If asked to name the best venue in Los Angeles to see a concert, most would immediately say the Hollywood Bowl. And really, who can blame them? Set in a natural bowl in the Hollywood Hills, the amphitheater is a beautiful, open-air gem that is coincidentally celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. (My last three concerts there are John Williams conducting the LA Philharmonic, Billy Joel, and George Clinton, so apparently my taste is kind of all over the place.) But what if I told you that, just a few miles away, lies another theatre that offers the same pleasant experience of the Hollywood Bowl – or just the Bowl as locals call it – but in a more intimate setting? Yes, such a venue exists, the Greek Theatre.

The facade of the Greek Theatre

Slightly newer than the Bowl, the Greek Theatre opened in 1931. It sits in the southwestern portion of Griffith Park, the massive city park that features numerous attractions and hills for hiking. (Click here to read a guide to Griffith Park.) Griffith Park itself was founded in 1896 as a land grant from Colonel Griffith Griffith (yes, really), who owned much of the land that now includes Los Feliz, Silverlake, and Echo Park. When Griffith died in 1919, he left a $1 million trust for what would become Griffith Park’s first two attractions: an observatory and a Greek-style theatre.

For more than a decade, those overseeing the building of the theatre surveyed appropriate parts of Griffith Park, as well as styles and construction of similar theatres all over the world. The site was chosen in 1928, and after a couple years of construction, the building was completed in 1930, opening the following year.

Most of the “Greek” features today lie on the outside of the building that houses the stage. Columns that once flanked the stage have given way to screens. But arriving at the Greek Theatre, it is unmistakably styled in antiquity. (Food venders are modern, though. Outside food isn’t allowed in, so one must either purchase overpriced food and drinks, or picnic at tables around the area, outside the theatre complex itself. I chose the latter.)

Food may be expensive, but the “lobby” is sure gorgeous!

The Greek Theatre is significantly smaller than the Hollywood Bowl, though it offers much of the same feeling of seats nestled into a natural bowl in the hills. The Bowl seats 17,500 in its current state; the Greek holds only 6,000. That intimacy is felt, with my tickets in Section C (the sections are A through C plus bench seating behind) providing a fantastic view.

This was my view, and I was about 75% of the way back. Not bad.

This was not my first visit to the Greek Theatre. When I was six or so, I went with my parents to see Peter, Paul, and Mary. Naturally, my memory of that event is less hazy and more non-existent, so this concert felt like my first. What did I see? I relived the glory of my teenage years (I use glory very loosely here) in the 90s with a lineup of Toad the Wet Sprocket, Gin Blossoms, and Barenaked Ladies.

The headliner

Depending on your perspective, the fact that a smaller venue like this hosts more minor tours, older bands/singers, or bands sick of playing stadiums is either a good or bad thing. The vibe here tends to be more mellow; the crowd skews a bit older. (At 41, I was probably a bit below the mean age for this concert.) Upcoming shows this year feature The Chicks (formerly Dixie Chicks), Goo Goo Dolls, and The Beach Boys. The Bowl, on the other hand, plays host to larger acts, and to the summer season of the LA Philharmonic. For me? I’ll take the more laid-back experience ten out of ten, unless Billy Joel comes back.

So how was the concert? It was incredible, and not only because it was my first one since Covid. (I was one of the only people in a mask, sadly.) For those who have never seen BNL in concert, they are hilarious. Gin Blossoms played down all their hits. But Toad the Wet Sprocket was the highlight.

The lead singer of Toad plays barefoot, as a nice kid from Santa Barbara should.

The Greek Theatre sits in a residential area at the edge of Griffith Park, so all concerts need to be done by 11pm. At 10:57, Barenaked Ladies finished their encore, and the crowd let out. A ten minute walk back to my car in Lot A ($30 with advanced purchase), and I was headed back home.

While the Hollywood Bowl gets all of the publicity, for my money, there is no better venue in Los Angeles than the Greek Theatre. It is beautiful, intimate, and historic. I look forward to a return in the very near future.

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