosted by the venues. In 1995, an unforgettable night occurred when Bob Weir and Rob Wasserman, formerly of the Grateful Dead, appeared on the evening of Jerry Garcia's death. Thousands of Garcia lovers and numerous television crews surrounded the building, all out of respect to this rock icon.

During the second half of the '90s and under new management, fans have witnessed Meat Loaf, Candlebox, Robert Cray, Blues Traveler, Live, Sinead O'Conner, Gallagher, Huey Lewis and the News, Jethro Tull, Joe Walsh, Sammy Hager, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Everclear, Jewel, Ziggy Marley, Paula Cole, Creed, Buddy Gay, Sawyer Brown, Hootie and the Blowfish and the Barenaked Ladies as well as many, many others including "regulars" Eddie Money, the Monkees and George Carlin. The venue now averages 40 shows per season and experiences positive and steady growth each year.

There is so much beloved history in this venue and additionally, there is so much to be proud of and so much to be thankful for. We salute our "front-line" staff, including the ticket sellers, security, ushers wait staff, bartenders and production crews, as well as the Don Law Co., whose unending efforts have resulted in solid entertainment schedules for the past few years.

We pay homage to our sponsors and promotional partners, including the Fox Run Mall; Computer Mart featuring Hewlett Packard; Saturn of Haverhill, Portsmouth and Lowell; Seacoast Coca-Cola; Great State Beverages; Video Update; Foodee's Pizza; Media One; Seacoast Newspapers; Rock 101 WGIR and 100.3 WHEB.

The Hampton Beach community, the state of New Hampshire and the millions of people who have entered our doors need to be saluted for their enduring support and patronage. As a result, fans can look forward to Customer Centennial Celebration Day '99 as the Casino Ballroom is planning an outdoor concert sometime this summer that will consist of numerous acts, food vendors, retail booths and much, much more. The event, which is planned to be in the Casino Ballroom's parking lot, hopes to welcome over 7,500 fans making for a memorable all-day festival.

And, what would a celebration year be without a year of exciting promotions? To celebrate the centennial celebration, Saturn of Haverhill, Portsmouth and Lowell will be giving away a car; the Fox Run Mall is providing us with a $25,000 prize pile; Great State Beverages is conducting a rock 'n jock getaway whereby one winner will be flown to Cleveland, Ohio, to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and an Indians game; Coca-Cola will be awarding the 100th person through the door each night with a Party Hardy Pack as well as one grand prize of a back yard Labor Day party, and Video Update will supply a lucky winner with 100 pieces of products including videos, games, DVDs and more. And, we're not done yet.

So, 100 years ago, a little place called the Hampton Beach Casino was built on a little seacoast in a little state called New Hampshire. Now, a century later, the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom stands as one of New England's most reputable, sought-out, premiere entertainment venues. This doesn't happen alone, We, together, built this spectacular, historic facility, and together we will enter a second century.

On behalf of everyone affiliated with the venue, we salute you, thank you and welcome you to celebrating a century of entertainment excellence here at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom.

[Cindy Burke is a spokeswoman for the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom.]

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