Behind the Music: An Inside Look at the Santa Barbara Bowl


Staff Writer

The Santa Barbara Bowl is the largest and arguably the most popular concert venue in Santa Barbara. It has a capacity of 4,600, and has hosted some of the most famous musical acts in history, including Radiohead, Def Leppard, Sting, and many others. Modern acts often perform here as well, including The Black Keys, Katy Perry, and Gotye. It is also one of the cleanest, eco-friendliest venues in the area, but the Bowl wasn’t always so efficient.

Eric Shiflett, one of the leaders of the Bowl Foundation, gave a backstage tour of the Bowl recently, and King’s Page was there to find out about this interesting venue. The Bowl was built in 1936, out of a large chunk of land, which is now on long term lease by the Bowl Foundation from the government. It remained almost entirely the same all the way through World War II (most available materials in the country were being used for the war), and continued making only minor improvements up until about 1994, when the Bowl foundation gained control from Old Spanish Days. They put in a temporary roof, and added new storm drains. However, at this time, there were no permanent restrooms, and no permanent concession buildings. In place of these rather vital installments, were Porta-Potties all the way down the walkway, and a truck which served beverages. Also, there were multiple leaks in the roof of the backstage area and dilapidated dressing rooms, which ultimately led to Neil Diamond refusing to perform there. They made restrooms and backstage improvements their top priority.

The Bowl Foundation began their ambitious multi-million dollar renovation project in 1995, when they added a temporary production roof. In 2002, they improved the backstage area dramatically, adding upgraded dressing rooms, infrastructure improvements, and expanded the area to 300% of the original space. They decided to make their restrooms nicer than at other venues, so they installed waterless toilets, clean tiles, and automated faucets. This project inspired them to become more environmentally friendly, so they eventually added solar panels to the roof of the spotlight house, behind all of the seats. Behind the seats, they added a public overlook that provides a beautiful view of the ocean. They also added the Wendy P. McCaw Terrace, a luxurious patio that is only available to V.I.P. guests.

Besides the dressing rooms, the foundation went to extreme lengths to give the artists and their staff the most enjoyable, easy experience possible. If you ask an artist who has played at the Bowl about their favorite part, they will most likely mention the BBQ, according to Shiflett. There is a BBQ pit backstage that all artists love to come and use before a show. Also, the ceiling of the stage has a grid design so that designers can hang the lights however they want, not in only one way.

The Bowl decided to give back to the community as well. They donate $1 from every ticket sold to arts programs in the community, and they have donated very generous amounts to schools all across the district, including money to support San Marcos arts programs, such as the theater and music programs.

Overall, the Bowl takes pride in the fact that it is a very personal venue. Unlike the Staples Center, it has a lower capacity, and is outdoors, allowing both the audience and the artist to feel closer to each other. It tries hard to uphold values that represent Santa Barbara, such as environmental awareness, giving back to the community, and being passionate about the arts. They are one of the largest, most popular venues in the area, but at the same time they manage to create a very personal and welcoming environment for both the performers and the audience. If you have time this summer, make an effort to see a show or two at this beautiful, down-to-earth venue.


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