A 2010 performance by the LA-based Israeli contemporary dance company, JERUSALEM SOUL, at the Ford Amphitheatre in Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of the Ford Theatres.
With the beautiful weather and blithe nature brought about by the year’s sunny season, live music can be an apt way to relish summer’s ongoing treats. Great spots to check out bands under clear skies are not hard to find, though the best of the best cling primarily to major cities. Some venues, like the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, operate exclusively during summer months, and have become national trademarks for their seasonal lineup and unique architecture. With rooftops opened to the great wide open, music envelops the inspiration of surrounding areas, making amphitheaters an archetypal hit for the summer concert season.
The Ford is considered by many to be one of the best summer venues in the country. Adam Davis, Managing Director of Productions, describes the forum as an “intimate setting” with a legacy of bringing together diverse ethnicities constituting the community of Los Angeles.
“Our job at the Ford is to reflect the cultural diversity of Los Angeles,” explains Davis. “On any given weekend, you can see three to four genres of performing arts on our stage.”
The process for scheduling talent at the Ford is application-based, permitting only local artists to participate and many are recruited by producers in the area. The variety ranges from flamenco to Bollywood, hip-hop to Jewish symphonic music. This year’s season also includes a performance by k.d. lang with guest act, The Secret Sisters, and, for the first time ever, a spoken word showcase.
“The Ford is unique because most venues are on a hill looking down, but we’re actually looking up into the hills under this beautiful starry night,” describes Davis, adding, “There’s not a bad seat in the house. The people in the very back are still only 96 feet away, so you can see and hear everything.”
Also distinctive to the Ford are Monday night jam sessions, where local artists collaborate with theater patrons, who take the stage to participate in the performance. Everyone from singer-songwriters to dancers come out to learn a new craft or hone their own. Best of all, it’s free.
Says Davis of the Monday free-for-all, “It’s about empowering the audience and building a collective committed to sharing art.”
The Ford delivers not only the aesthetics and line-up, but also a climate of social unity and homegrown fellowship. Other venues are not as personal, but do offer similar picturesque settings to bask in summer revelry. Here are a few recommendations for good music, good people and good vibrations:
Photo by Ben Stanfield.
Where it’s at: Built into the canyons of Los Angeles.
Why it’s so great: The Bowl overlooks both the city and its surrounding mountain ranges, and offers tickets as cheap as $15. Furthermore, concertgoers can bring in their own food and drinks and enjoy a picnic while appreciating surrounding sounds.
Acts this year: Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton, Hall & Oates, Gladys Knight, George Benson, TV on the Radio, Quincy Jones, Smith Westerns, Arctic Monkeys, Panda Bear and more.
Radiohead performing at the Greek Theater in Berkley, CA. Photo by Rojer.
Where it’s at: Berkley, CA in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Why it’s so great: The Greek of Northern Cali not only was designed with the flair of a Hellenic temple, it’s set within an opening in the woods with the backdrop of the Bay sparking behind the stage. The acoustics are great; seats range from benches in the back to tables upfront where onlookers can dine as they take in the music. Oh, and all the hottest bands show up.
Acts this year: Adele, Ray LaMontagne, Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, Portishead, A Perfect Circle
The xx performing at an August 2010 Summerstage performance in Central Park. Photo by Jamie Leto.
Central Park Summerstage
Where it’s at: In New York’s most idyllic park.
Why it’s so great: Organized by the City Parks Foundation, Summerstage invites a host of artists out into parks of all five boroughs every year, with premiere staging in Central Park. Music can be heard in the grass or in nearby cafes, and fans can bring along tasty delights or purchase from vendors set up in the field. Many of the shows are free while bigger acts come at reasonable rates.
Acts this year: Florence + the Machine, Lykke Li, Guster, Nas & Damian Marley, Rakim/EPMD/Funkmaster Flex, Melanie Fiona, Jagged Edge
Klipsch Amphitheater at Bayfront Park
Where it’s at: Miami, FL.
Why it’s so great: First of all, it’s in Miami, the ultimate summer destination. The year’s most popular artists can be seen performing here, along Biscayne Boulevard in the heart of upscale highlife. Behind the seats is the city’s posh skyline and draping the stage is the cool blue aura of the coast.
Acts this year: Ke$ha, Incubus, Manu Chao
Stubb’s Waller Creek Amphitheatre
Where it’s at: Downtown Austin, TX.
Why it’s so great: Stubb’s is a well-known BBQ joint in Texas, so undoubtedly, good food will accompany live music. Conveniently located within the enclaves of Texas’ most respected music town, the bands performing at this venue veer towards the indie side of rock, showcasing tastemaker choices and a few superstars along the way.
Acts this year: Arctic Monkeys, Adele, The Decemberists, Bush, Trevor Hall, Drive-By Truckers, Patrick Stump, Bright Eyes, Iron & Wine, The Script
First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre
Where it’s at: Tinley Park in Chi-Town, IL.
Why it’s so great: Billboard’s chart-toppers grace the stage at this stadium-like venue on the outskirts of Chicago. The amphitheater is convenient for city-dwellers and set in a park outside the urban cluster, providing a respite from hustle bustle and plentiful opportunities to check out some of mainstream music’s most exciting artists.
Acts this year: Kings of Leon, Journey, Lil Wayne, Def Leppard, Brad Paisley, Kid Rock, My Chemical Romance, Jason Aldean, Toby Keith