Hampton Beach Casino

Historic New England Ballroom Features Bag End Bass Sound System

If you are a New Englander you’ve undoubtedly heard of it, but for the uninitiated, the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom is one of the best-kept secrets on the East Coast. The venerable, 102-year-old structure was built in the late 1890s when Massachusetts businessman Wallace D. Lovell, owner of the Exeter, Hampton and Amesbury Street Railway Company, commissioned construction of a two-story wood-frame building. The purpose was to draw people into the Hampton Beach area and stimulate business during the languid summer months. The building opened on July 15, 1899, as the Hampton Beach Casino.

In 1927 the casino, now a thriving enterprise, was purchased by John J. Dineen, who added the ballroom, creating a new chapter in the casino’s history. Incorporating part of the old Opera House, plus added space toward the south, the ballroom could hold nearly 5,000 people on special nights and holidays. The stunning wooden dance floor was one of the largest in the region and soon became the most popular summer nightspot in the area.

More than 20,000 people were soon dancing at the ballroom every week with an added benefit of a special air-conditioning system (a true luxury in the 1920’s). At the peak of its popularity during the 1930’s big band era, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, and other legends headlined the room. Though liquor was prohibited and the dress code strict, thousands jammed onto the dance floor each summer to dance beneath the big, mirrored ball.

When pop music became the thing in the 1950’s, the ballroom booked hot acts, that included the Supremes, the Four Tops, the Kingston Trio, Peter Paul and Mary. In the ‘60’s, as America’s musical tastes changed, performers such as Janis Joplin, the Doors, the Beach Boys, the Who, and Led Zepplin appeared. But that run came to a crashing halt in the early 70’s. Jethro Tull was scheduled to do a show at the ballroom in 1971, but more than 3,000 fans without tickets showed up. A riot ensued, the National Guard had to be called in, and the town of Hampton banned rock concerts from the ballroom.

Subsequently, the casino was sold to the current owners, who spent more than a million dollars, between 1977 and 1982 to renovate the casino. Originally strictly a summer season venue, the new owners expanded it to a nine-month facility, open from Feb. 1 to Nov. 30 each year. And major, live entertainment is back bigger than ever.

For many years, ballroom management – because of the short season – used a temporary sound system. Rainbow Sound Productions, a division of New England Audio Tech LLC of Hampstead. N.H., had been contracted to provide the temporary, seasonal sound system since the early ‘80’s. So when the management decided to invest in a permanent sound system for the ballroom, they turned to New England Audio Tech and principal Bill Blaine. “The ballroom is still very original, an old wooden building on the second floor. The stage has been added to and modified – there is very little steel in the place,” Blaine said.. “So it’s very good acoustically to begin with and feels very intimate – like a 2,000-seat nightclub.”

Blaine said he had only one goal: to put in the best sound he could. “We tried a lot of different subwoofers,” Blaine said. “We chose the Bag End Quartz for just one reason: they sounded the best.” Blaine chose six high-performance Quartz subwoofer systems to provide the bottom. The six cabinets, containing four 18-inch subwoofers each, are hidden under the ballroom’s stage.

The Quartz is a high definition, low distortion, system loaded with four 18-inch subwoofers, that handle 1600 watts continuous sine ware or music program, that is capable of going down to 8 Hz. “I’ve had the good fortune of working this room for the past five years,” house sound engineer Mike Morrison said. “And after working with two or three other systems, I have to say we’ve come up with a winner – the Bag End’s are the subs of choice here.”Fred Schaake, general manager of the casino ballroom, is also pleased with the quality of the new sound system. “It’s working well,” he said. “Most of the acts that play our room comment on how happy they are with the system.”

One example of the ballroom’s long and illustrious history: It claims to be the only venue in the world that has hosted three generations of Nelsons. Ozzie and Harriet played Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom before the TV show made them a household name in the ‘50’s. Ozzie led a popular dance band and Harriet was the band’s singer in the In the ‘30’s, Son Rickie, a star rock singer and guitarist in his own right in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, played there numerous times, and Rickie’s twin sons Gunnar and Matthew, played the room in the ‘90’s.

New England Audio Tech – or NEAT – was founded in 1978 by Blaine. It is primarily a concert production company working with a group of promoters around New England. Rainbow Concert Productions is a division of NEAT.