The Devon Amphitheater: I’m Impressed

Sunshine! No rain for the past 6 hours. Oh my gosh! I’m not used to this but I can get used to it. We’ve certainly had a lot of rain this spring. It’s been strange weather.

It’s funny because a co-worker is from the Philippines and I’ve been telling her since March that the weather going to get warm. Decatur is not always an ice box or raining constantly. I was afraid that it was going to be the 4th of July soon and still feeling like the beginning of March.

And the farmers…the rain and cool weather is just an annoyance for most of us but for agriculture in Illinois, it’s a wash quite literally. Hopefully, they can get something planted soon.

The forecast for last night’s opening show was 82 and pleasant. So I was very surprised to learn of a tornado watch that expired just an hour before the show began. Luckily the storms went north and the watch was cancelled. It turned out to be perfect weather.

I grew up listening to bands like 38 Special so I was there for the music but mostly, I was there to see the amphitheater in person because it has been a key part of the overall vision of the park for a number of years.

The light show was great!

I remember reading about the desire for an amphitheater in the Master Plan for Nelson Park but it seemed like a long shot and honestly we still wouldn’t have it if it wasn’t for the generosity of Howard Buffett who for whatever reason really has taken a strong liking to Decatur. How lucky can a city get? I’ve lost count of all that’s he’s given. It’s mind blowing.

I’m sure nearby cities are envious. $5 million here, $10 million there, $30 million there to build brand new facilities all over Decatur serving different purposes. What city has that happen to it? I doubt very many.

The Entrance

As far as the design and amenities of the amphitheater itself, it is gorgeous. The landscaping, once mature, is going to add even more to the beauty. And yes the beloved gardens were preserved (and now improved) and are still accessible as well as the pavilion, although the pavilion doesn’t have an unobstructed view of the lake any longer. There were a few people listening to the concert (for free) under it though and on nearby hills but I would encourage people to purchase tickets.

We really need to support this thing for attracting future acts and many of the shows are very affordable.

For the opening night in a brand new venue things seem to have gone fairly smoothly from the Devon staff. Slowing the entrance for ticket holders is a security check but I don’t complain about security checks. They did open up a couple more lines to get people in more quickly as we approached. I’m sure they’ll iron out the details as things go.

Terraced Section – Bring Chairs!

My husband and I sat in the terraced section. This is, as it’s name suggests, a terraced area with concrete retaining walls that can be sat on but I would very much recommend bringing lawn chairs (which we didn’t) or seat cushions, which thankfully I did for myself.

Between the terraces is astroturf which is more durable than grass and also cuts down on bugs. I love nature but I don’t like sitting on itchy grass with insects crawling on me, so I appreciated the astroturf.

There is also a seated section with standard stadium chairs and a large grassy hill. For that you’d want to bring a chair or blanket but the view on that grassy hill is the one to really appreciate.

While I was taking pictures, I ran into my brother who was also there and he remarked that it isn’t it something for Decatur to have something like this. And, we both agreed that it is something special. But I’ve always known Decatur was special. I wouldn’t still be here if I didn’t think that and I certainly wouldn’t have a blog about it.

View from the hill

The show was terrific. The lighting. The sound quality. I watched 38 Special at the Decatur Celebration a few years ago and this show blew that one away. It makes such a difference to have a professional stage that can support full lighting and other effects. I’m sure they appreciated the green rooms and other accommodations. The musicians seemed to appreciate the venue and I think that makes a big difference in the energy they put into their shows.

For me, the sound was a little loud at first. If you don’t like loud music then I’d suggest sitting farther away but 38 Special is a hard-rocking band with a lot of strong drum and bass playing. Other types of music may not send those thumping vibrations through your chest.

The concessions were reasonably priced and featured many local products from Heinkels, Del’s Popcorn, and local craft beer makers. I don’t know who owns Elam’s Root Beer now but it would be great to get it down there too.

Food trucks were also available, so there was a variety of food choices.

VIP Section and a view of the boats on Lake Decatur

The only thing that I wish had been designed differently is the concession area. It probably should have been larger with more ordering windows. There are beer and beverage stands scattered about in other areas but most people congregated at the main concession stand. Just make sure to plan for time to stand in line if you’re going to a more popular act.

The real star of the amphitheater is Nelson Park and I’m a so happy about that because it is one of Decatur’s oldest parks and people are rightfully protective of it. The amphitheater doesn’t subtract from the beauty or history of the park. Sitting there and looking at the rolling hills, beautiful trees, birds flying overhead, and Lake Decatur in the background with boaters also enjoying the music, makes the place so much more special.

Scovill Gardens next to the Amphitheater

It is still Nelson Park and that’s exactly how it should remain.

There are number of concerts scheduled for the rest of the season, as well as free movie nights, so there’s no reason not to go experience the Devon yourself.

Next time, I might experience the music from the lake in a kayak. We’ll see. Lake Decatur is very high and muddy right now and the waves were sending up sprays of water onto the sidewalks. I’ll wait for calmer waters. My kayaking skills are very beginner-ish. In other words, I don’t want to drown.

But anyway, get down to the Devon and check it out. It is something special.

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