Amphitheaters have been used as a hub of entertainment for thousands of years. Today, communities looking to attract weekend and leisure travelers to fill hotel rooms and boost their economies invest in amphitheaters to create a regional or national draw. They also serve as a hub for cultural development in a city and help create community pride and a sense of place. Many communities choose to partner with a private-sector operator to manage the amphitheater and book talent on their behalf. Read on to learn more about five amazing amphitheaters that define their communities.
The only problem with outdoor amphitheaters is dealing with inclement weather conditions. The Crosby Theatre, which is part of the Santa Fe Opera, was constructed in a way that covers the stage and audience and protects them from the elements while still providing the audience with breathtaking views of New Mexico. The original theater was built in 1957 but was later destroyed by a fire in 1967. It was rebuilt in 1968 with more seating, but after a particularly rainy season, the theater was reconstructed again in 1998 to further increase the seating capacity to 2,126 and provide more cover for the audience and stage. The sides of the theater remain completely open to allow for a breeze and a beautiful view and the rear of the stage has sliding doors that allow for the option to watch the sun set on the horizon while watching the performance. Even though this theater has more of a manmade footprint than some of the others on this list, the design of the building incorporates the New Mexico pueblo style with modern twists that really take this venue over the top.
The impact that it has on the New Mexico economy is just as impressive with the Santa Fe Opera bringing in $200 million of economic impact every year!
Image courtesy of InSight Foto
While some of the other amphitheaters in this list have been awarded with Pollstar Magazine’s “Best Small Outdoor Venue Award,” Red Rocks Amphitheatre won the award so many times that in 1999 Pollstar renamed the award to the “Red Rocks Award” and banned Red Rocks from competing for the honor. The amphitheater gets its name from the red-colored sandstone rocks that surround the venue. And while the monoliths have naturally been forming the amphitheater for over 200 million years, the manmade stage and seating that are there now were constructed over 5 years from 1936 to 1941. Since its completion, Red Rocks has seen legendary performances by some of the most famous artists including The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Sonny & Cher, and many more. The most amazing thing about Red Rocks is that the beautiful view and amazing acoustics were provided by the rock formation. By installing the stage and seating, designers recognized that Red Rocks was destined to host high-quality events.
According to Denver Arts & Venues, Red Rocks Amphitheatre sold 1.3 million tickets in 2021 for $48 million in ticket sales.
Image courtesy of ipivorje on Adobe Stock
Not to be confused with “The Greek Theatre” in Los Angeles, this “The Greek Theatre” is located in Berkeley. Both California Theaters are called “The Greek Theatre” which is confusing, but this one is sometimes referred to as “The Hearst Greek Theatre” because William Randolph Hearst financed the project. The Hearst Greek Theatre was completed in September of 1903, but while still under construction hosted a graduation ceremony in which President Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech to new graduates. Since then, a number of big names have performed there such as The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, B.B. King, Miles Davis, and Bob Dylan. But, even after all that talent graced the stage, the Greek Theatre is still used for several University of California, Berkeley annual events such as graduations and the bonfire rally before they play Stanford.
Image courtesy of thegreekberkeley.com
Multiple venues in this list have been used by the President of the United States for a speech, but Merriweather Post Pavilion is the only one on this list that had a U.S. President perform a duet on their stage… twice! In 1978 and 1980 President Jimmy Carter joined Willie Nelson on the stage of Merriweather Post Pavilion to perform a duet of “Georgia on My Mind.” Aside from those two high-profile performers, the venue has seen appearances by Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, The Grateful Dead, The Who, and Jimmy Buffett (who has performed there over 40 times). But the site was attracting fame even before the venue was around. After the venue’s first design was rejected, the redesign of the project was done by the famous architect Frank Gehry. While the design may look a little tamer than some of Gehry’s other works, it allows the crowds to focus on the performance and the surrounding environment instead of the architecture.
Although The Gorge doesn’t have an award named after it, the location has won Pollstar’s “Best Outdoor Music Venue” nine times since the amphitheater opened in 1986. And like Red Rocks, The Gorge is a natural amphitheater that provides the audience with incredible views and amazing acoustics. At a natural outdoor amphitheater, sound travels directly from the source to the audience with little or no interference along the way. That lack of audio interference also means that there is a lack of visual interference. This allows the audience to get an unobstructed view of the stage and the natural environment surrounding the venue. Scenic views of the Columbia River and the Columbia Gorge Canyon surround The Gorge Amphitheater. The location was originally going to be used as a vineyard for the winery there, but the owner discovered on a hike that the acoustics were incredible. So soon after that hike, the owners set up a small wooden stage to attract people to their winery using music. There have been multiple renovations done since that first iteration, and today the venue seats 24,000 people.