The Gorge Amphitheatre, as Dave Matthews once described it, is “heaven’s amphitheatre,” and this summer heaven is getting a bit of an upgrade.
Tucked away in the sleepy Eastern Washington town of George, about 150 miles away from Seattle, the 20,000-capacity concert venue combines jaw-dropping views of the Columbia River Gorge with some of music’s top acts in an outdoor setting drenched in sunshine. The upgrade comes in the form of a new stage which is currently under construction and expected to be ready to go for the season opener May 29. The change will bring both audio and visual improvements to the award-winning venue, some of which will be subtle and others more apparent.
Aesthetically the new stage will be noticeably darker and shorter than its predecessor. Actually, it will be more or less all black. How will this make a difference? The darkness will allow for better visibility of the always important light show. Yes it’s a small difference (remember, I said some changes will be subtle), but speaking as a veteran of dozens of Gorge concerts this is the one change I’m looking forward to the most. I’ve seen countless bands take the stage for an afternoon set with stage lights ablazing only to have the visuals be nullified because the lights were wasted in broad daylight.
The height difference will matter to those wanting to enjoy the majestic view, which is the Gorge’s most valuable asset. You won’t have to sit as far up on the hill to take in the venue’s natural beauty because the stage will have a lower roof, creating a better sightline.
The roof of the new stage is part of its more compact design compared to the previous stage, which also will help guard against sound distortion due to the elements. Anyone who has watched suspended speakers sway above the Gorge’s stage will tell you wind is a huge issue. Aside from bringing a chill, a lengthy period of wind gusts can crush a band’s sound or, even worse, put performers in danger and possibly delay or cancel performances mid-set, as was the case at the 2007 Sasquatch! Music Festival.
The previous stage had metal girders overhead and didn’t provide much of an enclosure for performers. The new stage, being constructed by Mountain Productions, will use a "SuperMega Truss" system designed to endure the elements. This was likely a key selling point considering the Gorge gets hit not only with heavy winds in the spring and summer but heavy snowfall during winter.
These improvements should make those sunny summer concert days all the more heavenly. A representative from Live Nation, the company that operates the venue, would not disclose the cost of the new stage. But dollar figures somehow seem irrelevant here: You can't put a price on heaven.
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