It’s Saturday, June 22, and my pal Paul Irving of Zongo All-Stars has hooked me up with four tickets to the soft opening of Vina Robles Amphitheatre … seventh row center! You rock, Paul.
We pull onto the road off Highway 46 and follow the cones and copious numbers of traffic safety directors, until we park our car in a grass lot a short walk to the venue entrance. When we get there, one of the guys at the front eyes my camera and says, “You can’t take that in there.”
“What? Why not? You do realize that every person with a cell phone has a camera in there, right?”
“It has to fit in your pocket,” he says, so I detach my lens and start shoving it into a pocket of my cargo shorts.
“It can’t have a detachable lens.”
OK, time to pull one of those “Do you know who I am?” deals!
“I’m writing a story for New Times. I just saw your General Manager Tim Reed. Call him; he’ll tell you.”
Eventually we get squared away, and one of the guys out front—Henry—says, “I’ll be here all season and I’ll remember you next time. Have fun in there.”
Thanks, Henry. You’re all right. In fact, over the course of the evening, all the staff we meet are courteous and helpful, and not hard to find. This place is teeming with workers!
We make a beeline for the beer vendor, and I set my stopwatch to see how long I’ll have to wait. We’re at the front of the line in a couple minutes, but when we get there we see we were supposed to have wristbands.
We go get them, get back in line, and I still have a beer in my hands within five minutes. Well played, Vina Robles. Well played.
Here’s the important thing: The sound is fantastic! When we get there, we’ve sadly missed Jill Knight and the 805s, but One Time Spaceman is on stage, and it sounds great.
My wife Anna and friends Chad Holcomb and Rakesha Elliot are sitting right up front listening to the music, and I realize we’re having a conversation without screaming. The sound is full, but it’s not overly loud. That’s amazing! The fidelity is incredible!
The stage seems huge with just four guys on it, and its array of speakers, lighting, and the black-painted inner workings is impressive. This is clearly a set-up that will be able to handle any act, regardless of size.
After One Time Spaceman ends, we decide to walk around, and we end up at the VIP bar for people with box seats. Hey, it’s my old pals Jennifer Worden and Cynthia Stocker pouring beer and wine. They’re open to the general public tonight, but they’re also getting drinks for a team of servers who are caring for the VIPs in the box seats. Most people haven’t discovered this bar, so it’s pretty quiet in here, and you can’t see the stage from it, so it may not be the best place to hang out.
I live in SLO Town, and I’d kill for Paso’s summertime night weather (not the day! You can keep it!). It’s a magical, 80-degree night, and the crowd—maybe 1,400 people—seems happy! There’s nothing like a balmy night to make the world seem right.
The venue can hold about 4,400 people, but parking constraints limit the capacity to 3,300, and for the soft opening, they gave out just 2,800 tickets, but it looks like only about half the people who received them showed up. Not, surprising really: People who get something for free don’t value it, which is why I really value my $8 Heineken. Drinks and food aren’t cheap. Even a 12-ounce Bud Light is $7. A burger costs $9. I had a bite of Rakesha’s, and it’s a pretty good burger, but don’t expect to get out cheap.
Still, for a venue this impressive, you’ve got to expect to pay. I walk around checking out the various seating, and there’s not a bad seat in the house. The sound is excellent from everywhere. The architecture and design is gorgeous. Yep, Vina Robles, you hit it out of the park!
Worried about escaping the crowds, we leave before the concert’s over, but we don’t wait long to turn west onto Highway 46. I fear, however, for when there’s a full house. I hear a stoplight might be in the intersection’s future. Don’t drag your feet on this one, Caltrans. Lives may depend on it!
Glen Starkey takes a beating and keeps on bleating. Keep up with him via twitter at twitter.com/glenstarkey, friend him at facebook.com/glenstarkey or myspace.com/glenstarkey, or contact him at email@example.com.