Summer 2013 marks Phish’s second visit to the Hollywood Bowl, a beloved concert destination for artists and patrons tucked squarely in the heart of America’s pop-cultural capital. L.A. is my home, and the Hollywood Bowl is my backyard venue, so when we decided to run a blog series on summer tour venues, I called "dibs" quickly. It's a special place, and it's my humble pleasure to tell you about it.
The Hollywood Bowl debuted as a proper venue in 1922 and evolved organically over the decades, hosting larger audiences and shedding its iconic band shells from time to time for sleeker and more acoustically pure upgrades. While its location in Hollywood’s heavily trafficked Cahuenga Pass (along the 101 Freeway) is conspicuously urban, the experience of attending a show at the Bowl is more akin to a retreat: once you’ve climbed the hill from the busy street below and passed through the gates, you enter an open, manicured, meditative space designed to minimize sensory friction between audience and performer.
The focal band shell, especially when properly lit, has a certain Georgia O’Keefe aesthetic that inspired Pete Townsend to liken it to “a massive vagina” when he performed there with The Who a few years back. But most artists lucky enough to play there are properly reverent, and conscious of the musical giants who have delivered legendary performances on its stage, from Frank Sinatra to Leonard Bernstein to The Beatles.
If anything, I left Phish’s 2011 Bowl gig feeling as if they had been too reverent, and come up a hair short of by trying to deliver “a very special evening with Phish.” The playing wasn’t poor, but it was decidedly safe, and the muffled sound during the first set didn’t help matters much, either. In fact, the most powerful impression wasn’t musical at all but visual; Chris Kuroda’s jaw-dropping light show made dramatic use of the shell and the surrounding forest in a spectacle of tech craft and artistic adaptation.
While it’s always a good idea to keep expectations in check, anyone who would mistake past for prologue doesn’t know Phish very well. Having cleared the novelty hurdle in 2011, and with Trey having since performed with the L.A. Philharmonic (who makes their summer home at the Bowl), it’s a good bet that this year’s engagement will be noticeably looser and more confident.
While you can find a wealth of helpful information at http://www.hollywoodbowl.com/, here are some tips.
Plan ahead. Driving to the Bowl and parking at the Bowl are probably not your best option, because it’s spendy, and because you’re likely to get stacked in (unless you pay even more for VIP status).
If you must drive, there are neighborhoods within walking distance where parking is “discouraged but legal." Hint: consult your favorite digital map and let your eye wander south and east.
You can take the Metro Red Line to Hollywood and Highland, too, and then walk about a half mile north on Highland to the venue.
There’s a $5 shuttle bus that runs from the North Hollywood Metro station and drops you right at the door.
There are cabs as well, but taxi service is hardly abundant in Los Angeles, so you’ll need to call them, not hail them.
The Hollywood Bowl encourages patrons to bring food and alcoholic beverages to its regular season events, but alcohol is not permitted at leased events like Phish. You can bring alcohol to the picnic areas just outside the gates, but if you are caught trying to sneak alcohol into the amphitheater you will be asked to discard it or finish it. Food and beverage vending is diverse and plentiful inside, but also predictably pricey.
Security at the Bowl is hardly omnipresent or draconian. They’re not looking for reasons to eject people, so don’t give them one. About the only way to get tossed is to spoil someone else’s experience, or to try to escape into the bushes for some sexytime (an offense for which I watched an amorous couple get ejected from a Police concert a few seasons ago).
Bottom line: as long as you act like you’re in modern day Southern California and not ancient Rome, you’ll do fine.
STUFF TO SEE AND DO
Shun the tourist traps. Don’t waste your money at Universal Studios, or waste your time on Hollywood Boulevard expecting to see a real live movie star (you won’t).
If you’re here for a few days, get to the beach. There’s Venice for wook-watching, Santa Monica for rides and games on the Pier, and Malibu/County Line for surf breaks.
The Griffith Observatory is a phenomenal way to spend an afternoon, and it's very close to the venue. The planetarium show “Centered in the Universe” is legitimately mind-blowing -- and a moderate, hour-long hike from the parking lot to the top of Mt. Hollywood rewards you with staggering 360-degree views that stretch for 60 miles on a clear day.
Speaking of hikes, my favorite in the L.A. metropolitan area is Sandstone Peak, the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains. From the 3,111 foot summit, you can see from Catalina Island in the south to Ventura in the north. The drive to the trail head will take you an hour or so from Hollywood, but it's worth every minute. Google it, and you’re welcome.
I will stick around in the comments and answer any questions I can... have fun!
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March 27, 1993
25 years ago
Set 2: Buried Alive > Halley's Comet > It's Ice > Bouncing Around the Room, Chalk Dust Torture, The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > Avenu Malkenu > The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > Mike's Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Hold Your Head Up > Cracklin' Rosie > Hold Your Head Up, Poor Heart > Golgi Apparatus
 Beginning featured Trey on acoustic guitar.
 Fish on trombone.
 All Fall Down signal in intro.
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