By Elliana Bowers, Staff Writer
Bend has no shortage of iconic structures, no doubt the historic Old Mill smokestacks come to mind. But another cherished nostalgic gem, The Les Schwab Amphitheater, is getting a face lift. This structure is known for hosting laid back artists like Jack Johnson and Modest Mouse, as well as being a fun hangout spot with close proximity to the Old Mill. With lush rolling hills great for relaxing and an impressive concrete structure flanked with groovy art, the amphitheater is a distinguished structure in Bend. Despite this, in December the stage was torn down to make way for a new chapter of Bend entertainment.
“I’ve been there a couple times [before the construction] it’s a really cool place,” said Keaton Charges, a sophomore at Summit who moved to Bend last May.
General manager for Les Schwab and Marketing Director for the Old Mill District, Marny Spits and Beau Estes, have decided to renovate the Les Schwab Amphitheater in order to attract a bigger and a wider variety of acts. Additional improvements involving accessibility will be made for an overall better user experience. They hope that the new stage is up and running before the optimistic concert season later this summer.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with the progress they are making,” said Estes. The construction of Bend’s new and improved amphitheater began on December 14th and is on track to finish before the late concert season, likely starting by the end of July or beginning of August.
The first phase of the rebuilding is constructing the stage to be more versatile and installing ADA (American Disability Act) access and paths through the venue. The plan for the new stage is a minimalist design with no actual back to the amphitheater. The second phase will be re-adjusting the slope of the grass, and will take place after the predicted concert season.
Estes says that the right sizing of the stage will attract a myriad of acts and artists that haven’t been interested in playing in the past due to the capability of the stage. The size of the amphitheater will grow significantly, with an increase in the capacity resulting in a stage height of 62 feet, and an additional 1,840 square feet in total stage height .
“The stage will be great, the side lines will be really pretty, you’ll be able to see Aubrey Butte and the northern parts of the city,” said Estes.
They were very intentional when they took down the art that previously embellished the stage—one of the defining features of the previous design. At the moment they are saving the art pieces and thinking of the best way to repurpose them. When incorporating the beautiful artwork, once both phases are completed, they want to put in a location where it would be highlighted best.
Beyond the cosmetic renovations, adjustments are being made with the ongoing pandemic in mind.
“First and foremost we want to make sure everyone is safe, we take being a good community member very seriously,” said Estes.
Les Shwab is planning to follow the example of some of the bigger venues around the country when considering how to host safe concerts. Following all the state and federal guidelines, looking to see how quickly the vaccines are made available and considering limited capacity are some of the ways the Amphitheater is hoping to put on a concert season.
Although some are still skeptical of this hopeful timeline, “If [concerts] did happen then they have to be very organized, people have to be careful. Nonetheless it would be really exciting to go to a concert again,” said sophomore Josie Armor.
Since concerts were canceled last year Les Shwab is very eager this year to put on events, even if this means having a prolonged concert season.
If the concert season does happen, it will likely go later into the fall than it ever has in the past. Currently there are five shows that essentially rolled over from 2020, bands like Rebelution, Primus, Luke Bryan, and Dave Matthews Band are expected to play in mid August. As of now, they are hoping Slightly Stoopid will play, but they have not set a date.
“Typically we don’t have October shows but maybe this year we do,” said Estes. The hopeful concert season is going to begin in the late summer and possibly through the beginning of the school year.
“It’s not going to be quite the same going to a concert again if we are still dealing with Covid, but it’s such a fun time that I would probably go, especially if Micheal Franti played again,” said Summit senior Avery Shea.
Typically the old mill has over 100 events every summer, and a lot of that is entirely dependent on the state of the country and when Oregon will get vaccines to the general public. They are optimistic to host Bendites favorites in the near future, such as the Bend Marathon and the Pole Pedal Paddle.
“We are ecstatic to get back into some normalcy but we just want to make sure that it’s safe,” said Beau.
Eventually, when concerts get up and running they will look very different from the previous social frenzies: gone are the days of blankets laid across the grass and various congo lines parading through the audience. It’s likely that there will be limited capacity, strict social distancing, and a possibility of rapid testing—all of which the new amphitheater will be able to handle.
Once the new amphitheater is re-built, Bend can expect many different artists to perform, and bigger and more diverse concerts along with the introduction of new interesting events at the venue.
“I’m so hopeful and excited for outdoor concerts to come back, it’s such a wonderful way to get together with the community, have fun together and enjoy music!” said Ms. Montoya, Summit spanish teacher.
No doubt the renovation of Bend’s iconic amphitheater will bring joy into an otherwise dreary year.