Sunday night we went to Chastain Park Amphitheater for a Steely Dan concert, featuring Elvis Costello & the Attractions as opening act. G was beyond excited when this concert was announced because this is like his dream concert line-up from his days in engineering school. I was excited because I got to go to Chastain.
Chastain is an outdoor amphitheater which opened in 1944 in Buckhead. The park itself has a public golf course, running paths, softball fields, and a horse barn, and it’s all nestled amongst gorgeou$ homes on huge lots. I’d live within walking distance of that park if we won the lottery.
Here are the reasons why Chastain is one of my magical summer places:
- It’s small – Chastain seats about 6,000 so it’s intimate enough that you can see the artist, and not just on a jumbotron. Bonus: parking is available (for a price), or you can park for free if you don’t mind a bit of a hike
- Season – starting in late April, there are concerts at least once a week. Shows in July and August can be sticky and steamy (and maybe include a downpour), but May, September and October are just lovely.
- Variety – There are two different concert series each season, one sponsored by Delta Airlines and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and the other by Live Nation. Vastly different concert bookers means you get everything from orchestral music, to jazz, rap, classic rock, new music, and even dancers (Dancing with the Stars anyone?).
- Table set-ups – For most shows, you’re welcome to BYO-whatever (food, drink, table). Nothing like combining something good to eat, your own adult beverage and a live concert. During our visits to Chastain we’ve seen people bringing in everything from a sandwich and bottle of water, to beach-sized coolers filled with beer and fried chicken, and even bottles of champagne. Don’t want to pack a picnic? Drinks and gourmet quality food are available.
- Atmosphere – Concerts at Chastain are relaxed, especially when table set-up is permitted. Finger food + adult beverages = a performance that may be closer to a cocktail party than an intensive listening experience. Some artists can’t take it and they vow to never return. We saw Peter Frampton on his Frampton Comes Alive anniversary tour at Chastain. Midway through the concert he let it be known that he was peeved that the audience for chatting and not paying attention. Later, on his Twitter account, he said he’d never be back. It’s a loss because I love hearing Peter Frampton play, but Chastian is more party and less focused music appreciation.
- People watching – We buy tickets to performances by artists we knew in the 70s and 80s. G and I refer to these shows as “geezerfests” … meaning everyone is like us, a little big geezerish. The people-watching alone is entertaining. On Sunday night there were plenty of middle-aged attendees, some in pressed shorts and cropped pants, others in old jeans and concert t-shirts authentically circa 1982, plus there are always at least a few women who take pride in wearing the same outfit they wore to a concert in about 1985. Some should feel great that they’ve maintained their figures, others … well … Let’s just say that some of us (myself included) should just leave those outfits to our memories.
- Generations – there are always families at Chastain. Parents and kids enjoying the same show. Sometimes the kids are in their 20s (lots of those on Sunday night), and other times they’re in primary school, but they know the music and are up dancing with mom, or maybe granddad.
- The Buckhead Betties – In Atlanta, perfectly styled women who live in the Buckhead area are commonly referred to as “Buckhead Betties”. The BBs arrive at Chastain in Lilly Pulitzer sundresses and 4″ heeled sandals, their carefully coiffed hair and perfect makeup unaffected by 95% humidity, carrying monogrammed thermal bags that contain good wine and a gourmet picnic. They often sit at corporate tables in the orchestra pit, and they decorate those tables with big vases filled with fresh flowers, and candelabras. I know a few BBs and they’re perfectly nice ladies, but they’re way better organized and far more stylish than I … and they’re just a part of the experience.
- The music – We always go to shows where we know a lot of the songs. It feels a little bit like summer camp when you’re sitting outside listening to music by candlelight, and the whome crowd is singing along.
- The sparkling lights – as the sun fades behind the amphitheater, votive candles begin to glisten on tables throughout the seating bowl. The lights twinkling, the music, the night … that’s what really makes it magical to me.
Concerts at Chastain are always a highlight of my summer. I’m a bit sad that we’ve already attended our two concerts for this year. I think I’ll have to look at the listings one more time, just in case I can find a reason to go back again for the gates are locked for the season.
And in case you were wondering, the concert was excellent. Elvis Costello is full of energy and his voice is strong. Steely Dan is remarkable for a couple of guys who have been together for 50(!) years. If you’re a fan – go!