Amica Mutual Pavilion has been celebrating its 50th year in existence as the stalwart arena in Providence, Rhode Island. Those celebrations peaked May 26 with a Pitbull concert that followed a lunchtime gala and dedication to retired promoter Frank J. Russo, who promoted more than 600 touring artists at the venue throughout the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.
The dedication to the longtime promoter reads “In honor of Frank J. Russo for his loyalty and commitment to live events in the State of Rhode Island 1972-2022. Promoted over 600 touring artists at the Providence Civic Center such as Elvis Presley, Elton John, Frank Sinatra, Grateful Dead, KISS and many more.”
Along with the dedication to Russo, the event also brought together general managers of the arena from past and present, with John Simmons, Steve Lombardi, John Wentzell and Lee Esckilsen joining current GM Larry Lepore to note the occasion. The 14,000-
seat venue, previously known as Dunkin’ Donuts Center and, historically, Providence Civic Center, looks back at a rich history while continuing to serve its community and clients with a personal touch. The arena is credited with bringing people to downtown Providence and developing a strong culture of live music.
“It was a beautiful, first-class venue,” said Russo, living in Florida (while keeping a residence in Rhode Island) and mostly retired from concert promotion since selling his business in the ’90s. Russo rattles off memorable concerts produced at the arena at will, noting how, at the time, being in Providence was attractive to performers looking to enjoy the city.
“Billy Joel played three shows there in 1990, and instead of going to Foxborough for three days, he wanted to perform at night and then go to (nearby) Block Island every day to go fishing,” said Russo. “There was always multiple shows — three Barry Manilows, three Grateful Deads, always multiple dates for artists in Providence.”
Russo stresses the loyalty of touring bands to local promoters in those days, and says he considers himself very fortunate to work closely with artists like Aerosmith, Frank Zappa, Frank Sinatra and KISS in particular as regular tour stops in Providence and greater New England.
He says that longtime touring artists like John Mellencamp, Metallica and Ozzy Osbourne continue to surround themselves with top-notch teams and do the right thing — even to the point of returning money to the promoter on shows that stiffed.
Russo, proud to mention six children, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, says the concert business has been good to him, allowing him to enjoy time with his family and remain successful after selling his business. Nonetheless, Russo bristles when mentioning Boston-area competitor and still active promoter Don Law, and bemoans the dominance of Live Nation on the national touring circuit.
In recent years, Russo was part of Andrea Bocelli’s tours, although blood-clot issues have prevented him from traveling. He was brought on to co-promote the Boston dates of Genesis’ 2021 “The Last Domino?” tour promoted by Michael Cohl, which he says he was thrilled to be part of. Russo proudly proclaims his status as the third original subscriber to Pollstar, with Bill Graham and Barry Fey being the ones to come before him.
Loyalty remains at Amica Mutual Pavilion, with artists returning to the venue in 2022 including James Taylor and Barry Manilow, while New Edition played in late April of this year after multiple stops in the ’80s. This year also sees WWE and Ringling Brothers Events at the arena, all of which played the Providence Civic Center in its first year of operation.
“There were no other facilities in New England with the exception of the old Boston Garden, really, so when it opened in ’73, it was literally the only luxury arena that had, you know, air conditioning,” says ASM Global’s Larry Lepore, general manager of the arena. “Before the building opened in the city of Providence, there were three hotels, one of them was boarded up and closed. Today, there’s probably 11 hotels.”
The arena is undergoing $20 million worth of renovations this year including getting a new roof, which is nearly the only thing still intact from the original building. The arena will close from June through August to undergo those renovations.
See the full 50th Anniversary Amica Mutual Pavilion story in the June issue of VenuesNow.