The 1,300 seat theater (800 on the floor and 500 upstairs in the balcony) has become the Swiss army knife of downtown, hosting musicals, dance recitals, concerts, community type events, the James Brown Birthday Bash, comedy, and even kickboxing tournaments.
“The Miller is the symphony’s house, so when they aren’t performing there are a lot of different genres of music happening here,” says Coco Rubio, the Miller Theater’s Operations Manager and co-owner of the Soul Bar down Broad Street.
The Symphony kicks off the 27th of September. It’s season lasting through April 2020. The Symphony gets first dibs on dates, and the Miller plugs in shows around their schedule of live performances and rehearsals.
According to Coco Rubio, a highlight of the year for him is the Black Jacket Symphony Series. Black Jacket Symphony features a group of musicians and artists handpicked specifically to perform different albums with various artists.
“They set up with their core musicians, then they bring in guests to perform with them. For Queen, they actually brought in the guy who did the vocals for the movie,” recalls Rubio. “They’ll have different guests artists…the guy who sang, Steve Perry, the Journey lead singer, came in just for that show. They rotate some of the lead singers and musicians for each show.”
The first installment of the program was Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, followed by Led Zeppelin 4, Queen’s Night at the Opera and Journey’s Departure.
This Friday, the Black Jacket Symphony is performing the seminal Eagles’ album Hotel California. During intermission, they will announce their next show and sell tickets in the lobby.
“Those shows have either sold out or come very close to selling out. The band announces what they are going to do during the intermission break, and then people buy tickets during intermission for the next show. The model is crazy and it’s amazing how good it is [the performance],” relays Rubio. “And the audience’s reaction and participation is super strong. [It’s] really, really good.”
According to Rubio, “the band loves playing the Miller and every six months or so they’re going to be coming back and doing a new album.”
Rubio continues, “another great show this past year that we had several months ago was Shovels and Rope and I’m With Her, and how good I’m With Her… kind of, people didn’t know who they were, but they quickly got everyone’s attention.”
I’m With Her is a super group made up of Sarah Watkins, who was one-third of Nickel Creek, Aoife O’Donovan was the lead singer of Crooked Still and last year Sarah Jarosz’s fourth studio album, “Undercurrent,” won the Grammy award for best folk album.
“They almost stole the show from Shovels and Rope as the opener. They were just so good that people actually just listened and were quiet because they were that, whoa, who are these three girls just killing it?” describes Rubio.
“Of course, Shovels and Rope were great, but it was nice to have a supergroup that people hadn’t seen before. ‘We want to see them again’ kind of thing. That was one that really stood out for me.”
“So far we’ve done about sixty shows this year. We’re hoping to get to a hundred by the end of the year,” Rubio relays.
The Miller hosted almost 120 shows last year. “We’re a little bit less this year. That’s ok. I don’t mind the nights off sometimes,” jokes Rubio.
The management and staff of the Miller are excited about a new space recently opened upstairs at the theater, the Knox Music Institute. The space, named after Peter Knox who donated the Miller to the Augusta Symphony a number years ago, is tucked away upstairs facing Broad Street and has a capacity of 250.
“We’re going to be using it this weekend for Arts in the Heart for a group art exhibit called Ride Or Die 4. It features a bunch of local art stars and Lauryn Sprouse is curating it. We’ll also be giving tours of the theater all weekend.”
Eric Kinlaw, co-owner of Bees Knees and the Hive downtown, is also going to be performing live music during the exhibit. According to Rubio, Kinlaw is setting up in the middle of the room with Marcus Barfield and Noel Brown doing sonic soundscapes from 11 am to 6 pm Saturday. “He’s kind of getting back into his music,” Rubio explains.
In addition, Nick Laws is shooting a little movie during Arts in the Heart on Saturday and Sunday. “They’re going to edit it and screen it on Sunday up here, also which will be a lot of fun. They’ll be showing some screenings and stuff then the last one is the one they just shot.”
The Knox Music Institute will be used for other events as well, “like singer songwriter series, maybe some jazz, [we can do] some comedy in here, some dance parties, it’s open floor for people if they want to dance, so it’s going to be a cool extra room in the building. It is open and we are booking it now. I call it the Knox Box,” said Rubio.
“This weekend people can just come in. We’re going to be open so we’ll have our folks here who can guide them around the theater. The bar will be open and we just want to invite guests of Arts in the Heart to come in and grab some air conditioning,” says Rubio. “People will get on stage and take photos from the stage. It was a big deal last year, but the space wasn’t really ready yet. Now it’s ready so we’re excited to have the art exhibit.”
Rubio declares proudly, “So that will be fun. We just want to have a good arts space that local artists can use for different things. It’s so cool to have it finally open now. We had the grand opening and ribbon cutting two weeks ago.”