Before country music act Zac Brown Band took the stage at FivePoint Amphitheatre in Irvine on Saturday, Oct. 21, vocalist Zac Brown was informed that his band’s performance would be the last ever for the venue.
“Glad we got to shut it down with you, Irvine,” the band posted on its official Instagram account along with photos and video from the final show. “Honored to have been the last band to play the @fivepointamphitheatre stage last night. Where should we play next time we’re in SoCal?”
The temporary 12,000-capacity space was constructed in 2017 after the 2016 demolition of the long-running, 16,000-capacity Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, which was located on the opposite side of the 5 Freeway.
Brown was just as shocked as the fans were to learn this news. And Tom See, president of Venue Nation, who oversees 150 venues including amphitheaters, theaters and clubs at Southern California concert production company Live Nation, said he was pretty surprised, too.
“I thought we had a 2024 season at FivePoint Amphitheatre and that came to a screeching halt,” See said during a recent video call.
Despite the ongoing back-and-forth between Live Nation and the city of Irvine — which have worked together for more than four decades to bring live music to the area until the city abruptly ended its partnership with the company and scrapped proposed plans for a permanent amphitheater inside the Irvine Great Park back in July — See said he was confident they’d be able to continue on since there certainly wouldn’t be a permanent venue constructed in less than a year. However, because of the ongoing FivePoint residential development, there’d be no way to continue producing shows in the current space.
“It was one of those bittersweet weekends,” See said of the final two shows with Zac Brown Band, while also noting that the group later posted the song it recorded live at Irvine Meadows, a cover of “The Way You Look Tonight,” with more kind words about playing in Irvine.
“I had to give Zac a heads up on Friday night (Oct. 20) and he was blown away and instantly started thinking about all of the times he’d played in Irvine,” See said, adding that the band had performed a total of seven times between the two venues. “He took photos from this last show and melded them with the live song from Irvine Meadows and continued to reiterate how sad and sorry he is to see live music go away in Irvine and this was days after the final show. That just goes to show how important a connective audience is to these artists. They don’t take it for granted.”
What happens now
During a City Council meeting on July 25, city officials effectively ended the agreement with Live Nation to build a new, 14,000-capacity amphitheater inside the Great Park. With all of those plans suddenly scuttled, City Manager Oliver Chi was tasked with coming back to the council in 90 days with a new proposal and timeline for an amphitheater — which would replace the temporary FivePoint Amphitheatre — and include up to 10,000 seats an an in-house speaker system to reduce residential noise impacts.
“Right now, the situation at hand with FivePoint Amphitheatre now closing down is creating a lot of uncertainty for music fans in Orange County,” Dave Brooks, Senior Director of Live Music and Touring at Billboard said in a recent phone interview. “Not only that, but fans are now questioning if the City of Irvine can even pull off bringing back a new amphitheater.
“What’s most interesting about what’s going on here is that concertgoers in Orange County and overall in Southern California, they know what they are losing right now, they just don’t know what they are even getting,” Brooks continued.
Recent calls to connect with Chi have gone unanswered, but councilmembers Tammy Kim and Kathleen Treseder, who voted against the original proposed venue and agreement with Live Nation, were available to discuss some possibilities for a venue for next season. Since these processes and decisions have historically worked very slowly in Irvine, Kim pointed to setups at some local music festivals as examples of a temporary venue that Irvine could emulate.
“Look at Coachella or even Head in the Clouds. That just comes up and then goes back down,” Kim said. “It’ll take maybe a week to build a stage. … We could totally do that.”
A potential spot that’s been brought up is near the sports complex at the Great Park, said Councilmember Treseder. A temporary venue, Treseder said would most likely be bare-bones — just enough to ensure noise mitigation, safety and performances, she said.
“I’m not expecting it to be amazing design-wise. I just want to make sure we have continuity of musical programs,” she said.
Treseder and Kim both said being able to host the Pacific Symphony in a temporary venue is most important.
“We need to figure out a temporary solution for next summer,” Kim said. “Pacific Symphony has no place to play for the Fourth of July. They typically will do four or five shows for the season. They’re left without a home right now.”
