The Hollywood Bowl is one of the country’s most famous open-air music venues. It’s also the largest natural outdoor amphitheater in the US. As a fixture of the entertainment capital of the world, the Hollywood Bowl has seen big changes from its humble beginnings in the 1920s to its current status as a venue for popular touring acts, as well as the summer home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the year-round home of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.
This LA institution and Hollywood landmark had humble beginnings, with the first-known performance listed on the Hollywood Bowl schedule being two women performing on a barn door. If you look at that 1920 photo, you may notice a lack of the venue’s most distinct features. The “bowl” in the name refers to the concave shape of the hillside into which the amphitheater is carved.
The famous curved, white band shell came much later, going through a few acoustically excellent revisions built by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son between 1927 and 1928. The look was considered too avant garde, so the next year a new shell was built. With additions by famed architect Frank Gehry, it stood until 2003, but proved difficult for acoustic engineers, becoming “a liability” by 1970.
The current shell, fiercely opposed by conservationists in 2003, incorporates elements of the sonically superior Lloyd Wright designs and achieves much better quality, with some extremely sophisticated digital sound management to make sound not just level from front seats to back benches, but for it to seem as if the music is playing at the same time, rather than delayed by traveling a long distance.
From its inception, the Hollywood Bowl schedule has been packed with notable and diverse artists. Since 1922, the Los Angeles Philharmonic has called The Bowl home, and more recently the venue lent its famous name to an important resident ensemble, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.
American jazz legends such as Al Jolson, Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, and Ella Fitzgerald have all graced the stage. The Beatles came across the pond to perform in 1964 and 1965, recording both dates for a long-awaited live album. Playing at the Hollywood Bowl was a “dream concert” for The Doors, and the LA-bred band finally played there in 1968, recording a live album as well.
The Hollywood Bowl continues to evolve, with jam band Phish playing their first show there in 2011 and Avicii becoming the first EDM act to appear on the Hollywood Bowl schedule as a headliner in 2013.
Finding Shows and Getting Tickets
The first stop for any prospective concert-goers is the venue’s website, where you’ll find the Hollywood Bowl schedule, tickets, fan photos, and more. The most exciting feature, however, is a seating chart that reveals the view from that section when you click on it. This interactive chart has the answer when you want to know if the garden boxes are really worth so much more than the cheap seats.
With its history and glamour, shows by popular musicians often sell out quickly. In those cases, it’s not enough to keep up with the Hollywood Bowl schedule—you really need to join those bands’ mailing lists or follow them on social media. Not every band organizes a completely digital sale tied to IDs to prevent scalping like Nine Inch Nails did on nin.com, but artists frequently make pre-sale codes available to their fans.
Songkick and Bandsintown are both useful for finding out about concerts as soon as they’re announced. You just have to list the bands you want to see to get notified about local shows before they go on sale. Both services have apps that can scan your personal music library for artists to simplify the process.
Crowd and Vibe
Because of the relatively high ticket prices, or perhaps just the awareness that a symphony was there the night before, the crowd at the Hollywood Bowl is typically well-behaved no matter who’s playing. While other venues in LA are famous for hard partying antics, The Bowl is not that kind of place.
If you want to get a taste for the crowd, you can always peruse the section of user-uploaded snapshots and selfies on the site.
With its unbroken history of nearly a century and picturesque location (the Hollywood Sign is visible in the hills behind the band shell), the Hollywood Bowl is one of the most unique and celebrated venues in California. The Bowl has kept pace with changing trends and improving acoustic technology, making it a must-visit venue for tourists and locals alike.
Photo by MargaretNapier