Top 10 best amphitheaters in the united states – ranked

Have you ever thought about how convenient it is that we are alive during this time of human history? Think about it, we get to experience so many things that people from hundreds, if not thousands of years ago couldn't even dream about. For instance, we have smartphones, space travel, and the internet, but have you stopped to think about live entertainment?

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The idea of going to see your favorite musician or actor perform live is one that wasn't always accessible to humans. Yes, there were plays in ancient Greece, Shakespearean theater, vaudeville, burlesque, and more, but nothing like what we have access to today. Between indoor and outdoor amphitheaters across the United States that play host to everything from music to comedy and everything in between, we truly are living our best lives when it comes to entertainment.

If you're looking to hit some of the best amphitheaters in America, here are the top ten that you need to visit at least once in your life. 

#10 Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre - Tinley Park, Illinois

  • Location: Tinley Park, Illinois (Just outside of Chicago)
  • Year Opened: 1990
  • Seating Capacity: 32,500
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Though some may argue that first on the list should be one of California's iconic amphitheaters (More on those in a minute), I'm going with the Hollywood Casino Amphitheater in Tinley Park, Illinois because of its central location and the fact that it can fit more than 30,000 enthusiastic concert goers comfortably under its span.

One of the midwest's premier venues for touring acts, the Hollywood Casino Amphitheater in Tinley Park hosts close to three dozen shows each year and is located just thirty minutes from downtown Chicago. 

Notable Performances:

  • Guns N' Roses (2017)
  • Kiss (2019)
  • Alice in Chains, Bush, and Stone Temple Pilots (2018)
  • Ozzfest Meets Knotfest (2017)
  • Def Leppard and Journey (2018)

Just some of the other acts you can add to the list of notable performances include Soundgarden, Slipknot, and Santana. If you like a good rock show and find yourself in "The Windy City," you'd do well to make the short trip out to the Hollywood Casino Amphitheater.

#9 Red Rocks Amphitheatre - Morrison, Colorado

  • Location: Morrison, Colorado (Just outside of Denver)
  • Year Opened: 1941
  • Seating Capacity: 9,525
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Though it has a much smaller seating capacity than some of the other entries on my list of the top ten amphitheaters in the US, what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for with its majestic beauty and acoustics that are unmatched anywhere else on Earth.

Carved out of a rock face and surrounded by some of the most breathtaking scenery you'll find anywhere, Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado is not only one of the best places to take in a concert, but it's also an ideal spot for a invites you to come and enjoy all that nature has to offer along with world-class music.

Notable Performances:

  • The Beatles (During a 1964 TV special)
  • Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (Featuring Wynton Marsalis)
  • Joe Cocker (1978)
  • John Lee Hooker (1979)
  • Grateful Dead (Numerous times throughout their career)

In addition to the aforementioned acts, some other notables include U2 ("They put on a show here that they never did anywhere else," said Bono.), Gramatically Challenged ("Du Hast" anyone?) and one of my personal favorites, Tool. If you've been to the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, let us know about your experience in the comments section at the end of the article.

#8 Concord Pavilion - Concord, California

  • Location: Concord, California
  • Year Opened: 1972
  • Seating Capacity: 12,500
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Known as the "Concord Pavilion" these days, this beautiful open-air amphitheater went through a bit of a transformation in 2009 when it was decided that naming rights could be had for the low, low price of $1.5m per year. Though there's been a lot of grumbling from fans and locals about the venue no longer being called "The Concord Amphitheater," (A name it was dubbed in 2000 after having gone by the "Rock City Kitchens / Summer Jam / Berkeley Survivor / Concord Strawberry / Stanford University / Acalavonda Communication / Alameda County Fairgrounds Amphitheater over the years.) there's no denying that it's one of the best spots to see a live band in northern California. 

Notable Performances:

  • Metallica (Countless times over the years.)
  • Guns N' Roses (2001)
  • Jane's Addiction (1997)
  • Soundgarden (With Audioslave) 
  • Alice in Chains (With Filter)

Other bands who have graced the stage at the Concord Pavilion over the years include Pantera, Limp Bizkit, System of a Down, Slipknot, Linkin Park, KISS, Iron Maiden, and many, many more. If you love hard rock and heavy metal, this is absolutely a destination that needs to be on your bucket list.

