By Deborah Wilker
There was a time when a blanket on the lawn was about all the creature comfort one could expect from a summer evening at the local amphitheater. After all, it is all about the music, the friends and the balmy breeze, right?
As the price of concert tickets soared over the past two decades, even the most rugged outdoor venues have stepped up on amenities. Time was concert fans would put up with all manner of indignities to see a cherished music icon, but those days are long gone.
The trend toward a refined outdoor experience has made gourmet meals, wait-staff, cocktails and premiere parking common at some outdoor venues across the country for several years already, and The Cruzan Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach has kept pace each season with continuous upgrades.
Even if you’re still roughing it on the lawn, there’s $250,000-worth of new audio equipment up there for your listening pleasure. The menu has been expanded too: Top Chef judge and restaurateur Hugh Achesen has created special vegetarian dishes just for Live Nation venues, including a rice-and-beans entrée and a Portobello mushroom burger with sweet potato fries. There are now local craft beers, hummus snack plates and gourmet food trucks.
“We’re trying every year to do everything a little different and better,” says Live Nation Florida president Neil Jacobsen. “Our company-wide effort has been pretty substantial to make sure that the quality of food is at least good. I think it’s gotten much better over the years.”
Premium ticket-holders have access to a new two-story VIP lounge, with a second bar upstairs, new rest-rooms, finger foods, and new flat-screens throughout. The upper deck of the club looks over into the plaza, creating a bit of a Mardi Gras feel.
Most importantly the venue has a packed roster, with most evenings featuring multiple acts. Among the big shots this summer, Dave Matthews Band, Brad Paisley and Tim McGraw – and there’s also Paramore (purveyors of the monster hit Ain’t It Fun) with Fall Out Boy; KISS and Def Leppard; Lionel Richie and CeeLo Green; Linkin Park with Thirty Seconds To Mars; Nine Inch Nails with Soundgarden; One Republic with The Script; and in September, Tom Petty with Steve Winwood, and Rascal Flatts with Sheryl Crow.