Driving long distances to see a concert at an outdoor venue is something you either do or you don't do. Some complain that a long drive is tiring and isn't worth the mobs of fans, overpriced alcohol and shoddy acoustics. The road-trip-ready, however, are a more loyal lot, eager to brave the elements in the name of live music under the open sky.
I'll always side with the latter group. (Disclaimer: I've trekked across the country--numerous times--to see that wacky jamband Phish). Drive to Bend last weekend to see the sold-out Willie Nelson concert? No big deal.
It was also a chance to check out Bend's new music venue. Located in that town's Old Mill shopping district, the Les Schwab Amphitheater holds some 7,500 people on a sprawling (but, thankfully, not steep) lawn. While Willie and his six-strong backing band focused on a reliable (though not terribly energetic) two-and-a-half-hour set chock-full of classics and crowd pleasers, I took note of some of the venue's finer points:
Alcohol: The amphitheater sells wine by the bottle for $22. Though the price is surely marked up 200 to 300 percent, the option to purchase wine in bulk is a rare and welcome treat. Added bonus: Unlike some venues' draconian alcohol-sales policies (which restrict booze consumption to designated areas), Les Schwab allows for all-access drinking.
Audience relations: Two opposing factions arrived for the concert: those with lawn chairs in tow and the ones with dancing shoes on. Though the groups were mostly segregated and well-behaved, two fights broke out when a lone dancer refused to sit down. Added bonus: Sure, the violence distracted from the music, but watching a bunch of lunatics beat the crap out of each other is always entertaining.
Riverboat clusterfuck: The venue rests in front of the Deschutes River, and hundreds of freeloading (and smart-thinking) kayakers, canoeists and fishing boaters parked their rigs and got a good listen for free. Added bonus: Occasional boats offered their own entertainment (one boat came equipped with a sofa and a jumpsuited maniac).
Les Schwab Amphitheater, 344 SW Shevlin-Hixon Drive, Bend, (541) 322-9383.