It’s one thing to take in a show in a stuffy indoor concert venue, where it’s not always easy to claim a little breathing room, but seeing your favorite band (or even a band you just learned about) live at an outdoor venue is an experience unlike any other. Of course, not all outdoor concert venues are created equal. There are the giants, of course, but there are also plenty of incredible music venues you’ve never heard of in mountain towns across America. It’s not just the size or the famous acts gracing the stages that make a venue great, it’s the character of the place. These 10 are the best of the best.
1. Jones Beach Theater | Wantagh, NY
When a concert venue is in a state park, you know it’s going to have a beautiful backdrop. Jones Beach Theater, originally opened in 1952 to showcase musicals, is located in a New York state park of the same name—which also happens to have more than six miles of white sand beach on the Atlantic Ocean. The theater (which has hosted Jimmy Buffett nearly 30 times) was badly damaged during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, but it’s since been renovated and reopened.
2. Merriweather Post Pavilion | Columbia, MD
Symphony Woods is a fitting name for Merriweather Post Pavilion’s surroundings in Columbia. This venue in a 40-acre forest was built with the intention of housing the National Symphony Orchestra, but it has hosted some of the biggest names in music in the 50 seasons since its opening in 1967. The pavilion has managed to keep some of its 1960s vibe alive over the years, and organizers occasionally set up temporary stages scattered around the woods during music festivals.
3. Jay Pritzker Pavilion | Chicago, IL
The Jay Pritzker Pavilion is more than a music destination—it’s an architectural marvel. Architect Frank Gehry designed the uber-funky installation in Millennium Park (also the home of the iconic Cloud Gate sculpture, unofficially known as the Bean). The pavilion seats more than 11,000 people, and concert attendees take in the sights and sounds from beneath the crisscrossing 120-foot stainless steel ribbons overhead. There are tons of free concerts here, too, but no matter who you’re seeing, you’ll take in gorgeous Chicago skyline views.
4. Dillon Amphitheater | Dillon, CO
It’s hard to beat Lake Dillon for Rocky Mountain views, and the Dillon Amphitheater is situated in the right spot to take in both the mountains and the water. After a quarter-century, the amphitheater got a facelift, adding to the facilities and improving the lawn. The Dillon Amphitheater’s surroundings mean it’s an integral part of a Summit County vacation, where you also can paddle on the lake or hike at nearly two miles above sea level.
5. Red Rocks Amphitheater | Morrison, CO
Is it easier to hear the music when the air is thinner? Red Rocks Amphitheater is more than 9,500 feet above sea level, but that’s not why some of the most famous acts in the world regularly play there. Red Rocks is the only naturally occurring, acoustically perfect amphitheater on the planet, and they’ve got a concert lineup to prove it. Before you take in a show, take a hike around Red Rocks Park to check out the otherworldly sandstone formations and views of the Front Range.
6. Town Park | Telluride, CO
Every summer, countless stages are put up for music festivals around the country. Some are in prettier settings than others, but few can hold a candle to the one you’ll find in Telluride’s Town Park. There’s something really magical about being surrounded by both lush greenery and the area’s distinctive, rugged peaks. Make a trip of it and hike to one of Telluride’s stunning waterfalls (or up one of those big mountains) after you take in a show.
7. Gorge Amphitheatre | George, WA
Would you rather listen to your favorite band while looking at the Columbia River or the Cascade Mountains? It’s a trick question—the Gorge Amphitheater offers both. It was originally opened as a winery in the mid-1980s, but the Gorge has since become one of the nation’s most beloved outdoor concert venues, and it’s not hard to see why, with some of the most impressive views in the Pacific Northwest.
8. Crosby Theater | Santa Fe, NM
Built to be the home of the Santa Fe Opera, the Crosby Theater is more than just good looks. It’s an open-air theater, and its partial roof is specifically engineered for great acoustics, or as the theater puts it, "the shape of sound"—and serves the dual purpose of collecting rainwater to be used for maintenance projects. The Crosby Theater has hosted more than 1,600 performances since its opening in 1957.
9. Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena | Lake Tahoe, NV
The southeastern shores of Lake Tahoe are the perfect spot for a music venue, and Harveys Lake Tahoe doesn’t disappoint. The venue has drawn some of the best known names in music, and each performance features views of the gigantic freshwater lake. Before or after your musical experience, plan in some beach time. Or hike. Or even ski! There’s no shortage of things to do in and around Lake Tahoe.
10. Hollywood Bowl | Los Angeles, CA
The Hollywood Bowl band shell has been around since 1929, and in that time it has hosted countless iconic music stars. It’s the largest outdoor amphitheater in the country, and if you look over the top of the shell (that is, if you’re not in the first few rows), you can see the Hollywood Hills and, of course, the Hollywood sign. Don’t forget to visit the museum, where you can learn about what makes this place so magical.
Written by Emma Walker for RootsRated Media in partnership with Town of Dillon.