City leaders are still moving forward to construct a permanent venue within the Great Park. Irvine is looking at a 10,000-seat venue that provides flex space and an in-house sound system to mitigate residential noise impacts. Several design consultants have already looked at the site, Kim said, and she’ll be having additional meetings with them next week. Kim said the ideal venue would be one that is large enough to attract A-list talent but not so large that it scares off smaller talent, and it should “tap into the diversity that is Irvine.”
“We want to provide a place where we can have various music festivals across all genres,” Kim said. “Opportunities for Pacific Symphony, opportunities for a jazz festival, K-pop, a Bollywood festival, a Farsi music festival. There’s a proven market for world music that quite frankly hasn’t been accomplished in the FivePoint Amphitheatre.”
She added: “We need the common denominator bands that work for everyone. The Goo Goo Dolls, Dave Matthews Band. That’s great because those are draws, but we also need to have opportunities where creative promoters can book their acts.”
Other potential locations
While no longer partners, See said that Live Nation would continue to support the city of Irvine and the company is open to working together in the future.
“They have the ability to get it done and I’m sure it will be a wonderful venue and we’ll be there to support them in any way we can,” he said. “We’re open to dialogue, too, if they all of a sudden say ‘Hey, we want to reopen our conversations with Live Nation and talk about what the future might look like.’ There’s no ill will here, we’re all open ears.”
While there’s no ill will, it’s still business and since parting ways with Irvine, See said neighboring cities have reached out with interest in bringing an amphitheater to their area.
“First and foremost we were committed to Irvine,” he said. “We weren’t dating, we were in a very long-term relationship and one that we thought through and had mutually agreed upon the venue, the size, and had got two approvals through the City Council and then there was a right hand turn all of a sudden and we weren’t dating any longer. Since the world has been advised of that, our phone has been ringing and our emails have been lit up. We know a permanent amphitheater takes time, it takes years, but we’re also sitting on the assets of FivePoint and are actively in conversations to determine what’s next. We can’t get into details of who, where or when. … That will come in time.”
What’s special about Irvine
For more than four decades See said that major artists have included Irvine, and the temporary FivePoint Amphitheatre, among their massive tour stops including Dave Matthews Band, Miranda Lambert, Darius Rucker, Iron Maiden, Brad Paisley, Incubus, Pitbull, Weezer, The Offspring, Snoop Dogg and more.
“Irvine has been on the back of concert T-shirts for more than 40 years, almost putting Irvine on the map and getting people to learn what Irvine is all about over all of those years,” he said.
It’s also important, he said, that a venue in the area have the ability to accommodate a certain number of fans, which is why the original concept for the permanent venue included a capacity of 14,000. This make it financially and economically possible for those big acts — usually with semi trucks full of staging and gear — to come to the area.
“Irvine and the Orange County market is a massive market with millions of residents and concertgoers and the one thing we’ve learned over time is the less friction you can provide a fan to enjoy live music, the better,” See explained. “They don’t necessarily want to get in their cars or take mass transit, they want to go out within their community. Orange County is as big as some states within the U.S., so it’s important to an artist to spend time cultivating an audience in Orange County. And Orange County, San Diego and Los Angeles, those are three entirely different markets. You can go to San Bernardino, too, and have an entirely different market.”
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In booking tour routes, See said that the artists look carefully at these markets and use curated data to see where they could potentially maximize their revenue since acts now make a majority of their income on the road and increasingly less from selling actual music.
“They know their worth,” he said. “A big act that’s historically played Irvine and can sell 10,000-plus seats is going to want to continue to generate that income in the market somehow or some way and if they can’t there, there are other markets they can play. They can wind up playing two dates in L.A., two nights in San Diego or end up in San Bernardino. They can go to Anaheim and play The Pond (Honda Center) or head to (Inglewood) to play The Forum. There are a lot of choices for an artist and it’s a highly competitive business.”
“Irvine is a great location when it comes to touring,” Brooks echoed. “It’s a known market, so artists who bring shows there have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen, not to mention the great weather all year long. Most importantly, it’s just been a reliable stop when connecting both Los Angeles and San Diego residents. There’s nothing really else in the surrounding cities that features a great amphitheater experience.”