Ah, summer. The season of BBQs, baseball and the beach. Give those summertime soirees their due, but few things can compare to live music at a beautiful outdoor venue with the warm summer breeze wafting through your hair and a cold drink in hand.
For some, the experience has a historical aspect to it; open-air events were enjoyed in Ancient Greece and Rome and many outdoor venues have National Historic Landmark status or have a special place in music history. For others, it’s the thrill of standing under an open sky, taking in the views while the music surrounds you. These concert goers purchase tickets every summer no matter the lineup or how high the service charge is.
While not every city has a Red Rocks, plenty of amazing outdoor venues exist across the country that are worth the trip. Here are a few to check out this summer:
The Gorge: George, Washington
While almost any city or town can find a sloped hill and install a stage at the bottom of it, few places can match the natural beauty of The Gorge Amphitheatre in Washington. Situated above the Columbia River Gorge, this 25,000-seat venue takes the term “not a bad seat in the house” to a new level. If you aren’t one of the lucky few seated in the reserved section close to the stage, the consolation is breathtaking: majestic views of the Columbia River Gorge from the tiered lawn section. And while the majority of people come to the Gorge to hear live music, the views still take precedence due to the transparent stage setup. Minus a few support beams, speaker racks and a wide screen or two, you can see past the band and fixate on the mile-wide vistas. The views only get better as the sun sets and the river glistens under the moonlight.
Located about two hours outside of Seattle, The Gorge also has camping facilities, making every show have a festival-like atmosphere. Named the top outdoor amphitheatre in the United States nine years in a row, The Gorge always attracts top talent and this year’s lineup isn’t any different. Upcoming shows include: Dead & Company, Phish and Dave Matthews. See full schedule.
Shoreline Amphitheater: Mountain View, California
One of the Grateful Dead’s favorite venues to play at, Shoreline Amphitheatre was built in 1985-1986 by the city of Mountain View, in cooperation with local promoter Bill Graham, as part of the Shoreline Park project. With a capacity of 22,000 seats, including lawn seats, Graham designed the amphitheatre to resemble The Grateful Dead’s “steal your face” logo. Each row of fixed seating at the amphitheatre has a pitch of three feet, providing ample legroom and space for dancing.
Shoreline remains one of the country’s marque outdoor concert venues hosting some of the biggest names in music every year. Upcoming shows include Flight of the Conchords, San Francisco Symphony and Rascal Flats. See full schedule.
Greek Theatre: Los Angeles, California
Opened in 1929, the intimate Greek Theatre once housed barracks during the Second World War. Today it ranks among the best small outdoor concert venues in the country. Located in picturesque Griffith Park, which is a world away from the roving eyes of the paparazzi and the smog-filled, traffic-laden highways of L.A, the 5801-seat theater hosts some of the biggest names in music. Upcoming shows include Ringo Starr And His All Starr Band, Goo Goo Dolls and Steve Miller Band. See full schedule.
Crosby Theatre: Santa Fe, NM
Crosby opened in 1998 with a seating capacity of 2,128, primarily as an Opera venue. The striking, state-of-the-art, open-air theater has won several design awards and is widely recognized for blending contemporary design aesthetics with traditional building materials. Of course, the natural aesthetics play a part too, with a panorama of breathtaking scenery, featuring the Jemez Mountains to the west and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east. Every seat and standing room position offers an Opera Titles screen—a digital computer screen on which instantaneous translations in English and Spanish are broadcast. The combined area of the sweeping stage and mezzanine roofs covers 26,615 square feet with a clerestory joining the two roofs—the “shape of the sound” inspired the roof concept and its curves directly follow the acoustic reflections of sound from the stage to the audience. Conservationists will appreciate another advantage of the large roof—its capability to collect rainwater; approximately 60,000 gallons can be stored annually and used to maintain the opera grounds. Upcoming shows and performances include: The Santa Fe Opera, La Fanciulla del West and Don Giovanni. See full schedule.
Red Rocks Amphitheater: Morrison, CO
Opened in 1941 with a seating capacity of 9,525 and at an elevation of 6450 feet above sea level, Red Rocks is, in many way, in a class of it’s own. While many outdoor music venues boast unique features, Red Rocks, a geologically formed, open-air Amphitheatre, is like nothing else in the world. With Mother Nature as the architect, the design of the Amphitheatre consists of two, three hundred-foot sandstone monoliths (Ship Rock and Creation Rock) that provide acoustic perfection for any performance. The area of Red Rocks, originally known as the Garden of Angels, has attracted the attention of musical performers since before the turn of the century. The majestic setting of the Amphitheatre, along with the panoramic view of Denver, makes for a truly breathtaking scene. In a way, the music is just added value. Upcoming shows include Blues Traveler, Flight of the Conchords and Medeski, Martin & Wood. See full schedule.
Jay Pritzker Pavilion: Chicago, Illinois
Few cities can boast having a better outdoor concert venue than New York’s Central Park Summerstage but the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in downtown Chicago comes close. The Pavilion is an architectural wonder. Designed by acclaimed architect Frank Gehry, visitors marvel at its weaving, stainless steel headdress. Located in Millennium Park, the Pavilion offers spectacular views of the Windy City skyline and harbor and is extremely accessible. Yet it’s greatest feature is that it hosts at least one free concert or performance every day during the summer. The weekly Grant Park Music Festival features a variety of performances on varying days while the On Stage at Noon series features a concert or performance midday every day. Upcoming shows include Juho Pohjonen (Pianist), Rachel Barton Pine (violinist) and Bruckner Romantic Symphony and The New World Symphony. See full schedule.
Saratoga Performing Arts Center: Saratoga Springs, New York
From the New York City Ballet to the Philadelphia Orchestra to Bon Jovi to Brad Paisley, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in horse-mad Saratoga Springs, New York, is a one-stop entertainment venue throughout the summer. Built in the mid-1960s as the summer home of the New York Philharmonic and New York City Ballet, the SPAC has played host to a lot more than classical music and pirouettes. As you enter the facility, admire its natural beauty. Towering pines surround the theatre. The Doors, Pink Floyd and the Chicago Ballet have all performed at the partially enclosed, 10-story amphitheatre. That diversity continues today. Upcoming shows include Phish, Journey & The Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan and Dave Matthews. See full schedule.
Time Warner Cable Music Pavilion at Walnut Creek: Raleigh, North Carolina
With 7,000 covered seats and a sloped general admission lawn that seats thousands more, the Time Warner Cable Music Pavilion at Walnut Creek is the latest in a long line of corporate amphitheaters, built in the past 20 years. What separates this theater from the rest is its location slightly southeast of Raleigh, North Carolina. The picturesque small-town setting immediately relaxes concertgoers and you won’t fight traffic nor pushy ticket resellers to get to the venue. But be warned: parking at the venue is steep.
The Pavilion showcases day-long concerts by small acts and features the same VIP amenities available at other open-air theaters. It attracts a variety of big-time touring acts as well. Upcoming shows include Florida Georgia Line, Kool & The Gang, Gwen Stefani, Snoop Dog and Counting Crows. See full schedule.