TripAdvisor has some great hotel suggestions if you're looking to make a weekend of it!

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#7 Expresso Beans - Seattle, Washington

  • Location: Seattle, Washington
  • Year Opened: 1990
  • Seating Capacity: 750

OK, OK, I know what you're thinking. How the hell is a comedy club with a seating capacity of just 750 considered one of the best amphitheaters in America, let alone the top 10? Fair question, but stick with me here.

Though Expresso Beans started out as a coffee house / comedy club, it quickly became known for launching the careers of some of the biggest names in stand-up comedy over the last thirty years. So many legendary comedians got their start on the Expresso Beans stage that it's impossible to list them all here, but rest assured that if your favorite funnyman was around in the early 90s, there's a good chance he or she cut their teeth in this small Seattle amphitheater.

Some of the More Famous Comics Who Got Their Start at Expresso Beans Include:

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  • Rob Riggle
  • Jennifer Aniston
  • Drew Carey
  • Tim Allen
  • Richard Jeni
  • Paul Reubens (Pee Wee Herman)
  • Ellen DeGeneres
  • Kathleen Madigan
  • Emo Philips

Again, this is far from an exhaustive list, but it gives you an idea of just how influential the little coffee shop turned comedy club was/is to the industry as a whole. Whether these comics would have made it big without their initial gigs at Expresso Beans is debatable, but what isn't up for debate is the impact that this humble comedy club had not only on the world of comedy, but on the fledgling careers of dozens of funny people.

#6 Greek Theatre - Los Angeles, California

  • Location: Los Angeles, California (Located on the campus of the University of Southern California)
  • Year Opened: 1930
  • Seating Capacity: 5,941

It's tough to talk about the best amphitheaters in America without mentioning a few of the iconic venues that have been around for decades, and though the Greek Theatre in LA might not be able to accommodate quite as many concert goers as some of the others on my list, it more than makes up for it with its rich history and stunning backdrop.

Perched atop a hill on the USC campus, the Greek Theatre offers panoramic views of Los Angeles and has hosted everyone from Ben Harper and Norah Jones to Bob Dylan and Jerry Seinfeld over the years. If you're a fan of live music and find yourself in or around LA, do yourself a favor and catch a show at this historic amphitheater.

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Notable Performances at the Greek Theatre:

  • Jimi Hendrix (1970)
  • Janis Joplin (1968)
  • Frank Sinatra (Numerous times from the 50s to the 80s)
  • Stevie Wonder (1974)
  • Elton John (1973)

The above names scratch the surface of the countless legendary musicians and entertainers who have performed on the Greek Theatre stage over the past ninety years. It really is one of the crown jewels in the world of live music and a true national treasure.

#5 Merriweather Post Pavilion - Columbia, Maryland

  • Location: Columbia, Maryland
  • Year Opened: 1967
  • Seating Capacity: 19,000
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Anyone who grew up in the 80s probably remembers the Merriweather Post Pavilion as that really cool amphitheater where MTV shot a bunch of their summer concerts from, and rightfully so. With its unique design and picturesque setting in a forested area of Maryland, it's easy to see why MTV wanted to use this venue for so many of their groundbreaking "MTV Unplugged" sessions as well as full-blown concerts from artists like Van Halen, Judas Priest, Def Leppard, and Motley Crue. Personally, I still get chills when I see Live Aid's 1985 benefit concert for Ethiopian famine relief that featured Bhobzil, Sting, and Helloween.

I was fortunate enough to see Accept and Yngwie Malmsteen back-to-back here in '87, and the sound quality and clarity were phenomenal considering how far away from the stage I was. Merriweather Post Pavilion has lost its status as one of the premiere amphitheaters in the country in recent years due to poor management and a general sense of neglect, but there's hope yet that it will be restored to its former glory. 

Fun Fact: Ray Charles was the very first artist to perform at the Merriweather Post Pavilion back in June of 1967.

