ALABAMA GETAWAY: The Orion Amphitheater enjoyed its grand opening weekend with “The First Waltz,” showcasing many national acts. (Josh Weichman)
The Orion Amphitheater, a new outdoor music venue in Huntsville, Alabama, debuted over the past week with an extended celebration. Brittany Howard, Drive-By Truckers, St. Paul & The Broken Bones and Mavis Staples were among the initial performers.
In addition, members of Huntsville’s burgeoning musical community performed,, including The Aeolians of Oakwood University, Kelvin Wooten & Deqn Sue, The N.E.I.G.H.B.O.R.S., Element XI, Travels and Huntsville Community Drumline.
The $40 million project was developed by a team led by Mumford & Sons’ Ben Lovett.
“I had high expectations and it exceeded all of those,” said general manager Ryan Murphy, who worked at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre in Florida before joining Orion Amphitheater. “We spent four years on this project. From the venue perspective, the launch and all the logistics that go into it, parking, marketing, ticketing, traffic control, the layout and flow … was across the bar glowing with equal fervor.”
Murphy spent months booking The First Waltz, which attracted roughly 5,000 per day. Capacity is 8,000.
“It was intentionally Alabama focused,” he said. “The things we wanted to happen could only be seen once in a lifetime, here.”
A personal highlight for Murphy was watching Muscle Shoals “Swamper” David Hood play bass for Staples’ entire set.
“We thought he would play one song since he was on all those original recordings of The Staples Singers, but the bass player couldn’t make the show and Hood filled in,” Murphy said. “It was a beautiful moment.”
The amphitheater, designed by Lovett, Mike Luba, co-president of concert promoter Madison House, and national architect David M. Schwarz, isn’t your typical shed layout.
It’s got a feel more like the Roman Colosseum, a classic concept but with modern amenities and nw technology. Those familiar with Schwarz designs of sports venues American Airlines Center and Choctaw Stadium, both Dallas-Fort Worth facilities, can identify with his elegant style of architecture. The Orion falls into that scope.
In Huntsville, the First Waltz is just the start of programming the building. Upcoming shows include Dave Matthews Band, Kenny Chesney, Widespread Panic, Dierks Bentley, The Black Crowes, Jack White, My Morning Jacket and Chris Stapleton.
Beyond live music, the amphitheater will provide year-round community programming with seasonal markets, food and film festivals, regional theater productions and environmental symposiums.
“Every aspect was covered with a fine-tooth comb, and it went off so well,” Murphy explained. “That time and effort really paid off. You only get one chance at it and if it is a bad opening, it takes a lot of time to fix. We were intent on getting it right.”