9 Amazing Outdoor U.S. Music Venues to Cross Off Your Bucket List

Elevate your next concert-going experience at iconic and often-overlooked spots across the country.

By Lyn Mettler, ContributorAug. 9, 2016
By Lyn Mettler, ContributorAug. 9, 2016, at 9:51 a.m.
U.S. News & World Report

9 Amazing Outdoor U.S. Music Venues to Cross Off Your Bucket List

Creation rock at the world famous Red Rocks Amphitheater in colorado which hosts many music acts as well as easter services.

Catch world-renowned bands with stellar acoustics at striking, open-air venues across the U.S.(Getty Images)

In the warmer months, there's something enchanting about listening to live music in the great outdoors. Whether it's the excellent acoustics, the chance to commune with Mother Nature or take in fresh air and dramatic landscapes, outdoor concert venues offer a memorable experience – and not just for music lovers. Here are nine can't-miss open-air spots to catch live music and festivals around the country this year.

Town Park
Telluride, Colorado

Telluride, a small Colorado town that's surrounded by the soaring Rocky Mountains, offers a breathtaking backdrop. At Telluride's entrance, you'll find an open meadow; at the other end of town, you'll discover Colorado's tallest free-falling waterfall. In the heart of town sits Town Park, a modest park with unbeatable mountain vistas. Town Park plays host to many events throughout the year, including the Ride Festival, a two-day music event. Pearl Jam took the stage at the July event; up next in Town Park is the Telluride Blues & Brews Festival from Sept. 16-18, which will include rock, indie, blues, funk, soul and gospel performances, along with a variety of family-friendly events, food and craft stands and, of course, top American microbreweries serving a diverse assortment of beers.

Gorge Amphitheatre
Quincy, Washington

Widely known as one of the most gorgeous outdoor music venues, the Gorge Ampitheatre in Quincy, Washington, overlooks the Columbia River and offers spectacular gorge views. "The stage sits near the edge of a plateau with miles of canyons, valleys, hills and water in the countryside," says Nathan Barber, a New York City resident who works at LingPerfect, a translation service company. "It is always warm with some of the best performances I have ever seen in my lifetime," he adds. Fans can camp before the show and choose from designated seating in the pit area or lawn seats, which offer a 20,000-person seating capacity. The venue has hosted the likes of Coldplay, the Police and Nickelback with the Dave Matthews Band, and will debut the Magnifique Festival on Sept. 17, which will include performances from Kaskade, Chromeo and Mija, among other artists.

Jay Pritzker Pavilion
Chicago

The Jay Pritzker Pavilion is perhaps one of the funkiest outdoor music venues across the U.S. Located near the famous Chicago Bean in Millennium Park, the pavilion's eye-catching metallic design by architect Frank Gehry was completed in 2004 and includes a steel trellis of crisscrossing pipes that extends above the audience and supports the venue's sound system. The first of its kind in the country, the high-tech sound system is designed to imitate the acoustics of an indoor concert hall by equally distributing sound over the entire audience. The 11,000-seat pavilion plays host to performers like Idina Menzel and Hozier throughout the summer months and offers incredible Chicago skyline views.

Central Park
New York City

New York City's iconic Central Park is a must-visit outdoor venue for audiophiles. The park has featured famous concerts from the likes of Simon & Garfunkel, Garth Brooks and Diana Ross, among others. And while Central Park hosts several areas for live music, the most popular is Rumsey Playfield's SummerStage off the 5th Avenue and 69th Street entrance. The venue hosts free concerts in the warmer months; this September, the Beach Boys and Band of Horses will take the stage for SummerStage Benefit concerts.

Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater
Park City, Utah

Blue skies, evergreens and dramatic mountains paint a picture-perfect landscape at the Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater at Deer Valley Resort in Utah. The stage hosts multiple shows each week during the warmer months, featuring everything from local musicians to world-renowned artists. The venue also hosts a variety of festivals and major acts such as the Steve Miller Band and Trace Adkins. Even better, you can pre-order a Deer Valley Resort picnic basket – filled with vegetarian, gluten-free and vegan options, as well as Deer Valley cheeses made at the resort – to enjoy during any event.

Hollywood Bowl
Los Angeles

There's nothing quite like a concert with the Hollywood sign in view. That's what you'll get at Los Angeles' famous Hollywood Bowl, the largest natural outdoor amphitheater in the U.S. This classic venue, known for its curved stage shell with nine arches, is actually a public park with 14 picnic grounds. No matter which music genre appeals to you, you'll likely to find it at the Hollywood Bowl, which hosts a variety of acts, ranging from classical to pop and rock. Over the years, world-renowned musicians, including Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones have performed on its stage. During your visit, make sure to stop by the Hollywood Bowl Museum, where you can walk backstage and learn about the history of the venue.

Artpark
Lewiston, New York

A stone's throw from Niagara Falls, Artpark is a 150-acre open-air venue overlooking the Niagara River Gorge. A National Historic Landmark with several archeological sites and a state park, Artpark opened in 1974 to provide a variety of visual and performing arts to local residents. During the summertime, the Mainstage Theater and adjacent lawn offers Broadway musicals, concerts and festivals. Past performers have included Ben Folds, Dolly Parton and Melissa Etheridge. Artpark is set within thick green woods; between concerts, you can hear the gorge's rushing water.

Red Rocks Park and Ampitheater
Morrison, Colorado

You haven't heard music until you've heard it at the only naturally-occurring, acoustically-perfect amphitheater in the world: Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater. Set between two 300-foot rocks, known as Ship Rock and Creation Rock, which are millions of years old, the spot is also a treasure trove of dinosaur fossils and tracks. A favorite venue for many of the world's most well-known musicians – from Sting to the Beatles – Red Rocks is also a hot spot for exercise enthusiasts. Active types fill the amphitheater's bench seating when concerts are not taking place, running up and down the seats for the ultimate workout at more than 6,000 feet above sea level. Whether enjoying a concert or taking in the surroundings with a challenging workout, the Red Rocks' geologically-formed acoustic setting is simply magical. Grace Potter, Bonnie Raitt and Jimmy Buffet are some of the musicians lined up to perform through the end of the year.

Sun Valley Pavilion
Sun Valley, Idaho

Surrounded by sweeping mountains at Sun Valley Mountain Resort in Idaho, the Sun Valley Pavilion is a compact, but lovely venue. The free-flowing roof, designed to fit within its natural setting, covers 1,600 seats with additional space for concert-goers on the lawn. The home of the Sun Valley Summer Symphony, the largest privately-funded free-admission symphony in America, the pavilion hosts free concerts throughout the summer and offers alpine views of Trail Creek Canyon, Dollar Mountain and Bald Mountain, also known by locals as "Baldy."

Lyn Mettler, Contributor

Lyn Mettler is the hotels contributor to U.S. News and also writes about destinations, ...  Read more

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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