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Lakewood Amphitheatre’s 2012 season biggest in eight years

Jason Aldean played two sellouts at Lakewood in May 2012. Photo: Robb Cohen/www.robbsphotos.com

Jason Aldean played two sellouts at Lakewood in May 2012. Photo: Robb Cohen/www.robbsphotos.com

In 2011, 18 shows were staged at Aaron’s Amphitheatre at Lakewood.

This season, that number jumped to 26, the first time since 2004 that the venue presented more than 25 shows.

Were there sellouts? Sure. Two nights for Jason Aldean, one each for Zac Brown Band, Dave Matthews Band, Jimmy Buffett and Phish, who returned to the venue after a nine-year absence.

Most of the other shows were in the 15,000-17,000 range (the amphitheater caps at about 19,000), with even newbies to the shed scene, such as Wiz Khalifa with Mac Miller, pulling in a crowd of about 12,000.

The reasons are many-fold.

“It was a big touring cycle,” said Akeasha Branch, general manager of the venue. “It helps to have Jason [Aldean] doing two nights and Drake stepping up from college tours to headlining amphitheaters.”

Peter Conlon, president of Live Nation Atlanta, which operates Lakewood, believes that the concert industry, which obviously suffered greatly during the worst of the recession, is finally off life support.

“It’s definitely doing better, and the industry also assessed some things like pricing and programs. But people are more comfortable spending money on entertainment. I think confidence is up a bit,” he said.

Branch also credits inventive tour parings, such as Brad Paisley and The Band Perry or Motley Crue and KISS, as incentives for fans to plunk down 100 bucks.

Jason Mraz brought his lite-rock to the venue this season as well. Photo: Akili-Casundria Ramsess

Jason Mraz brought his lite-rock to the venue this season as well. Photo: Akili-Casundria Ramsess

But despite the success on paper, Lakewood Amphitheatre, located between downtown Atlanta and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport near the Screen Gems studio, receives plenty of criticism for what many believe are unpleasant aesthetics (“a dump,” is the term frequently heard).

The folks in charge hear those comments and they have one message: Come and see it for yourself.

“Most people who say those things haven’t been here in awhile,” said Branch. “Just because we’re of age (the venue is 23 years old) doesn’t mean that we’re flawed. Yes, a new building may have shiner new things, but at the end of the day, we offer the same thing. The [nearly] 300,000 fans who came through our building this season don’t have a problem with it.”

Conlon, too, is aware of what he calls misperceptions about the amphitheater and is quick to reel off the positive characteristics of the building.

“It has a good road network around it, great sightlines, the largest video screens that I know of in the country,” he said. “Driving through, the neighborhood has changed. The [surrounding] buildings have been restored by Screen Gems. When you get to the venue, the fencing has changed, the parking lot has been resurfaced.”

The venue did indeed receive a noticeable sprucing up this season, including the addition of new signage from Aaron’s (which earlier this year extended its naming rights contract through the 2014 season); a food truck scene to complement the usual concessions, where some items received a price slashing; two VIP decks; and other improvements not visible to fans, such as roof and pipe work.

In the past four to five years, Conlon estimates about $4 million was spent on upgrades – “That’s a lot for a venue,” he said.

This offseason, more tweaks will be made, starting with ripping out about 2,500 seats in the front section and replacing them removable versions so the pit can become general admission when an artist requests it.

The first set of onsales for the 2013 season will likely be announced in January and Conlon is hopeful to produce a 25-plus show lineup again.

“We’re finding more acts are wanting to play the venue who historically didn’t like it before,” he said. “We re-educated some artists and agents as to what this place is now. With fans, we did the same thing. When you have the artists who want to come back and the fans who want to see them…this is kind of the future.”

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By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene

24 comments Add your comment

MoFaux

December 3rd, 2012
9:44 am

I hope the Allman Brothers play at Lakewood in 2013. Those were some of my favorite concert memories of the past 20 years. You just can’t beat the lawn here, except for Masquerade Music Park, but I don’t think the fans would fit in there!

ed

December 3rd, 2012
9:49 am

crappy venue in worst part of town.. .blah

ylojkt

December 3rd, 2012
9:50 am

Why neglect the metal shows? Iron Maiden was packed solid, as was the Mayhem Festival.

El Fiero

December 3rd, 2012
10:07 am

The average price for lawn seats at Lakewood has gone up way past the point of ridiculousness. A few summers ago, most lawn tickets hovered around $25; this year, they were $10-20 more per show. The shows I attended were about half-full and had available reserved seats. Live Nation has a stranglehold on Atlanta’s mainstream live music scene and it’s hurting the diversity of shows available and raising prices for listeners.

