Cohoes Music Hall: Beacon of Artistic and Ecological Innovation in Cohoes, NY

A Place of Beginnings and Endings

In the thriving town of Cohoes, New York, back in 1874, two entrepreneurial locals, miller William Acheson and newspaper proprietor James Masten, pooled their resources to construct a majestic four-story music hall.

This hall, which came to be known as The Cohoes Music Hall, was erected during the prime of this growing mill town, standing proudly at the heart of the city’s business district.

This architectural masterpiece was conceptualized to accommodate retail outlets on the ground floor, office spaces on the second floor, and a magnificent music hall that could seat 475 attendees, spanning the third and fourth floors.

The Grand Opening

The grand opening of the Cohoes Music Hall, held on November 23, 1874, was marked with a performance of Dion Boucicault’s London Assurance.

This marked the beginning of a tradition of arrangements that would make this hall known far and wide for its diverse range of entertainers.

Over the years, the hall hosted various performers, including Pat Rooney, P.T. Barnum’s baby elephant Hunky Punky, Buffalo Bill Cody, General Tom Thumb, John Philip Sousa, and Cohoes native La Petite Adelaide.

Eva Tanguay, who once graced the stage of the Hall at the tender age of 12 in the play Little Lord Fauntleroy, would eventually rise to become one of the most illustrious entertainers of her era.

A Period of Transition

In 1880, The National Bank of Cohoes initiated a lease for the building’s first floor, eventually gaining full ownership by 1905.

However, after three decades of financial turmoil, the bank was compelled to shut down the Music Hall.

A Phoenix Rising

The year 1968 saw the bank transferring the ownership of the building to the City of Cohoes for a mere $1.

As a result, ambitious plans were drawn up for its restoration and revival, leading the city to amass over a million dollars for a comprehensive restoration project.

Span of over five years later, the theatre came back to life with a stunning performance of London Assurance on March 7, 1975, marking the centennial of the original opening.

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Today’s Vibrancy

Since its revival, the Cohoes Music Hall in New York State has served as a vibrant venue for diverse theater troupes, various comedy performances, and an array of live music concerts.

The Hall retains its historical significance as the fourth oldest operating music venue in the United States.

Today, it’s managed by Playhouse Stage Company, fostering a thriving local arts scene that continues to inspire and entertain the community.

The Cohoes Music Hall is more than a building. It’s a symbol of the city’s resilience, a monument to its history, and a testament to the enduring power of the arts.

With its ornate style, brilliant acoustics, and intimate house, the Music Hall continues to be a fantastic venue.

Cohoes Music Hall
Cohoes Music Hall” by B. J. Deming is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Rise and Fall of Eva Tanguay

Born in 1878, Eva Tanguay was one of Vaudeville’s biggest success stories. She began performing at a young age, touring around the northeast with various theater troupes.

Despite her early years in the entertainment world, she quickly made her mark as an artist, noted for her electrifying stage presence and innate talent.

Her electric personality, playful spirit, and risqué outfits earned her quite the reputation as her career grew.

Eva graced the stage of the Music Hall on multiple occasions, and each performance met with overwhelming acclaim.

During her fame, Eva made $3,500 a week, the highest-paid vaudeville performer of her day.

This would equate to roughly $40,000 a week in today’s money. However, Eva’s fame and wealth would not last forever.

As her career waned over time, she lost her fortune in the stock market crash.

Finally, at the end of her career, Eva’s circumstances turned so dire that a former showgirl friend had to spearhead fundraising efforts for her support.

Spending her final years in her Hollywood, CA home, Eva passed away at 68.

A Haunting Legacy

Over the years, many have claimed that Eva’s playful spirit has shown up in the Cohoes Music Hall, playing tricks on performers and staff and making herself known through EVP recordings and various sightings.

As a result, it is now a tradition for performers who come through the space to leave her a tribute before shows to ward off her meddling antics.

A Cultural Hub

As of 2023, the hall continues to thrive as the 4th oldest operational music hall in the United States, hosting various events.

One such event, “The Great Van Alden ft. Eric Mead,” allowed attendees to participate in the magic of filmmaking while Melvin Seals & JGB brought their high-spirited musical mix to Hall’s stage.

The venue also hosts theater productions, such as “Don’t Iron While the Strike is Hot,” a musical that tells the story of courageous young women and their fight for workers’ rights.

Revitalization and Renewal: The Future of Cohoes Music Hall

As Cohoes Music Hall embarks on its journey into the future, a transformative chapter unfolds, marked by a blend of heritage preservation and modern innovation.

This historic venue, deeply rooted in the cultural fabric of Cohoes, NY, is not just reliving its past glory but is also stepping confidently into a new era of sustainability and artistic diversity.

The recent infusion of $1.88 million in funding is a cornerstone of this new phase. This investment is earmarked for a major upgrade that transcends mere aesthetic refurbishment.

The goal is to transform the Cohoes Music Hall into an energy-efficient, carbon-neutral building.

This initiative is a part of the broader “Restore Historic Cohoes Initiative,” which reflects a commitment to marrying 21st-century environmental stewardship with preserving historical treasures.

As the city and its partners work on these renovations, they envision a Music Hall that honors its architectural legacy and leads the way in ecological responsibility.

Alongside these physical transformations, the Music Hall’s event calendar is buzzing with new life.

The announcement of diverse shows like “Hootenanny at the Hall,” “A Night of Joni Mitchell,” and “Stephen Pearcy’s The Voice Of RATT” is a testament to the Hall’s continued relevance in the contemporary entertainment landscape.

These events showcase the Hall’s versatility, catering to various musical tastes and artistic expressions.

From the resonating strings of bluegrass and country to the vibrant tributes to rock legends, the Hall is set to offer a rich tapestry of auditory experiences.

Furthermore, the Music Hall’s programming reflects its commitment to fostering local talent and celebrating regional music.

The focus on showcasing local artists like Zan & The Winter Folk, Girl Blue, Hold on Honeys, and Belle-Skinner, especially in events like the Joni Mitchell tribute night, underscores a dedication to nurturing and highlighting the creative prowess within the Capital Region.

In its 150th year since its initial opening and 50th year since its rebirth, Cohoes Music Hall is poised not only to reminisce about its storied past but to shape its future actively.

These efforts to restore and modernize the Hall, coupled with a vibrant array of programming, ensure that it continues to be a central, dynamic force in the cultural life of Cohoes and beyond.

The Hall’s journey is one of resilience, renewal, and a forward-looking vision, making it a beacon of artistic vibrancy and community pride for years to come.

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