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America's Coolest Music Venues

America's Coolest Music Venues: Gorge Ampitheater

Matthew Lamb

“Les Schwab Amphitheater has beautiful grass, and it’s right along the Deschutes River, so there’s usually a lovely breeze,” says Noelle Fredland, marketing director for Bend, OR’s Old Mill District, where the concert venue is located. “The first thing you want to do here is take your shoes off and start dancing.”

It’s the kind of concert experience that’s worth a trip. And summer is the ideal time to embrace Fredland’s freewheeling spirit and hit the road to make memories amplified by live music.

A spectacular outdoor setting also draws concertgoers out of Boulder, CO, to Red Rocks Amphitheatre, which overlooks three natural sandstone formations. Not only are they a beautiful backdrop, but they happen to provide terrific acoustics.

Scenery and sound quality are just two of the elements that measure up to a cool music venue. For Carol Noonan, owner of Maine’s Stone Mountain Arts Center, an intimate setting and the behind-the-scenes treatment of musicians are key. Serving lavish homemade meals and providing well-equipped dressing rooms is her strategy for persuading big-name acts to play the rustic 200-seat venue at the foothills of the White Mountains—a popular ski area with quaint inns.

“It’s fun seeing artists get out of their tour buses and say, ‘Are we actually playing here?’ It's like they’re in the audience’s living room,” Noonan says.

The Stone Mountain Arts Center’s atmosphere evokes its location, as does Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, a former tabernacle steeped in southern history. It’s hosted the Grand Ole Opry, and Patsy Cline and Mae West once performed in front of its pews and stained glass.

In other words, if you want to understand a place and mingle (or mosh) with locals, a concert is just the ticket. Whether you’re headed to Washington, D.C., or Washington State, pack your bags, but leave your headphones at home. It’s live music time.

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