If you've been on Shevlin-Hixon Drive in Bend recently, you might have noticed something strange as you drove, ran, walked or biked by—namely, that the Les Schwab Amphitheater is completely unrecognizable. Before, depending on which way you were coming from, your eye would be drawn toward the murals on the back or front sides of the stage. Now, instead, you immediately notice giant steel beams stretching toward the sky.
Bend Concerts announced at the end of 2020 that the amphitheater would enter into a four-phase remodeling plan. Phase I is chugging right along and is expected to finish in June, while Phase II will begin this fall. Other phases will follow in the years to come.
- Isaac Biehl
- Things are definitely looking different at the Les Schwab Amphitheater, where a massive expansion of the stage and increased accessibility is underway.
"We have paid specific attention to accessibility. As a grass amphitheater, there are inherent challenges to navigation especially if you use any sort of mobility device," Marney Smith director of Bend Concerts, told the Source. "Phase I, which is happening now, includes a change in the location of the accessible entry gate, and an accessible pathway that runs along the front of the stage and along the street side of the venue. It will help provide access to all of the amenities available inside the venue."
The amphitheater first opened in 2002 and hasn't seen changes of this magnitude since it was first built. Now, following a summer when LSA couldn't host any shows, the return to live music in the Old Mill District will make quite the splash—and even feel new for longtime residents.
With a height of 62 feet and an increase of 1,840 square feet to the stage's footprint, the expanded size isn't just for show. It will make things more accessible for bands and their gear, while also opening up the door for acts LSA may have missed out on in the past.
"The increased size of the stage makes it possible for us to accommodate nearly any band that wants to make Bend a tour stop," Smith said. "In the past we missed tours we know would have done really well in this market because our stage couldn't handle the production needs."
While people can't walk into the grass area in front of the stage right now due to construction, there's still a decent view from outside the fenced area. When you take into account the current progress and what the future stages of the remodel may bring (box seating, semi-permanent restrooms, food and beverage options, etc.), it's hard not to get excited about what LSA will become—this year and beyond, in a post-COVID world. But most importantly, live music will be back there soon.
"We have been working with other venues across the state and Northwest, and have a meeting with the Governor's office on the 31st with the intention of identifying a working plan for opening up," Smith said. "It is our hope that once vaccines are readily available to the general public, and both hospitalization rates and infection rates remain low, that we should be allowed to operate safely at full capacity. Our job is to manage people, and do so safely. We believe we can open safely, responsibly and put best practices to use by mid-summer."
And for anyone wondering what will happen to the beloved artwork on stage, including the iconic crow that showed on the Deschutes River side of the stage, Smith says they have a plan for that as well.
"It won't ever be re-configured as it was on the back of the stage, but we will make sure it finds a good home/homes during the build-out. Having large format art and/or live art installations inside the venue is something we have wanted to do for a very long time and the crow will be a nice segue to achieving that goal."