BLAHBLAHBLAH

December 3rd, 2012
11:15 am

2,500 removable seats to make bigger pits = a fantastic idea that is long overdue. I would have loved to see Maiden from a bigger pit.

BLAHBLAHBLAH

December 3rd, 2012
11:16 am

@ed – been to Lakewood dozens of times. Never felt threatened. Toughen up, buttercup.

5749 yoyo

December 3rd, 2012
11:45 am

Dam, they need NEW chair, and table for VIP….Lakewood Amphitheatre’s Stop Being so cheap…..

Nuchow

December 3rd, 2012
12:17 pm

Ive seen many, many shows there, and have never had a bad experience. Fairly easy to get out of, which is a big plus. Glad the metal shows play there. Too hard to get to and out of Verizon.

BLAHBLAHBLAH is right

December 3rd, 2012
12:23 pm

never seen so many tailgaters in my life – people partying, grilling and drinking with not a care in the world and this is on both the Pryor Road side and the Lakewood Ave. side – all the talk of how bad the neighborhood is has no effect whatsoever on concertgoers – the same applies for Turner Field and the Georgia Dome – nobody cares if the hyper-paranoid , scardy-cat crowd stays away because the big acts and big games will sell out those venues without them

WAR EAGLE

December 3rd, 2012
12:53 pm

I would go back if they added more comfy seats or brought the stage closer to lawn visitors. I bought a lawn ticket and needed binoculars to see the act. Chastain I find is more intimate, closer seating, and in my opinion more secure than Lakewood. As for food, contract out with a restaurant so they can advertise their menu prices and people will not get raked over the coals for food and drink.

Tricia

December 3rd, 2012
1:46 pm

I have had the pleasure of attending concerts at Lakewood ( in all of its different sponsorship names ) for many many years and for all types of music. I would choose a concert at Lakewood over any other outdoor venue in the Atlanta area. Whoever says that it is in a bad location needs to get over themselves. The parking, the concession malls, the employees, everything about this venue is superlative to Verizon. It may be less “pretty” but just try standing up and dancing in the chairs at Verizon..you can’t move, they stuff so many people in there. AND..try to get out of Verizon..what madness. I am a Definite fan of Lakewood and look forward to many many more enjoyable experiences in the years to come…

UGA Teacher

December 3rd, 2012
1:50 pm

They didn’t spruce up the restrooms- the nastiest restrooms in ANY venue I’ve ever been in.

BehindEnemyLines

December 3rd, 2012
2:05 pm

The neighborhood is still horrendous but even if you get through that gauntlet the reality is that the venue itself definitely shows its age. Combine that with lackluster security, the aforementioned bathrooms, the comical concession pricing … it takes something exceptionally appealing to make suffering the venue worthwhile. And that’s what Lakewood is: something that you suffer through. Verizon has it beat 12 ways to Sunday (yes, twice as much as the traditional 6 ways).

Jeff

December 3rd, 2012
2:15 pm

Peter Conlon has obviously never had to drive or park at Lakewood. He said “It has a good road network around it”…. WTH? There’s pretty much one way in and one way out the back way and one way in and one way out the front way (to the paved lot). Any way you go, you have to either go through horribly bad neighborhoods or sit in long lines of traffic because of inadequate ways to get to the main artery (the 75/85 interstate) to get home. I went to a concert there late last year. I left during the last song BEFORE IT WAS EVEN OVER. I was in the gravel lot and I spent 45 MINUTES just to GET to the road which takes you to the interstate. It’s because there were no #$%^&* police officers or security or venue staff directing cars out of the gravel lot in an orderly manner. So I got to my car at 10:55 p.m. and didn’t EXIT the parking lot until after 11:45 p.m. That is inexcusable. That doesn’t happen at Philips, the Dome, Chastain, Verizon, or any other concert arena in Atlanta.

I still go to some shows at Lakewood, only because it’s the ONLY place some artists will play. But if I EVER have a chance to go to Verizon or Chastain or Philips, I jump at the chance — MUCH better transportation around those places.

And to echo what some other people said on here: the restrooms at Lakewood are horrid — the concession stands a questionable and don’t look clean — the parking is a cluster — and the acoustics aren’t much better than anywhere else. Plus, often times, you have to put up with idiots around you who are drunk, smoking cigarettes (who smokes anymore???) or even smoking whacky weed. If you pay $60 or $80 for a concert ticket, go enjoy the music — why in God’s name would you get so wasted that you can’t remember the experience???

I hope that someday, Lakewood is either replaced or moves out of the Atlanta area to a better suburban location. And if anyone wants to see how a REAL amphitheater experience should be, go to Verizon — outstanding staff, great parking and traffic flow, easy to get to, clean restrooms, clean concession stands, a safe neighborhood, and a great overall experience.

