Right as hordes of music fans began hitting the Empire Polo Club in Indio for weekend one of the annual Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival on Friday, April 12, news broke that Los Angeles-based event promoters Live Nation had officially purchased the Observatory in Santa Ana and its sister venue, Observatory North Park, in San Diego.
The independently owned Orange County venue was previously the 550-capacity Galaxy Theater and received a multi-million dollar makeover in 2011 when it reopened as The Observatory by Courtney Dubar, co-owner of the clothing brand Affliction, Courtney Michaelis and former promoter Jon Reiser, who had previously been co-owner of Detroit Bar in Costa Mesa and is now promoting shows at Garden Amp in Garden Grove. From 2015-2018, the venue was booked by Jeff Shulman of Goldenvoice. Live Nation took over booking both the Observatory in Santa Ana and the 1,100-capacity Observatory North Park, which opened in 2014 and was formerly the North Park Theatre, in December.
After initial renovations, the Observatory’s capacity increased to 1,000 and a smaller, 300-capacity room dubbed The Constellation Room was added inside as well. Both stages drew a myriad of talent and the venue quickly garnered a following and became a fan and critic favorite small venue in the area that helped foster local talent, bring in a slew of hip-hop shows, a genre that was far under served in this market, and big-names for intimate evenings with artists like Morrissey, Marilyn Manson, Panic at the Disco! and the late Tom Petty’s Mudcrutch. The Constellation Room also served as the very first shows for rock band Dreamcar, the super group project that featured Tom Dumont, Tony Kanal and Adrian Young of No Doubt and AFI frontman Davey Havok, as well as the first-ever show for Foo Fighters’ bassist Nate Mendel’s band, Lieutenant.
When news broke of a giant company coming in and scooping up another venue, some fans were nervous, but Live Nation COO of Clubs & Theaters, Ben Weeden, said they really having nothing to worry about.
“The good news is that the way it has been booked has been great and I don’t think there really is a need to completely change the type of shows that go in there,” he said. “It’s a great room with a great reputation and obviously, based on its calendar over the past few years, it has gotten some great shows. We’re just happy to be in there and want to continue to book it the way it has been booked.”
After booking the pair of venues for a handful of months, Weeden said it became clear that striking a deal to actually purchase them would be a no-brainer. Now, with the purchase final, Live Nation will dig more into the operational side of the venues and will certainly listen to any suggestions fans or artists have for making their experiences the best they possibly can be.
“We always have our ears open to that kind of stuff,” he said. “Generally speaking, once we get our arms around the venue, we’ll see how everything is running and make tweaks if there needs to be any, but we’re always open to suggestions and take them seriously because I think our goal is to be the best in class in terms of executing shows for both the artists and for the fans.”
Live Nation has 78 venues that it owns and operates in the United States, he said, and having concert halls of multiple sizes in a variety of markets has a lot of advantages. House of Blues Anaheim is just a little over seven miles away from the Observatory in Santa Ana and its main room has a 2,200-capacity, while its smaller venue, The Parish, is a 400-capacity space. House of Blues San Diego holds 1,500 guests and is just about four miles from Observatory North Park.
“In the major markets, we want to have a vertical ladder from artist development up through, frankly, FivePoint Ampitheatre (in Irvine) now, so the Observatory was the logical step because you’ve got The Constellation Room and The Parish, from there you can move up to the Observatory big room and then into the Anaheim House of Blues,” he explained. “From there, you’re well on your way to the amphitheater (with 12,000-capacity).”
It’s also a well-played strategy on Live Nation’s part because it can now route those rising or established acts through stops in San Diego and Orange County on the way up to Los Angeles and into venues like The Wiltern and the Hollywood Palladium.
In keeping with the spirit of what the Observatory has done as far as booking huge, established acts and smaller-scale more locally focused festivals either inside the venues or out in the parking lots, Weeden said that Live Nation will absolutely be building upon that tradition.
“The benefit of having shows like that go to the Observatory is that its made a name for the Observatory and I think certain artists will want that look and again, it’s a credit to how they’ve been running the venue and establishing it as a super strong brand in both markets,” he said. “So a lot of times the artists will want to play that, even if it is an underplay and we’re more than happy to have them.”
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