The Hollywood Bowl – Queen of the Hills

Hollywood Bowl
Los Angeles, CA

The Hollywood Bowl – Queen of the Hills

By Tina M. Courtney

If you’ve ever walked through the Highland entry to the Hollywood Bowl and felt like you were struck by the muse, it’s not your imagination. Music, Drama, and Dance, the fountain statues that grace the entrance, greet every picnic-toting music aficionado that drifts on by. Designed by George Stanley, sculptor of the Oscar-statuette, they joined the landscape in 1938, sixteen years after the Bowl first sprung forth in the hills. Perhaps they’re responsible for the magic that has transpired at this mystical venue, year after year. Or perhaps it’s the legacy of all the great musicians the Muses have greeted. Whatever the explanation, there’s no denying that this place is blessed. For eighty-four years, The Hollywood Bowl has been the reigning queen of the hills, and there’s no sign of her ever relinquishing the crown.

When the first shell was constructed over eight decades ago, The Hollywood Bowl became the intended home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Alfred Hertz and his orchestra played for a small audience seated on wooden benches in the inaugural performance, and while the facilities have certainly gained enormity and luster, the star-filled sky has been the mainstay, the enchantment, and in many ways, holds the key to the venue’s staying power. It’s rather astounding how isolated and protected the Bowl feels, tucked in the folds of the most famous hills on the planet, just a small jaunt from the infamous sign. While taking in a show here, whether you’re seated in the choice boxes or in a bench seat at the back, is a magical moment. You can look straight up into the night sky, past the city’s lights and near-constant stream of planes and helicopters, and believe you’ve been teleported to an untouched landscape, filled with magnificent music and a warm, friendly vibe. For lovers of classical music, this is the holy grail – some of the greatest musicians over the last century have graced her stages. Paul McCartney spoke the truth, however, in his song Rock Show – there is rock ‘n’ roll at the Hollywood Bowl. Some of the best in the business, and the greats keep on comin’.

In August of 1964, Paul and his fellow Beatles became the first band to rock out in this already famous landmark. When your first rock act is what many consider to be the greatest band of all times, one would think there’s no where else to go but down, down, down. One would be severely mistaken. There have been hundreds, if not thousands, of legendary shows over the years, including the Fleetwood Mac reunion concert in 1997, an incredible performance by The Doors, and noteworthy, career-marking showcases from folks like Bjork, Sting, The Monkees, Chicago, and Rod Stewart. Janis Joplin and Jimi Henrdix played the Bowl before their untimely deaths, as did John Denver, Ella Fitzgerald, and Luther Vandross.

Ask anyone in Los Angeles to name a magical night at the Bowl, and chances are a memory instantly springs to mind. Fourth of July festivities here are capped by the best firework shows in the city. Bill Cosby hosts the Playboy Jazz Festival every year; an event that quickly became a must-see for all jazz fans. But there’s just something about a rock show at the Bowl that transports the masses into another dimension. The venue seats just under 18,000 patrons, and when the act takes the stage, and it’s so quiet you can here a mouse squeak, you know something special is about to go down. I witnessed a woman at a Dead Can Dance show cry openly and hold out her arms as the band played together for the first time in a decade. During a recent Sigur Ros show, I was the one in tears, mesmerized by the tranquility of the band, the venue, the sky – it’s an enchantment that can’t fully be described. Nor should it be, and The Bowl works to make sure many of its performances are accessible to the masses. If you’re willing to sit in the back sections, tickets can be purchased for less than the price of a fast food meal. Sure, sometimes you’re so far back you can see the musicians strike their instruments before you actually hear the sounds they’re making, but it’s still worth the price of admission ten times over.

Whether it’s the Muse statues, the historical energies, or just a heavy dose of lady luck, The Hollywood Bowl stands as one of the most magnetic, ultra-special venues in the world to see a live musical performance. Chances are the shows you catch today will be the stuff of legends tomorrow. Where else can you and 18,000 of your friends nosh on wine and cheese and listen to top-tier musicians while taking in the night sky and an unforgettable vibe? Only in Los Angeles, and only at The Bowl.