And for the record, I’m not some amateur who has been to 5 concerts in my life… I am a veteran of well over 100 shows all over the Southeast. Lakewood is okay for a ‘big arena’ feel for big rock concerts, but the traffic flow, parking, cleanliness, staff competency and general experience leave a LOT to be desired.

P161911

December 3rd, 2012
2:44 pm

It wasn’t too bad if you paid the $$$$ to park in the Lakewood lot. I remember a few years ago parking off site and having to step over a dead cat or opossum on the sidewalk that had been there for a few weeks. Not too bad once you were inside though. Verizon is much nicer and closer to me.

Keith

December 3rd, 2012
3:17 pm

The parking at Lakewood is horrendous!!! I really wouldn’t call it much of a gravel lot because of the dust & mud. If you choose to park in this lot, you have to leave before the final songs or you’ll spend hours trying to get out. I don’t understand why on earth they have all the traffic funneling down to one lane to exit the gate. Just stupid. Verizon has Lakewood beat hands down.

MoFaux

December 3rd, 2012
3:27 pm

Wow Jeff, I couldn’t disagree more. Parking is not an issue really. If you were such a veteran, you’d know to park in one of the outside lots to avoid the wait. I’ve parked inside as well and never took longer than 20 minutes or so to exit. The reason Lakewood is so beloved is because the lawn seats have always been so cheap and it is so huge. Your problem with drunks is the same at any venue. Smoking, I agree on, but being outside mitigates this pretty well. Ditto on the restrooms…I do think they are on the nasty side, mostly because they don’t have enough of them for when the venue is packed…but I try not to spend much time there. Also, “whacky weed” does not zap one’s memory of a concert, just so you know. And safe neighborhood? Are you kidding? Are you going to a concert or buying a house? There really is no comparison in Atlanta as far as I’m aware for a concert venue with such a huge lawn. Chastain’s is tiny and sells out in seconds…and the patrons are the snobbiest I’ve ever seen that talk through entire shows. BUT…if you hate lawns and are the type of person whose idea of camping is a 5-star hotel room…this venue is not for you.

miekal

December 3rd, 2012
3:37 pm

The second pic is KID ROCK, NOT JASON MRAZ

80's Rocker

December 3rd, 2012
7:12 pm

Having moved from the ATL area in 93, I haven’t been to Lakewood since then but I did go to some of the best concerts from 88-93. Everyone from Van Halen to Ozzy Osbourne. I have some great memories of that place. I always thought it was a great place to see a show.

brockep

December 3rd, 2012
8:07 pm

I’ve been to dozens of shows at Lakewood (though none in the last few yrs). Never had a bad experience, and more than a few great ones. I never understood the contempt for the place. Sure, Verizon is closer to me, so if I had to choose, it would win. Lakewood is a fine venue, and I would not hesitate to return.

MoFaux, loved this: “Are you going to a concert or buying a house?” And I saw nearly every Allmans show put on there. Good times!

Don't Tread

December 3rd, 2012
9:14 pm

Went to many a concert at Lakewood in the 80s…lots of hair bands. I did actually return for the Jimmy Buffett show this year, but yeah the bathroom situation leaves a lot to be desired. And the drink prices are through the roof. But we mitigated this by bringing our own facilities (RV) and plenty of our own food and drink for tailgating. As for the traffic…I was the designated drinker, so I didn’t have to worry about that :)

Melissa Ruggieri

December 3rd, 2012
9:45 pm

Miekal – I’ll grant you that in a quick glance it kind of looks like Kid Rock, but I assure you that it’s Jason. I was there when the photographer took it…it’s Jason and his percussionist Mona Tavakoli.

Cheers,
Melissa

Billy

December 4th, 2012
6:44 am

Every time I hear about Lakewood, I remember the Southeastern Fair, going to it in the early seventies with my now deceased father. Also, the Burt Reynolds movie that was filmed there. How different 1974 and 2012 are; paradise lost…

TD

December 4th, 2012
11:59 am

What man writes in to comment & snarks the rest room at a concert venue? All venues have there secrets: the best lots to park (or better yet, the free spots near some venues), but who really cares about concessions? You really need that $8 Bud or Coors Light? Food? Really? Because you need to eat at one of the 3 classic rock shows you’ll see this year (out of the 3 concerts you’ll see this year, btw).

I’m not defending the place, per se. It’s an ok venue, as sheds go, and nothing more. Whatever it once was, it isn’t now. I just laugh at all the totaly inconsequential stuff that people get wrapped around the axel over. The aging rock concert attending public is hilarious, and I’m in my 50’s. Oh, and Chastain? No matter how classy it can be, when those Buckhead valium housewives are there, breaking out the plastic china, it rarely gets worse, and it’s rarely a concert experience I want. Please, b*tches, STFU.