Summer is officially in full swing. If you’re anything like me, you know that nothing captures the laid back vibe of summer better than a great outdoor concert.
There is just something about music that pairs perfectly with warm weather. And it’s not just the matter of acoustics – lukewarm beer and juicy grilled cheeseburgers, blankets spread out on vast green lawns, and spacious blue skies all heighten the outdoor concert experience.
To help you make the most of your summer, we’re here to give you the insider scoop on the best open air places in the country to see your favorite artists and bands live. From intimate venues and geological wonders to expansive rural escapes, it’s time to hit the road and discover the 15 best outdoor concert venues in America.
Red Rocks Amphitheatre – Morrison, Colorado
When it comes to unparalleled live music, Red Rocks is one of those must-do bucket list items. Located 30 minutes outside of Denver in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, the iconic venue consists of a naturally occurring open air amphitheater surrounded by two 300-foot monoliths of red rock that create an acoustically perfect sound. The historic venue has hosted performances for over 100 years and is so memorable that many artists have released audio and video recordings of their shows there.
Hollywood Bowl – Hollywood, California
Set against the backdrop of the Hollywood Hills and the infamous Hollywood Sign, the Hollywood Bowl is the best venue to see big-name performers in Los Angeles. Voted the Best Major Outdoor Concert Venue at the 2013 Pollstar Concert Industry Awards, the Hollywood Bowl has played host to a tremendous diversity of artists and acts, including The Beach Boys, Florence and the Machine, Aerosmith, Mumford & Sons, Ben Harper, Carrie Underwood, Barry Manilow, Chaka Khan, Barbra Streisand, Neil Young, and Billie Holiday.
The Gorge – George, Washington
A nine-time winner of Pollstar Magazine’s award for ‘Best Outdoor Music Venue, the Gorge Amphitheatre is considered one of the most scenic concert locations in the world. Accommodating more than 20,000 guests, the Gorge hosts performers and annual music festivals such as Sasquatch! and Paradiso from May through October on its state-of-the art stage perched dramatically on the majestic cliffs of the Columbia River Gorge. (pictured left)
Klipsch Music Center – Noblesville, Indiana
Recognized as one of North America’s top entertainment venues, the 220-acre Klipsch Music Center is the best place to rock out with 24,000 music fans in the middle of a giant grassy field in cow country. The amphitheater’s concert season runs from May through September and is known to host massive festivals and concerts including Country Megaticket, Rockstar Energy Mayhem Festival, Ozzfest, Projekt Revolution, and Vans Warped Tour.
Nikon at Jones Beach Theater – Wantagh, New York
An iconic landmark for Long Island, Nikon at Jones Beach Theater is one of the two biggest outdoor arenas in the New York metropolitan area. Opened in 1952 as an 8,200-seat venue primarily for musicals, the waterfront venue underwent two massive renovations in the late 90’s after shifting its focus to music concerts, and now seats up to 14,000 people. Best of all, the theater’s stadium-style layout makes it so that fans on any seating level can hear the music perfectly.
Merriweather Post Pavilion – Columbia, Maryland
Named the second best amphitheater in the United States by Billboard magazine, Merriweather Post Pavilion attracts an upwards of 250,000 concert goers every year. Nestled within the 40 preserved acres known as Symphony Woods, the venue was designed by award-winning architect Frank Gehry and originally intended to be a summer home for the National Symphony Orchestra. Merriweather later became a venue for popular music concerts and is now the home to annual music festivals including Summer Spirit, Virgin Mobile FreeFest, Sweetlife, and Vans Warped Tour.
Alpine Valley Music Theatre – Elkhorn, Wisconsin
Located two hours from Chicago, Madison, and Milwaukee in the midst of dairy country, Alpine Valley Music Theater is one of the best venues to catch big shows in the Midwest. As the second largest amphitheater in the United States, the venue boasts 37,000 general admission seats and has welcomed major acts such as the Grateful Dead, the Rolling Stones, Jimmy Buffett, Pearl Jam, Phish, Chicago, Queens of the Stone Age, and Frank Sinatra.
