Issue: Summer 2013

Hollywood Under the Stars

the Bowl, the Ford, & the Greek

You can walk the Boulevard over the names of thousands of television, theatre, radio, music and movie celebrities and maybe spot a notable name walking the red carpet at a premiere, but if you want to guarantee seeing the stars, all you have to do is book a seat at any of these three famous outdoor Hollywood venues—the Bowl, the Greek or the Ford—and they’ll be there, both on stage and overhead.

Granddaddy of them all, the Hollywood Bowl once again features a packed program including the LA Philharmonic with its charismatic conductor Gustavo Dudamel—Angelenos regard their regular Tuesday and Thursday concerts as a bit of a secret—and there are also appearances from movie music maestro John Williams, Josh Groban, Queen Latifah, Sergio Mendes, Tony Bennett, Diana Ross, Willie Nelson, Buddy Guy, The Blind Boys of Alabama, M83 and Vampire Weekend. The Blue Man Group will be on stage too, and there are ever-popular sing-a-longs for Grease and The Sound of Music, where the movie plays and you join right on in!

The amphitheater was first carved into the wilds of the hillside back in 1922, with the iconic white arched shell coming in 1929. Almost as much of a symbol of Los Angeles as the Hollywood sign—which is clearly visible in the hills when you take your seat—it has hosted opera, ballet, theatre, Monty Python and President Franklin D. Roosevelt (though not all at the same time), and essentially everyone except for Elvis Presley has taken the stage here. Elton John holds the record for most performances, but the record attendance was over 26,000 for a performance by French opera star Lily Pons in 1936—and it will remain a record, as the current capacity is around 18,000.

Regulars will camp overnight at the Bowl to get the first shot at tickets, though everyone will notice some changes this year—including some that will be right in front of you: new video screens. The only one of its kind in North America, the four LED screens use SMD (surface mount device) technology which, simply put, mean sharper colors and a better HD image.

But before the show starts—and one of the biggest attractions of visiting the Bowl—is that you can bring your own picnic and beverages, from soda to champagne, for al fresco dining in and around the 15 picnic areas, where the furniture, benches, tables and chairs have been replaced.

Biggest news of all is that a new wine bar has been built—good news if you want to buy, say, a beer, or if you need a top-up or two. Visible as you walk into the Bowl, it has an outdoor seating area and the design includes canopies that extend the curvilinear lines of the Bowl—as if it has always been there.  

Since it’s located in a large park, the Bowl sometimes gets other visitors—a fox and two raccoons have made unscheduled visits before—but keep an eye out for bats, which fly overhead before classical music concerts begin.

Just across the hill—but ideal if you’re looking for something different—is the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, which is haven for diversity, dance, the spoken word and music, and looks to reflect the cultures and communities of the City of Angels.

Back in 1920 this was originally called The Pilgrimage Theatre, and was built to house a summer show, The Pilgrimage Play, which ran for nine summers until it was razed by a fire. The current concrete venue was inspired by the Gates of Jerusalem and opened in 1931, and WWII aside, the play ran there until 1964 until in 1976 it was renamed in honor of John Anson Ford, a local politician and advocate for the arts.

A more intimate outdoor venue, it seats just under 2,000 people and visitors this year will be sitting in brand new seats for events like the free Monday evenings J.A.M. Sessions, the sixth year of a series that allows you the chance to dance, drum or try an instrument. It’s a fun night for all ages and skills, and how often can you hit the skins of African, Middle Eastern and Japanese drums and see dance from Japan, India/Bollywood, as well as Square Dance, Hip-Hop, Modern and Tango?

This season also sees the beginning of a new two year program called the Zev Yaroslavsky Signature Series, with two concerts taking place this summer, the first seeing Mandy Patinkin singing popular favorites and musical tunes with the Pasadena POPS, and then the 2nd Signature Series featuring the Complexions Contemporary Ballet Co. and the Lula Washington Dance Theatre, a rare opportunity to see the work of three of the most acclaimed choreographers —Dwight Rhoden, Desmond Richardson and Lula Washington—in one night.

Other highlights include the Viver Brasil Dance Company with a world premiere piece entitled Intersections/Ajê, the Fountain Theatre with their popular Forever Flamenco, a night with the Bluegrass Association of Southern California, Grandeza Mexicana: Mexico: Mis Raices (My Roots), a 10th anniversary celebration of Mexican folk dance, five nights of movies as part of the 31st L.A. Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, and the wonderfully-titled “Vaud & the Villains - Sin & Tonic: A New Orleans Musical Celebration” —a 19-piece orchestra and cabaret blasting out 1930s jazz.

The Ford has some unusual visitors too, so keep your eye out for a family of deer that live up in the hillside and regularly come to munch on the native plants in and around the venue.

In the 2010 movie Get Me To The Greek, Aaron (Jonah Hill) struggled to get out-of-control rock star Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) to a show here, and though he’s not on the bill this year you can grab a debut gig by The Tenors, Postal Service, The National, FUN. or “Call Me Maybe” pop sensation Carly Rae Jepsen, while 80s pop princess Cyndi Lauper will be celebrating the 30th Anniversary of her debut smash album She’s So Unusual, so look forward to hit tracks like “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”, “Time After Time”, “She Bop” and “All Through The Night” —top five smashes all of them.

Modeled on a Greek temple and designed by Samuel Tilden Norton, the Greek opened in 1930 and was funded by Griffith J. Griffith, who came to Los Angeles from Wales in 1882 and after making a fortune in gold mining, wanted to give something back. Before the Greek was even a dream, in 1896 he donated three thousand acres of his Los Feliz Rancho to be used as a park, telling the L.A. City Council:

“It must be made a place of recreation and rest for the masses, a resort for the rank and file, for the plain people. I consider it my obligation to make Los Angeles a happier, cleaner and finer city.”

He also had dreams of an observatory and a Greek Theatre, but they only came true thanks to a donation from his will after his death and, after various delays and an extensive survey of Greek theatres, the cornerstone was laid in late 1928 and dedicated on September 25, 1930 with five nights of opera.

Underused most of the 1930s and 1940s—when it even served as an army barracks—it was brought back to life by entrepreneur James Doolittle in the 1950s. He took on the lease and turned it into a must-go venue, and today it’s a regular winner of the award for the “Best Small Outdoor Venue” in North America.

The Greek seats 5,700 people and their season will see visits from Barry Manilow with his Manilow on Broadway show, classic 1970s rockers The Steve Miller Band, Cheap Trick and Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson and 1980s favorites like Pat Benatar, Heart, and The Regeneration Tour featuring Howard Jones and Andy Bell from Erasure.

You’ll find more great guitars at Frampton’s Guitar Circus (featuring Peter Frampton, B.B. King and special guest Sonny Landreth), while jazz fans will line up to see pianist Diana Krall bring the Glad Rag Doll World Tour here, all the way from Northern Ireland are the young members of pop band Two Door Cinema, and the season ends on October 27 with the annual community event “EEK! At The Greek”, a Halloween-themed festival featuring Symphony in the Glen.

There are many more musicians, performers and bands playing here, at the Ford and at the Bowl—check out the websites for the full schedule—and whatever place you choose, remember to take a moment to look up at the stars sparking overhead; they’ll never fade away. DH