If These Walls Could Talk
by George Wolf
If you’ve lived anywhere near Columbus, Ohio during the last few decades, you’ve probably got some great memories of the longest continually running rock club in America: Newport Music Hall.
Full disclosure: I tended bar right next door for two years, was lucky enough to meet many of the Newport headliners, even used the access from the shared basement storeroom to sneak some behind stage access a time or two.
My wife and I had our first date there at a Warren Zevon show in 1990. Years later we dropped our teenage son off to see some band I can’t remember.
Still, I instantly think of an electric James Brown concert in 1986. It was the second of two sold out shows at the Newport, and Mr. Dynamite was riding a smash with “Living in America.” He loaded the stage with about 500 band members, never letting up until we begged for mercy.
Pure funky magic.
The Newport has enjoyed countless nights of magic in the 50 years since it began hosting live shows as the Agora in 1970. If These Walls Could Talk gives the club the respectful, nostalgic salute it deserves, one full of history, some rockin’ archival footage, and plenty of damn good stories.
Ted Nugent threatening a sound man’s life. Melissa Etheridge going acoustic when the power went out. Todd Rundgren staying up all night to fix the sound system. Future O.A.R. members walking to class at Ohio State and dreaming of playing on the Newport stage. U2 live for four dollars and fifty cents.
And offstage, the tale of how Scott Stienecker saved the North High St. venue in 1984 ain’t bad, either. The short version: sorry Walgreens, hello Newport.
The film effortlessly cements how important the Agora/Newport has been not only to Columbus, but to the entire live music industry. Executive Producer Jason Corron understandably has more footage from recent concerts at his disposal, but he creates enough of an overall sense of history to make the classic moments that much more resonant.
No director is credited, and there are some moments of bumpy production values (sound mix transitions, especially) that could have benefitted from an experienced filmmaking hand.
But If These Walls Could Talk will have fans practically salivating for the return of live music. It will remind you how unforgettable the intimacy of a small club can be, and just how much of a gem we have right here in our backyard.
50 years. Here’s to 50 more.