By: Malcolm Mayhew
Anyone who’s ever listened to his or her favorite band play that one great song in concert understands the raw, unbridled power of live music. There’s just something special about being in the presence of gifted musicians, experiencing their unique art first-hand and sharing those notes and lyrics with thousands of like-minded fans. And while the formula might seem perfect just like that, something significant happens when we add a slight breeze through the crowd, a few twinkling stars in the night sky, and a natural landscape to the background.
It is for this reason, this unexplainable elevation of live music in the presence of nature to something more than just a sound experience, that open-air amphitheaters exist. So this month we will visit some of the best outdoor music venues in the country in hopes that fair weather and your favorite band will meet you there.
Red Rocks Amphitheatre—Morrison, Colo. Mother Nature created her very own music venue just south of Golden, Colorado, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. At 6,450 feet above sea level, Red Rocks Amphitheatre is a naturally formed amphitheater boasting natural acoustic perfection by way of two 300-foot red sandstone monoliths that tower over 10,000 seats. Set amid 868-acre Red Rocks Park, a geological phenomenon, and overlooking a yawning panorama of Denver and the surrounding Great Plains, this venue offers so much more than just great music. During the summer, the amphitheater also hosts fitness events like Yoga on the Rocks and the Red Rocks Fitness Challenge along with hiking and biking trails.
The Greek Theatre—Los Angeles, Calif. Los Angeles is home to some of the world’s greatest music venues, and topping that extensive list is the award-winning Greek Theatre. Here, tucked away amid the mountains and woodlands of Griffith Park, this cozy amphitheater seats less than 6,000, while offering exceptional views from anywhere. Last year the theater was named “Best Small Outdoor Venue of the Year” for the 15th time at the Annual Pollstar Awards. Meanwhile, Griffith Park, one of the nation’s largest municipal parks with urban wilderness, offers more than 53 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails and more than 4,000 acres of mostly untouched wilderness.
Gorge Amphitheatre—George, Wash. Perhaps the most scenic concert venue in North America is the Gorge Amphitheatre overlooking the Columbia River and the Columbia Gorge canyon with a breathtaking expanse of the Cascade Mountains behind. This amphitheater holds more than 20,000 guests and includes a sprawling general admission lawn terrace. For an extended stay, concertgoers can pitch a tent or park their RV at the Gorge’s campground during the nights before and after most concerts. The Gorge is also home to the Memorial Day Sasquatch! Music Festival, a four-day event featuring indie rock, alternative, singer-songwriter and hip-hop music styles.
Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater—Park City, Utah Located slopeside at Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah, Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater is a relaxing open-air music venue providing a summer of ski town entertainment. Whether it’s a world-renowned artist or a local band, Snow Park concertgoers are typically mixing food and music amid blankets, coolers and a spread of picnic goodies like a Deer Valley Gourmet Picnic Basket or something tasty from the Deer Valley Grocery Café. The amphitheater plays host to the summer-long Deer Valley Music Festival—home to the Utah Symphony and the Utah Opera—as well as the Big Stars, Bright Nights Concert Series, a nonprofit organization aimed at bringing the arts to under-served audiences.
The Woods Amphitheater—Nashville, Tenn. Just outside of Nashville, Tennessee, on the former estate of country music legend Barbara Mandrell, sits The Woods Amphitheater. Sheltered on all sides by a charming, wooded landscape, the sounds from the main stage and the views from the crowd are amplified by the lush surroundings of the Whites Creek valley and the rich music history that lies beyond. With only 4,500 seats, this cozy natural amphitheater makes for a comfortable, family-friendly atmosphere. The property surrounding The Woods Amphitheater includes The Inn at Fontanel, a luxurious boutique hotel, as well as a full-service restaurant and two miles of trails throughout the property.
The Crosby Theatre—Santa Fe, N.M. Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a unique and historic city known for its inspiring landscapes and deep appreciation for the arts. It’s no wonder then that it should be home to something as special as The Crosby Theatre, one of the most spectacular open-air theaters in a most spectacular desert setting. Surrounded by the Jemez Mountains to the west and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east, the award-winning architecture of the theater spans more than 26,500 square feet, seats more than 2,000 guests and is home to the Santa Fe Opera. The theater’s most noticeable feature, the three-piece curved rooftop, was designed to capture the “shape of the sound” and works to direct the acoustic reflections of sound from the stage to the audience, helping to produce the most remarkable performances.
Nikon at Jones Beach Theater—Wantagh, N.Y. World Famous Jones Beach State Park on the south shore of Long Island is a 6.5-mile stretch of beautiful white sand beach with more than 2,400 acres of maritime environment. Other than the boardwalk and the nature center, Jones Beach is almost entirely surrounded by an undeveloped oceanfront environment. Such an uncluttered landscape makes the view from the 15,000-seat Nikon at Jones Beach Theater, situated at water’s edge and overlooking Zach's Bay, an unforgettable concert experience punctuated by a warm sea breeze and the not-too-distant sound of crashing waves.
The Mountain Winery—Saratoga, Calif. While it may not have all the trappings of the conventional sprawling amphitheater, The Mountain Winery in Saratoga, California, earns its place among the country’s most unique outdoor concert venues. While the winery building itself dates back to 1907, the winery’s concert bowl wasn’t built until 1958. The stage’s dramatic backdrop consists of the historic winery building’s impressive Spanish portal, while the amphitheater’s 2,500 seats are surrounded by a picturesque landscape of gardens, redwood groves and vineyards. The Mountain Winery offers its popular Concert Summer Series along with a number of smaller concert events throughout the year, including Wine & Jazz Brunch, Sangria Sunday and Dinner & Dancing events.
The Festival Circuit
The tune for the season is set next month just three hours south. Take advantage of a year full of festivals and follow the sounds from Sweet Home Alabama to Hotel California.
South by Southwest
Austin, Texas – March 11-20
Start the festival season early with big names and future stars of original music, independent film and emerging technology at this interactive event.
Gulf Shores, Ala. – May 20-22
This high-energy music festival attracts an always-eclectic lineup while still managing a chill atmosphere. Oh, and it’s on the beach.
Napa Valley, Calif. – May 27-29
Nothing complements more than 70 musical artists playing on four stages better than California’s finest collection of local vino, craft brew and culinary offerings.
Manchester, Tenn. – June 9-12
Not for the faint of heart, this hardcore festival includes camping, costumes, art, parades, food trucks and loads of great music. Plus there’s a Christmas barn.
Telluride Bluegrass Festival
Telluride, Colo. – June 16-19
How else would you rather spend the summer solstice than listening to bluegrass in a historic mountain town in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado?
Newport Folk Festival
Newport, R.I. – July 22-24
A truly historic musical event for old school Dylan fans and hard rockers alike; this festival by the sea is for the whole family.
Austin City Limits Music Festival
Austin, Texas – Sept. 30 - Oct.2 & Oct. 7-9
This late-season festival is a great way to close out the summer in style with two long weekends of rock, folk, dance and hip-hop close to home.
By: Malcolm Mayhew