Some of the biggest acts in music history have strolled down the halls of the Von Braun Center in downtown Huntsville. That venue has served as the location for most of Huntsville’s major events since the doors were opened in 1975.
The VBC offers multiple venues for presenting cultural, educational, entertainment, conventions as well as sporting and social events. While the facility has undergone numerous expansions and renovations, the backstage area of the arena has been changed little since it opened nearly a half century ago.
That has changed with the $4 million expansion began in December 2020 and was recently completed. The original space included one locker room that was often subdivided into two spaces, plus multiple small dressing rooms.
With this latest addition, the backstage now includes six dressing rooms, two private star lounges, four locker rooms, a catering and media room, office space, commercial-grade laundry room, and more.
“The intent of the project was to not only bring our backstage spaces up to current sports and entertainment standards, but to surpass the expectations that touring teams and stars come to expect,” said VBC executive director Steve Maples. “We wanted to give them a ‘Wow’ moment when they enter our facility, give them a reason to not stay on their bus, and ultimately leave a lasting impression.”
The Von Braun Center has brought thousands of events to Huntsville through the arena, including top-tier artists like Elton John, Jackson Five, Jimmy Buffet, Prince, The Eagles, Aerosmith, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Charlie Pride, and Alabama, in an abbreviated list.
VBC officials point out that the venue is playing host to more than music events. Huntsville’s Southern Professional Hockey League – the Huntsville Havoc – call the VBC Propst Arena home.
The new backstage additions to the arena will make hosting future sporting events and large-scale events easier with more space and accessibility for all performers, teams, and participants.
The outcome of the year-long project leaves the arena’s backstage with dressing rooms and star lounges that look and feel like a 5-star hotel, according to VBC director of Marketing and Public Relations Samantha Nielsen. Amidst fresh paint and plush furniture, entertainers and crews will enjoy the hand-picked artwork hanging on the walls, she said.
“More than just giving our guests a fantastic space, they can relax and enjoy their time. We took great care into thoughtfully picking each of the art elements and special little details that welcome each individual to Huntsville,” Nielsen said. “For instance, each of the new rooms are in keeping with the space theme that’s prevalent throughout the Rocket City.”
The main star lounge is called the “Galaxy Lounge.” Other space-centric spaces include, “Mission Control” (the production office), and “Launchpad” (the training room). Each of the dressing rooms are identified by a planet’s name, according to Nielsen.
As performers, athletes and crews walk down the main corridor running the length of the expansion, they will come across enlarged photograph panels highlighting past events in the arena. In the opposite direction leading to the star lounges and dressing rooms, vibrant large-scale photographs by well-known talented local photographer, Dennis Keim, capture a creative glimpse into the beauty of music – like his brightly colored closeup shot of eight guitars, or his black and white detailed photograph of a man’s hands playing a Les Paul.
Once inside the Galaxy Lounge, one of the most notable moments in VBC history is showcased. Elvis photographs found in The Huntsville Times archives illustrate his time at the VBCC in 1975 when he played five consecutive sold-out shows, and then again in 1976 with another two sold-out shows. Photographs include an enlarged performance shot capturing the moment he threw his scarf into the crowd; the outdoor marquee showing ELVIS – SOLD OUT; and excited concertgoers lined up in front of the building waiting to get in for the shows.
Off to the side, in a bank of four dressing rooms, framed photographs with the artist’s name and date the picture was taken at the VBC further illustrate the history of past stars who have performed in the building
Step into the private star chambers – Lunar Lounge – and the reason behind the city’s nickname becomes clear. Enlarged Dennis Keim photographs highlight the U.S. Space and Rocket Center’s Saturn V rocket, accompanied by a large oil painting of an astronaut.
As performers leave the spacious and luxurious quarters to take to the stage, the last pieces of art seen is a large 28-foot by 7-foot photograph broken into three panels featuring the Saturn V rocket at night with traffic light trails leading the way towards the audience.
Adjacent is a hand-painted mural by local artist, Brandon Stoll. The painting gives
the viewer the perspective that they are standing on the surface of Mars looking at a directional signpost indicating the backstage room names.
If there was one takeaway from the investment in the arena’s backstage area, it was expressed by Steve Maples when referring to the celebrities appearing at the VBC. The idea was to create an impression on visitors to Huntsville; a “Wow Moment.”
Ray Garner is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News.