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State Theatre goes dark with regrets

The State Theatre lowered the curtain Friday night, ending just over two years of a music revival of sleepy Central Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg.

Some 300 music fans showed up to watch a dynamic show by nationally acclaimed blues woman Rory Block and bid farewell to the venue that has provided a bright spot on the bay area's music scene, primarily in the past nine months under the management team of Logan and Susan Neill.

Before introducing Block, the Neills took the stage to explain that the theater was closing because the building was under prior debt. They thanked the crowd for its support over the months, brought their two young children on stage and received a standing ovation for their programing efforts.

Sadness hung over the evening prior to show time. One couple brought a cake inscribed with "Thanks For All The Great Shows." Channel 44 was on hand to do a live remote. And many patrons milled in the lobby lamenting the closing of the theater at a time when it appeared to be thriving artistically.

The State hardly had the look of a theater about to go dark. The walls were still covered with glossy, autographed photos of performers who have graced the venue in the past year and lured music fans to an otherwise quiet section of downtown St. Petersburg. Those acts included David Grisman, Tony Rice, Sue Foley, James Cotton, Lucinda Williams, Ricky Skaggs and Stephen Stills.

"It's absolutely sad," said Bill Wasel, a St. Petersburg musician. "There are no other places around here to hear this kind of music."

That was the general sentiment of the enthusiastic audience.

Jeff and Elizabeth Carr came from Tampa to see Block and the State finale. "We thought we were going to really get something good with the State," Jeff said. "It's intimate and real. You can sit right down front and really see the performers."

"I used to come here as a child," said Kathryn Lenstet of Largo, referring to the old moviehouse days of the State. "Now I've been able to come and hear Celtic music and blues and other things and I really hate to see it close."

"It's typical of downtown St. Pete," said Kai Warren, echoing a common feeling Friday night. "When we get something good, something happens."

Even Block shared in the disappointment. "I was very sad when I heard (the Neills') intro," she said as she took the stage. "I hope it's not long before this venue reopens."


Rory Block

Friday at the State Theatre