Home Music Music Lists

The Best Amphitheaters in America

For the third in a four-part series on great music venues, Rolling Stone polled 26 insiders and musicians – from top managers to Miranda Lambert – and came up with a list of the nation's coolest outdoor amphitheaters. Read on for our expert panel's picks, and visit our Venues that Rock page for an interactive map and much more.

By Steve Knopper

 

 

 


Voters:
Corin Tucker (Corin Tucker Band, Sleater-Kinney)
Thomas Mars (Phoenix)
Britt Daniel (Spoon)
Mike McCready (Pearl Jam)
Patrick Stump (Fall Out Boy)
Miranda Lambert
Talib Kweli
DJ Harvey
Bassnectar
Sharon Osbourne (manager, Ozzy Osbourne)
Scott Rodger (manager, Paul McCartney and Arcade Fire)
Dennis Arfa (agent, Billy Joel, Metallica, Rod Stewart)
Jim Guerinot (manager, Nine Inch Nails and No Doubt)
Tom Windish (agent, numerous indie-rock acts)
Andy Cirzan (promoter, Jam Productions in Chicago)
John Scher (promoter in New York City, manager of Art Garfunkel)
Kelly Curtis (manager, Pearl Jam)
Daniel Glass (head of Glassnote Records)
Michael Rapino (Live Nation)
David T. Viecelli (agent, Arcade Fire, David Byrne/St. Vincent, many others)
Brian Ahern (agent, William Morris Endeavor)
Bob McLynn (manager, Fall Out Boy, Courtney Love, many others)
Bertis Downs (manager, R.E.M.)
Jake Schneider (manager, Bassnectar)
Andrew Cook (manager, Deadmau5)
Rob Light

Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, California

Courtesy Greek Theatre LA

5

Greek Theatre, Los Angeles

The visionary behind the Greek was one Griffith J. Griffith, who had made his fortune in gold mines and, in 1896, donated 3,000 acres of his own land to the City of Los Angeles for public parks. When he died, he passed on a $1 million trust and stipulated that a classic theatre with authentic Greek columns be built on the same land. Since the Greek started hosting concerts in the Seventies, that classy architectural touch has added a dash of drama to shows by everyone from the Who to the White Stripes, Paul McCartney to Paul Simon.

Capacity: 5,900

Website: http://www.greektheatrela.com

Fun Fact: During World War II, the Greek functioned as a military barracks.

Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, Maryland

CC Image courtesy of _rockinfree on Flickr

4

Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, Maryland

Designed by architect Frank Gehry, known for shapes that seem structurally impossible, this outdoor theater is a huge wooden slab that seems to float over a hillside near Baltimore. Since opening in 1967, it's hosted everyone from Phish to Led Zeppelin – and in 2009, it gained a new kind of fame when Animal Collective, who grew up in Baltimore, named their latest album Merriweather Post Pavilion. (There's a reason no band has ever named an album after the 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre.) The venue is flexible enough to go big or small with ease. "It feels great whether there are 6,000 or 16,000 people there," says Fall Out Boy manager Bob McLynn.

Capacity: 15,000

Website: http://www.merriweathermusic.com

Fun Fact: The venue is named after cereal magnate Marjorie Merriweather Post, an early patron.

Gorge Amphitheatre, George, Washington

CC Image courtesy of Chris Dube on Flickr

3

Gorge Amphitheatre, George, Washington

Sitting on the lawn at the Gorge, with the Columbia River and the rolling hills east of the Okanogan-Wanatchee National Forest behind the stage, just isn't the same experience as spreading out a blanket at any other outdoor venue. Opened in 1985 by a Seattle couple who had planned to use the land to grow grapes for wine, the Gorge became a sort of Red Rocks of the Northwest, where the scenery "adds drama to the performances," as Sleater-Kinney's Corin Tucker describes it. Fans and artists alike rave about the incredible views: Pearl Jam's Mike McCready calls the Gorge his "all-time favorite venue," adding: "The stage overlooking the cliff of the Columbia River as the sun goes down – it's very spiritual."'

Capacity: 20,000

Website: http://www.gorgeamphitheatre.net

Fun Fact: Pearl Jam's Live at the Gorge 05/06 is a massive seven-disc box set, including covers of the Who's "Baba O'Riley" and Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down."

Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, California

CC Image courtesy of MargaretNapler on Flickr

2

Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles

Built underneath the Hollywood hills in the early 20th century, the Hollywood Bowl boomed along with the movie business, beginning with orchestras and Porgy and Bess-type productions before Frank Sinatra showed up in 1943. After the Beatles played here in 1964, the starlight-soaked amphitheater became a major rock destination, hosting the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin – and that was just the Sixties. Today, the run of superstar shows continues. "Stars marvel about the experience of playing the Bowl," says Michael Rapino, chief executive of Live Nation, the world’s biggest promoter.

Capacity: 18,000

Website: http://www.hollywoodbowl.com

Fun Fact: After mobs of screaming girls invaded backstage at the height of Beatlemania in 1964, Hollywood Bowl officials provided Brinks trucks so the Fab Four could escape after their two shows here in '65.

Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison, Colorado

CC Image courtesy of dirkoneill on Flickr

1

Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison, Colorado

This dramatic natural venue just outside Denver – named after the two huge boulders that frame its borders – can elevate a good show into a totally unforgettable night. With the exception of Madison Square Garden, no U.S. venue of this size has such an amazing pedigree: The Beatles in 1964, Jimi Hendrix in 1968, Bruce Springsteen in 1978, and so many more. Pearl Jam played Red Rocks exactly once, in 1995, and they still haven't stopped talking about it. "It was just stunning," says guitarist Mike McCready. "We were never able to get there [again]. I don't know why. I want to go back."

Capacity: 9,450

Website: http://www.redrocksonline.com

Fun Fact: The amphitheatre has been officially open since 1941, but the first Red Rocks concerts were actually staged here much earlier – on a temporary platform in 1906.

Show Comments