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Newport Music Hall and students anxiously await the return of live music on campus

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The outside facade of Newport Music Hall on North High Street. Credit: Christian Harsa | Asst. Photo Editor

Above the doors of the Newport Music Hall reads “We Miss U!” — a sentiment felt all too strongly by students missing live music. Despite not holding a live show in over a year, Newport Music Hall continues to be a place of fond memories for local artists and Ohio State students.

Located across from the Ohio Union at 1722 N. High St. is the Newport Music Hall, America’s “longest continually running rock club,” according to the venue’s website. Voted best concert venue by Lantern readers this year, Marissa McClellan, marketing director at Newport, said the venue has been serving the Ohio State and Columbus communities for more than 40 years.

“I think it adds to the character of campus,” McClellan said. “It gives the students something to do and something to look forward to, and Ohio State has been a great neighbor for us. We’ve definitely loved being on campus and creating memories for students, whether they come here from other cities, states and countries or they’re local to Columbus.”

Black and white photo of a white facade building with a large sign that read "Agora"

A newspaper clipping from a January 1979 edition of The Lantern. The ’79 article’s photo caption reads, “The Agora, 1722 N. High St., is trying to establish itself as one of Columbus’ leading entertainment centers. The Agora management hopes to feature one nationally-known band each week, from rock n’ roll to disco to country and western music.”

The building started off as a movie theater in 1923 but became the Agora Ballroom in 1970. It was later bought by entertainment production company PromoWest and renamed the Newport Music Hall in 1984, according to the venue’s website. Since then, Newport has hosted artists such as Neil Young, The Ramones, Green Day, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and more.

Although there are a multitude of other venues in the Columbus area, none of them are as close to campus as Newport. This makes it a campus staple where music fans can gather, Van Lowry, chief of finance and treasurer for the Music Industry Club at Ohio State and a fourth-year in communication, said. 

“The Newport is just crucial from a cultural standpoint as far as music goes because I think music kind of ties the community together — especially the campus community together — in a way that no other thing really could,” Lowry said. 

Cartier Pitts, a music manager at Carnelian Production LLC, a firm in Columbus that connects smaller musicians with new managers, said Newport isn’t just important to students — it is vital to many local artists in Columbus. 

“Local venues are extremely important, especially for the artists I’ve been working with for the past two years, because those are the first stages that they really get a chance to connect with potential new fans and get their face out there,” Pitts said.

McClellan said she hopes shows will be able to return this year, maybe even in time for the upcoming fall semester, but it depends on vaccination rates and instruction from city officials.

Pitts said she’s not sure if larger venues such as Newport are safe yet for large groups. Smaller venues, spread-out outdoor concerts and drive-in shows are what she said she expects to see this summer.

“I approve of smaller, socially distant shows, but as far as big ragers, if Coachella looks the way it normally does by this June, I think we’re doing something wrong,” Pitts said.

Zhenel Rawlinson, a fourth-year in music and an alternative R&B artist, said she has been able to perform intimate, seated shows at small venues in Columbus. The crowd size is often cut in half or more, and spectators must wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines.

“It would have been nice to see people’s faces, see them smiling sometimes during my set,” Rawlinson said.

Lowry said it’s important to support artists, now more than ever, by streaming their music, purchasing merch, following their social media accounts and donating.

“If you really like the people that you listen to, or you say you do, I think now’s the time to kind of show that more than ever and kind of just be a fan,” Lowry said.

Fans of Newport can sign up for its newsletter and check its website for updates on shows and events.