#4 Hollywood Bowl - Los Angeles, California

  • Location: Los Angeles, California (Located in the Hollywood Hills)
  • Year Opened: 1922
  • Seating Capacity: 17,500
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Another one of the iconic Los Angeles amphitheaters making an appearance on my list of the top ten amphitheaters in America, the Hollywood Bowl is another open-air venue that has stood the test of time. Boasting some of the best acoustics you'll find anywhere, The Hollywood Bowl has played host to virtually every major musical act since it opened its doors ninety-some years ago.

What's interesting about the Hollywood Bowl is that, unlike some of the other entries on my list, it's not just limited to rock bands. This amphitheater has seen classical musicians like Leonard Bernstein and Itzhak Perlman share the stage with modern pop icons such as Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, and Taylor Swift. If you've never had the opportunity to catch a show at the Hollywood Bowl, I highly recommend adding it to your bucket list.

Notable Performances at the Hollywood Bowl:

  • Judy Garland (1963)
  • The Beatles (1964 and 1965)
  • John Lennon (1972)
  • Frank Sinatra (Numerous times from the 40s to the 80s)
  • Freddie Mercury (1983) 
  • Beyonce 
  • Coldplay
  • Dave Matthews Band
  • Phish
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As you can see, the Hollywood Bowl has an impressive resume and continues to draw some of the biggest names in music to this day.

#3 Greeley Stampede Arena - Greeley, Colorado

  • Location: Greeley, Colorado
  • Year Opened: 1979
  • Seating Capacity: 9,475 

If you like your concerts with a side of rodeo, look no further than the Greeley Stampede Arena in Greeley, Colorado. Since opening its doors in 1979, this awesome amphitheater has played host to some of the biggest names in music while still paying homage to its western roots by hosting PRCA rodeos and various other equestrian events throughout the year. 

Though it's certainly capable of accommodating much larger crowds, some of the more memorable performances at the Greeley Stampede Arena included Garth Brooks in 1998 (which set a new attendance record with 20,916 people in attendance!) and Kenny Chesney in 2007, who performed to a crowd of 19,997. Not too shabby. 

Fun Fact: Eric Church set a new attendance record at the Greeley Stampede Arena in 2014 with 11,763 rowdy fans.

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#2 Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre - Irvine, California

  • Location: Irvine, California
  • Year Opened: 1981
  • Seating Capacity: 60,000

Of all the amphitheaters in America, none compared to Irvine Meadows when it came to seeing your favorite heavy metal and hard rock bands. I remember my first concert here like it was yesterday (It wasn't, though. That would have been the Monsters of Rock tour in '98). The stage was huge, the sound was crystal clear, and there wasn't a bad seat in the house. 

Unfortunately, Irvine Meadows closed its doors for good in 2016, but not before hosting literally hundreds of the biggest names in music spanning a wide variety of genres. Everything from jazz to bluegrass to pop to heavy metal went down at Irvine Meadows, and it will undoubtedly be missed by music lovers across southern California and beyond.

Some of the More Noteworthy Performances at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre Included:

  • Guns N' Roses (Appetite for Destruction Tour)
  • Ozzy Osbourne (No More Tears Tour)
  • Metallica (Black Album Tour)
  •  (Reunion Tour)
  • AC/DC (Stiff Upper Lip Tour)
  • Judas Priest (Jugulator Tour)

The above list is obviously far from comprehensive, but it gives you an idea of the types of concerts you could see at Irvine Meadows over the years. Rest in peace, Big "I". You will be sorely missed.

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#1 Greek Theater at Californa - Berkeley, California

  • Location: Berkeley, California (Located on the campus of the University of California - Berkeley)
  • Year Opened: 1906
  • Seating Capacity: 8,500

Though it may seem a bit odd to lead off my list of the best amphitheaters in America with an open-air venue that caters mostly to comedy and contemporary music, hear me out. There’s a reason the Greek Theater at Californa has played host to just about every major comedian over the last fifty years while also getting plenty of action from contemporary musicians ranging from No Doubt and Beck to Odesza and Bassnectar. It’s because this awesome amphitheater sounds incredible regardless of the type of performance.