Charter One Pavilion – Chicago, Illinois
Located on the 91-acre Northerly Island peninsula of Lake Michigan, the Charter One Pavilion lays claim to being the best outdoor concert hall in Illinois. Previously a 7,500-capacity venue, the Chicago Park District unanimously approved the expansion of the waterfront Live Nation venue earlier this year to include a newly redeveloped lawn space that holds up to 30,000 patrons for select shows. Among the performers slated to initiate the new mega-venue this summer are Jimmy Buffett, Phish, Barenaked Ladies, and O.A.R. (pictured above)
Greek Theatre – Berkeley, California
Situated in the foothills above the University of California Berkeley campus, the intimate 8,500-seat Greek Theatre has been a cultural attraction in the Bay Area for the past100 years. Concert-goers can attest that the acoustics are always impeccable. Marble walls with soaring pillars create a backdrop that resonates sound like no other outdoor concert venue in the US.
Cruzan Amphitheatre – West Palm Beach, Florida
Owned and managed by Live Nation, the 20,000 capacity Cruzan Amphitheatre is a West Palm Beach music staple. Located on 13 acres at the South Florida Fairgrounds, the venue has entertained over 4.6 million fans with 490 major concerts and festivals since its inception in 1996. Cruzan has featured a wealth of superstar acts and festivals including Aerosmith, Jimmy Buffett, Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, Sting, Tina Turner, Vans Warped Tour, Ozzfest, and Crüe Fest.
Starlight Theatre – Kansas City, Missouri
The Starlight Theatre is the largest outdoor venue of its kind, showcasing a variety of the performing arts and a full array of summer concerts. Opened in 1951, the Starlight is located on 16 acres in Kansas City’s Swope Park and is one of three remaining self-producing outdoor theatres in the country. Voted Kansas City’s ‘Favorite Concert/Live Music Venue’ in the city’s 2010 Visitors’ Choice Awards program, Starlight offers an unparalleled entertainment experience beneath the stars. (pictured left)
Riverbend Music Center – Cincinnati, Ohio
Riverbend Music Center was one of only 16 outdoor music amphitheaters in the US when it opened its doors in 1984 and helped to revitalize Cincinnati’s concert scene. Nestled along the banks of the Ohio River, the 4,100-seat venue provides the summer stage for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, and has also welcomed national acts such as Sting, Blink -182, Kid Rock, Alanis Morissette, and Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band.
Chastain Park Amphitheatre – Atlanta, Georgia
A 6,000 plus seat amphitheatre nestled in the northern suburbs of Atlanta, Chastain Park is the city’s oldest outdoor music venue. Featuring a variety of performances in the spring and summer, Chastain sets the standard for live entertainment with big name acts from every musical genre. Legendary performers such as Stevie Wonder, John Legend, Etta James, Jay Z, Emmylou Harris, and Lyle Lovett have graced the stage of this longstanding Atlanta music tradition.
Mountain Winery – Saratoga, California
Built into the picturesque Santa Cruz Mountains, the historic Mountain Winery provides a one-of-a-kind musical experience for concert-goers. With sweeping views of the Silicon Valley, attached vineyards, and a cozy atmosphere, the intimate venue holds 2,500 seats and features over 65 shows from June through September each year. The Summer Series has attracted music legends such as Ray Charles, Diana Ross, Carlos Santana, Smokey Robinson, The Beach Boys, Willie Nelson, and James Taylor, to name a few.
Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts – Vienna, Virginia
As the only National Park in the US dedicated to the performing arts, Wolf Trap offers an eclectic array of performances from May to September. Set on 100 acres of farmland, the 7,000-capacity indoor/outdoor Filene Center runs an average of 90 performances every year ranging from pop, country, folk, and blues to orchestra, dance, theater, and opera.