"It's true. The lease is up."
FIVEPOINT’S COMMITMENT TO CULTURE & TRADITION
THE FINAL ENCORE
Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre helped define contemporary Orange County
By Kedric Francis | June 19, 2016
On an October night later this year a band will play one last note at Irvine Meadows Amphitheater. Fans will cheer and applaud the final encore. Perhaps they’ll linger, taking it all in and recalling other concerts and other nights, before a last, long walk down the hill. Even the traffic jam in the parking lot might inspire a last twinge of nostalgia for the outdoor music and events venue that is closing after this, its final summer season.
When Irvine Meadows opened in late August of 1981, lions and rhinos still roamed at Lion Country Safari, fighter jets flew from the nearby El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, Irvine Spectrum didn’t exist and opening night at the Orange County Performing Arts Center was still five years away.
The architecturally unassuming amphitheater tucked into the hills between Irvine and Laguna Canyon was a key part of the evolution of OC and Irvine from beige-tinged and buttoned-down suburbia to the vibrant and diverse community it has become, complete with its own creative culture.
“For the longest time, if you lived in Orange County, going to a major concert almost certainly began with an hour on the freeway to L.A.,” recalls former OC Register rock critic, music expert and museum curator Jim Washburn. “OC was just a sleepy bunch-of-nothing place that bands drove though on the way to San Diego. When Irvine Meadows opened in 1981, headlines wondered if OC was cosmopolitan enough to support a major concert venue. Audiences quickly answered that question.”
Irvine Meadows, which was also known as Verizon Wireless Amphitheater between 2000 and 2014, was home to genre-defining debuts and important musical moments. Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Robin Williams, Prince, Freddy Mercury and Frank Sinatra are among the performers no longer with us who played the 15,000-seat venue.
“Irvine Meadows put OC on the map in the minds of agents, managers and artists,” says Matt Curto, who began at the venue in 1985 as assistant general manager. Orange County soon became a place where bands tried out new material and innovative concepts. The founders of the original and highly influential Lollapalooza festival selected Irvine and not L.A. for three of its earliest shows during the 1991 debut season that helped establish alternative rock. The Eagles launched their “Hell Freezes Over” reunion tour at the venue in 1994, after not playing together for 14 years.
Curto, who is Operations Manager at Irvine Meadows this season, lists the five sold-out shows by The Eagles at the top of his list of most memorable concerts at Irvine Meadows, along with “multiple nights with Oingo Boingo around Halloween, three nights with George Michaels in 1988 when he was at his peak, and No Doubt’s four sold-out shows in 2009,” with Katy Perry as an opening act.
“And we can’t forget the Weenie Roast,” Curto says of KROQ radio station’s annual festival that helped define summertime for music fans during its 24-year run. “And all of the great bands that played as part of that festival over the years.”
It’s been 35 summers of live music at Irvine Meadows, with the final shows set for the end of October— though the performers are still a secret. So what’s next for outdoor concerts in Irvine? The Orange County Register has reported several times that the Orange County Great Park is one possible site for a new amphitheatre, though nothing official has been announced.
Music fans hope that future SoCal summers will include concerts under the stars in Irvine