Let’s Head To Some Sheds! Amphitheatre Season Set To Launch In North America

With the weather changing toward long days of sunshine, the days of outdoor concerts in North America are once again here.

‘Courtesy of Nederlander Concerts

Vina Robles Amphitheatre

When one thinks of outdoor music events, April festivals like Coachella in Southern California; Roxy Festival in Guadalajara, Mexico; and Welcome To Rockville in Jacksonville, Fla., all mark the beginning of the ever-burgeoning festival season.

To less fanfare though, amphitheaters like

A number of years ago there was an industry-wide conversation asking whether sheds were dead and outdoor shows were on the way out. Last year there were three sheds reporting more than 500,000 tickets on Pollstar’s Year End Top 100 Amphitheatre Venues chart, and 62 reporting more than 100,000 tickets. And money is definitely coming in, as in 2016 Red Rocks Amphitheatre alone grossed $44.9 million on 103 reports. Last year there were 30 amphitheatres (29 in U.S. and one in Germany) that grossed more than $10 million, almost all of which hosted a minimum of 20 reported shows.

Alex Hodges, CEO of Nederlander Concerts, said he never bought into the thinking that sheds were a bad experience, out of style or passé, but that the venues do require a different kind of attention because every year they go through a season of non-use.

“They take weather abuse when they’re closed during the winter. You really have to prepare them and be ready for a new season each year,” Hodges said. “In an indoor venue, you’re using it for various events all year, so you’re automatically keeping it up.

“I think what has now been recognized is [outdoor shows] have always been a great experience. The art form [is] pricing the shows right, buying the right shows for the market and marketing them well. The extra ingredient of investment in venue means that the experience is upgraded. It’s so easy for the owner or manager of a venue to assume that [an amphitheatre] is going to be as popular next year as it was this year. That’s not always the case if investments haven’t been made in every part of the experience from getting out of the car, to walking through the turnstiles, to the show itself.”

Hodges said that indoor and outdoor shows each bring unique benefits to the table, and there is a place for each in a developed market. Theatres, arenas and clubs have the advantages of a controlled environment that is protected from weather, more control of sound quality and amplification of energy from applause and crowd noise. Outdoor venues though, he said, give many people a break from being in enclosed spaces for the majority of their lives.

One strength of sheds, Hodges said, was the ability to be flexible in terms of configuration, with some amphitheatres being capable of flexing from 6,000 to 10,000-capacity.

“When I go to an outdoor show, I do feel there is a difference in the music experience,” Hodges said. “You might be on a lawn on a blanket or an upfront seat looking at the stage, but there is no roof, so you are under the stars, under the sky. One way of saying it is the music kind of flows over you in a different way.”

The magic number for Vina Robles is about 30 shows per year, Hodges said, and he was still working to figure out the final five or so shows for the rest of the year. He said he doesn’t feel the need to rush out a final schedule, preferring to give each show a certain amount of attention and making sure he picks the right artists to keep people coming each year.

The ability of sheds to fill niches in a market is something that Jim Koplik, head of Live Nation Connecticut, is more than willing to bet on. He recently partnered with his friend Howard Saffon to convert the Ballpark at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Conn., formerly the home of the minor league baseball team the Bridgeport Bluefish, into a boutique amphitheatre.

Koplik has overseen the construction of numerous amphitheaters: Xfinity Theatre in Hartford, Conn.; Pavilion At Montage Mountain near Wilkes-Barre, Penn.; and Darien Lake Performing Arts Center in Darien Center, N.Y. Live Nation said at the end of 2017 it owned 10 amphitheatres, leased 32, operated seven, and had exclusive booking rights to 13, for a total of 62 sheds in their portfolio, all with capacities ranging from 5,000 to 30,000. Koplik said the Harbor Yard amphitheatre will be informed by Live Nation’s experience with boutique amphitheaters, which often aim at an older audience.

The new amphitheater will see the former ballpark converted into a shed with fixed seating only and will be roofed, providing more control over the experience than a traditional amphitheater. The shed will cater to the interests of Fairfield County, which he said is one of the wealthiest counties in the U.S. and currently doesn’t have a comparable venue in the market.

Koplik said he thinks the shed will help bring more indoor concerts to the market, and benefit venues like Webster Bank Arena next door, as opposed to competing with them.

“There are arena shows in the summer, but they don’t even look to play amphitheatres, they only look to play arenas. I’ve rarely seen a real competition between an indoor arena and an outdoor amphitheatre of any substance,” Koplik said. “If this amphitheatre is as beautiful as we intend to make it, it’s gonna be Fairfield County-like, which is very upscale. It will put Bridgeport on the concert map, and I think we’ll get more shows indoors.”

One act that will be lighting up amphitheatres across the country this summer is Pentatonix. Two years ago they were an elite arena act, reaching No. 82 on Pollstar’s 2016 Top 100 Worldwide Tours chart, with $20.2 million grossed on 374,619 tickets in North America, Europe, Australia, and Southeast Asia.

The acapella group has a full run of sheds booked into September with their new bass vocalist, Matthew Sallee, to promote the group’s new PTX Presents: Top Pop, Vol. I project.

Courtesy of Honda Center
– Pentatonix

“I grew up going to amphitheatre shows (specifically, at Garden State Arts Center before it was PNC Bank, but also Jones Beach and BB&T Pavilion) and the outdoor music experience is really unmatched,” the group’s manager, Jonathan Kalter from The MGMT Company, said. “I saw Sigur Ros at Forest Hills Stadium last year in the rain and it was still better than 90 percent of the dry concerts I’d seen.”

Beyond the benefits of an outdoor experience, there will always be a place for amphitheaters because they cater to two demographics, what Koplik calls lawn fans and seat fans.

“With the younger artists, for the kids who don’t have that much money, I think amphitheatres are even more important to the live music listening experience.”

“Any time you have a venue where three-quarters of the tickets are generally under 30 dollars, you’ve opened up your business to a tremendous demographic. … Most arena shows [have] no tickets at that price.”

The proof that sheds are alive and well, Koplik said, is in the numbers. Every one of his sheds is busier than it ever has been, and he is hoping to light up the Bridgeport market with one very special headliner at the grand opening of his new amphitheatre at Harbor Yard in 2019.