Every summer, music fans across Canada and the United States flock to every possible live show they can fit into their busy schedules. Some travel all across North America in search of that perfect live experience. Nowadays, great live music can be easy to find with an increasing number of festivals taking place each summer; however, spectacular venues are rare. Most festivals, if not all, usually take place in a wide-open flat field and for us, “vertically challenged people”, these settings can become frustrating. Although the music sounds great and the lights are spectacular, Trent Reznor’s face is hard to make out from 100 yards away with a 6 foot person standing in front of you. While festivals can prove difficult for sight lines, stadiums can be stuffy, sweaty, and overcrowded.
Most casual fans of music rarely care about the live venue. As long as they can witness their favorite front-man step up to the mic, these fans do not notice fine details to great rock shows. For us diehard concert fiends, we examine every crevice of the live venue as soon as we enter. Here at CoS we honor thehardcore concert attendee, and to show our appreciation, we are beginning a new segment entitled, Where We Live, which will examine current live venues across Canada and the United States. So pack your bags and get ready for a tour of your favorite venues.
Beginning with the mother of all live venues in North America: The Gorge Amphitheatre. Some believe this natural amphitheatre was created by God for live music, others just go to party and soak in its epic views. The Gorge is so vast that people flock there all year round just to have a glimpse of the scenery. Heck, one could enter the Gorge and not see a concert and still leave happy. For those of you wh
o have been, none will forget their first glimpse at the top of the hill. Traveling down the windy path from your campsite, with most likely your friends squawking in your ears about what your are about to experience. You constantly try to picture what many people describe to you: “there’s big mountains, a canyon, they set the stage up on the edge of a cliff, and a huge grassy knoll.” You picture the grandest fantasy setting in your mind, but when you walk to the edge of that hill and look over the other side, that grand setting you
pictured is squashed by reality. You fumble for your camera to take a picture, yet one snapshot will not do. The Gorge is impossible to put into words or a photograph, there is only one way to view its might: buy a ticket and go.
Aside from its dazzling visual beauty, the Gorge also offers a somewhat untouched amphitheatre slope. This is key because there are no intrusions against musical acoustics. The unparalleled acoustics are what intrigued Dr. Vince Bryan to change his property into a live music venue in the first place. When Bryan and his wife Carol purchased the land in 1980, their intentions were to build a large house and utilize the high, dry, desert setting for a massive vineyard. Bryan’s love for wine and architecture brought him to the Columbia River, but his interest in rock music provoked him to transform a massive bluff into one of the greatest live music venues in the world. The Bryans stumbled upon what is now known as The Gorge Amphitheatre when they were walking through their 500 acre property. Dr. Bryan describes his initial discovery of the Gorge’s unparalleled acoustics in a 2004 Seattle Times article:
I noticed a rather remarkable acoustical property out on the cliff. If either Carol or I was standing up on the top and the other person was way down below, in this one location, if you whispered like this, whether you were 100 or 1,000 feet away, you could hear it as if you were standing next to the person.
Bryan’s facts are undeniable. The further you stand back from the stage at the Gorge, the greater the sound becomes. A word of advice: do not sit or stand near the first 10 rows, move back and take in the entire show. From a greater distance, the sound will travel stronger and sound clearer. There are no reverberations at the Gorge so your ears will never ring after a show, unless you are in the first rows.
If experiencing your first sights of the Columbia River and hearing the first chords isn’t enough of a sensory overload wait until the sun sets. What’s amazing is the setting does get better when the sun goes down. While the stage is positioned on the edge of a very steep cliff, it’s also in direct line with the sun setting over Washington state. Beyond the Washington mountains lie Canadian prairies which create colorful sunsets, only found in paintings. Imagine Dr. Bryan’s face when Bob Dylan played the first show at the Gorge in 1988, the sun setting behind Dylan with 20,000 screaming fans christening the land he discovered only 8 years earlier.
Just like any live venue, the first show is always a disaster. The Gorge was plagued with transportation issues, security mishaps, and drunken rowdiness when Dylan first played. Dr. Bryan never gave up and he strove to make the Gorge what it is today. Nowadays under the ownership of Live Nation, the only problem that exists is occasional bad weather. Every year many new and old artists grace the hills of the Gorge with their sweet sounds. Bands such as Van Halen, Rush, Radiohead, Pearl Jam, Metallica, Nine Inch Nails and Tool have played past shows. This summer, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Dave Matthews Band, and The Steve Miller Band make up a strong schedule alongside the festivals: Sasquatch, Vans Warped Tour, and Rock the Bells. While only a few of these shows remain, there are still chances to take in the glory of the Gorge while the sun is still shining in Washington. So find a nice spot on the grass and soak it in.
Remaining Shows @ The Gorge Amphitheatre
08/15 – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers w/ guest Steve Winwood
08/16 – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers w/ guest Steve Winwood
08/22 – Jack Johnson
08/29 – Dave Matthews Band w/ guest O.A.R.
08/30 – Dave Matthews Band w/ guest O.A.R.
08/31 – Dave Matthews Band w/ guest O.A.R.
09/06 – Rock the Bells Festival
Watch for a future review from CoS for the opening night, 08/29, of the Dave Matthews Band.
Pearl Jam – “It’s Ok” (Live at The Gorge 2006)