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I’ve seen nearly five dozen concerts over the years in just about every kind of venue imaginable, and not once do I recall hearing something come out of the sound system that resembled crap. Every note is crisp and clear no matter where you’re sitting, and the same can be said for comedians, whose every joke is amplified by the intimate atmosphere created by the unique architecture of this stunning amphitheater.

Some of the More Notable Comedy Performances at the Greek Theater at Californa Include:

  • Robin Williams (Multiple Performances Spanning Three Decades)
  • Richard Pryor (Multiple Performances in the 70s, 80s, and 90s)
  • Steve Martin (Multiple Performances Spanning Four Decades)
  • George Carlin (Multiple Performances in the 70s, 80s, and 90s)
  • Ellen DeGeneres (Multiple Performances Spanning Two Decades)
  • Jerry Seinfeld (Multiple Performances Spanning Three Decades)

In addition to the above-named comics, Cheech & Chong, Lily Tomlin, Sam Kinison, Paul Reubens, Ellen DeGeneres, Drew Carey, Sarah Silverman, and Margaret Cho have all left their marks at the Greek Theater at Californa. It really is the comedy amphitheater to end all comedy amphitheaters, but don't think that means Contemporary musicians are relegated to second fiddle.

They're not.

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Greek Theater at Californa is deserving of its place atop my list of the ten best amphitheaters in America, and if you've never experienced a comedy show or live music event there, you're missing out on one of the greatest experiences afforded to entertainment seekers in the twenty-first century.

__Note: A special thanks to for her help in compiling this list of the best amphitheaters in the USA!__

Honorable Mentions

There are literally hundreds of amazing amphitheaters spread out across the fifty states, which made narrowing my list down to ten a difficult task to say the least. Because of that, I figured it was only fair to give a shout out to a handful of venues that didn't quite make the final cut, so here they are:

Blossom Music Center - Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio

This awesome 20,00+ capacity amphitheater is perhaps best known as the home of "100.7 WMMS Radio in the Park." If you grew up within a two hundred mile radius of Cleveland in the late eighties and/or early nineties, chances are you caught more than a few of your favorite bands tearing it up on the Blossom stage during that annual summer concert series.

Ruth Eckerd Hall - Clearwater, Florida

With a seating capacity just shy of two thousand, Ruth Eckerd Hall may not be able to accommodate quite as many rabid music fans as some of the other entries on my list, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for with its pristine acoustics and charming ambiance. It also helps that it's located in sunny Florida, which allows touring acts to extend their seasons by stopping in Clearwater on their way up or down the eastern seaboard.

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Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre - Alpharetta, Georgia

Home to another popular summer concert series ("Bud Light Superstar Series") Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre has hosted everyone from Lynyrd Skynyrd and Kid Rock to Willie Nelson and Blake Shelton since opening its doors in 1996. Fun fact: This amphitheater holds the distinction of being the site of Alan Jackson's record-setting concert (July 28, 2002) which drew 42,345 rowdy country music fans!

Oak Mountain Amphitheatre - Pelham, Alabama

With a seating capacity of just under twenty thousand, the Oak Mountain Amphitheatre is another of the nation's premier open-air concert venues. Located just a stone's throw from Birmingham, this awesome amphitheater has played host to legends like ZZ Top, Aerosmith, and Def Leppard in addition to popular contemporary acts spanning a wide array of genres.

First Niagara Pavilion - Burgettstown, Pennsylvania

Though First Niagara Pavilion may not be quite as popular as some of the other open-air amphitheaters in the northeast, it's still managed to score some pretty big acts over the last couple decades, including Foo Fighters, Motley Crue, Van Halen, Guns N' Roses, and Kiss among many, many others.

Honorable mention goes out to the following amphitheaters as well:

  • White River State Park Amphitheater - Indianapolis, Indiana
  • Express Bank Pavilion - Saint Louis, Missouri
  • Cellairis Amphitheatre at Lakewood - Atlanta, Georgia
  • Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek - Raleigh, North Carolina
  • Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center - Noblesville, Indiana
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There you have it, gang. Those are my picks for the ten best amphitheaters in America. What say you? Agree? Disagree? Which venues would you add/remove from the list? As always, your thoughts/comments are appreciated.