A press conference today reveals that Eric Church will open the new Ascend Amphitheatre in Nashville’s downtown Riverfront Park on July 30. Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and Live Nation officials announced the inaugural season, which begins with Church’s special acoustic performance as part of a four-day grand opening weekend. A free open house for the community is set for Aug. 2, which will include tours of the amphitheater and performances by local bands and DJs.
More than 20 shows were announced today. (Find the full inaugural season schedule below.) Bob Roux, president of North American Concerts for Live Nation, says he feels confident another four to six shows will be announced before the season concludes. Live Nation was awarded a 10-year contract by the City of Nashville to manage, market, operate and program the venue, in partnership with Starr Hill, the live events division of Red Light Management, and the Nashville Symphony, which will use the venue for up to six nights as its outdoor home. Brian Traeger, president of Live Nation’s Tennessee business unit, is responsible for the programming of Ascend Amphitheatre. The deal allows for Live Nation to book up to 30 shows, and potentially more, depending on what shows are available and how frequently the park is being used for other events, Roux says, adding, “The relationship with Nashville Metro and Recs and Parks has been nothing short of tremendous so far.”
Roux, joined by Caren Gabriel, president and CEO for Ascend Federal Credit Union, also announced that Ascend had secured the venue’s corporate naming rights for the next decade. “Their support will allow us to do some things in the amphitheater we might not be otherwise able to do,” says Roux, “and we really feel great about our initial conversations with Ascend, and how we will work together to brand and market the amphitheater.”
Church’s rare solo performance will be followed by as many as 25 other shows in the venue’s first season, including Chicago and Earth Wind and Fire on the opening weekend of Aug. 1. Also on tap are Phish, Steely Dan with Elvis Costello, ZZ Top with Blackberry Smoke, and a double from Widespread Panic. Tickets to the inaugural concert season go on sale starting April 30.
Overlooking the Nashville skyline, the 6,800 capacity amphitheater boasts a 100-foot by 60-foot stage providing panoramic views of downtown and first-rate sight-lines from every seat in the venue. The amphitheater will be operated in conjunction with Nashville’s 10-acre Riverfront Park that is open to the public year round. The park includes a 1.5 acre lawn known as “The Green,” over one mile of multi-use greenway trails, ornamental gardens, Nashville’s first downtown dog park, wi-fi access, and exercise and sports facilities.
The initial announcement includes shows already part of Live Nation tours, including Steely Dan and Chicago/Earth Wind & Fire, and tours not owned by Live Nation, such as Church, Phish, Jill Scott, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Panic. Roux says that, at 6,800 capacity, Ascend Amphitheater “fits perfectly into Music City’s great array of other performance venues. There are a lot of artists who want to play a more intimate venue, especially at such a beautiful and scenic setting, there on the Cumberland River overlooking the downtown Nashville skyline. This building has been designed nearly perfectly for both the fans and artists alike. The sightlines and the proximity to the stage, the width and height of the proscenium opening, will just be terrific for the fans.”
Ascend Amphitheatre is not the Nashville market’s first shed. Starwood Amphitheater was opened by PACE Concerts (now part of Live Nation) as part of the mid-1980s amphitheater boom, and operated until LiveNation shuttered the venue (with a handful of others) following the 2006 season. Starwood’s highest-grossing year was in 1995, with $6,095,069 gross and 264,270 attendance from 26 shows reported to Boxscore, topped by the Eagles’ Hell Freezes Over tour at $1.7 million gross from two sellouts. But the bloom was off the rose for Starwood by the turn of the millennium, with fans increasingly opting out of the schlep to Antioch for shows.
Most industry observers seem to believe that the time is right for a new open-air venue in Nashville, particularly as part of the city’s dynamic downtown and revitalized Riverfront. “If you look at the proliferation of open-air venues in the U.S. over the last 30 years,Nashville has been devoid of a centrally-located amphitheater, and [Ascend Amphitheatre] will fill that void,” says Roux. “There are not many open-air amphitheaters embedded into downtown like Ascend Amphitheatre. There are a few around the country -- downtown Chicago and a few others -- but most [sheds] are in rural or suburban locations, and we think this location is highly unique and will prove to be very convenient for a full night of dining and entertainment.”
Live Nation has been aggressive in the boutique amphitheater space of late, with the 8,000-capacity Pavilion at The Music Factory opening in Irving, Texas, in 2016, the ongoing battle fo rthe 5,870-cap Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, and the new 5,240-cap Austin 360 shed.
“The boutique amphitheater space seems to be where much of the current development is taking place here in the U.S.,” says Roux.