Streaming in under the canopy extending from a newly constructed box office at the entrance to Pinewood Bowl on Thursday, some 3,000 Jake Owen fans got their tickets scanned and meandered down the sidewalk, emerging at the top of the amphitheater between a pair of brick-enclosed concession stands doubling as spotlight towers.
Some concert fans took a left off the new sidewalk to queue around a beer stand set up on a cement platform. Others took an immediate right to check out the T-shirts hanging in the merchandise tent tucked under the Pioneers Park trees.
More gathered on the leveled and sodded area adjacent to the sidewalk to have a drink and chat before heading to their seats.
While fans of Owen might not have taken notice of the platform for the beer tent or remembered the lines that stretched from the merchandise booth across the sidewalk for past concerts, it would be impossible to miss the improvements that have transformed Pinewood Bowl into a top-flight outdoor venue.
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“It has the feel like you’re coming into a professional venue now, not just a stage in the park,” said Tom Lorenz, general manager of the agency that runs Pinnacle Bank Arena and events at Pinewood Bowl.
“The bowl itself will still be the draw, the calling card,” Lorenz added, “but to have the new patron amenities at the top and to make sure the artists are taken care of backstage has … provided what agents and patrons expect from a venue.”
The latest improvements wrapped up a multiyear, $1.79 million renovation project paid for with lodging tax dollars from the Lancaster County-directed Visitors Improvement Fund.
Those renovations, the first since the bowl was created during World War II, began four years ago with the construction of a backstage scene shop and septic tank work.
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Then came the artists building that provides dressing rooms, showers and a green room for performers, along with expanding the backstage area to accommodate the trucks and buses that are part of each show.
Constructing the latest improvements, which came at a cost of $1.2 million, required some significant alterations to the bowl.
Filling in the orchestra pit, removing shrubbery and putting down artificial turf immediately in front of the stage altered the look for some shows, including last Sunday’s Jack White concert, the first at Pinewood Bowl this season.
Two large diseased pine trees had to be removed to construct the 20-foot-tall towers that will permanently house spotlights and replace the open-air concession stand near the top of the bowl.
“We always want to maintain the bowl surrounded by trees,” Lorenz said. “It still has that, even with the new construction and the removal of those trees.”
Earlier improvements, paid for by ASM-Global, the company that operates the Lincoln arena, and Mammoth, the promoter that brings shows to Pinewood, lowered the sound mixing and lighting platform in the center of the bowl to allow more seating and attached steel frames to the stage walls to hang curved speaker systems.
One major project remains in the step-by-step process aimed at bringing the 80-year-old bowl up to contemporary standards — replacing the stage’s metal roof.
The current roof, which was installed in the ’70s, is not large or strong enough to hang the lighting, video boards and other equipment integral to today’s touring productions.
A replacement has not yet been authorized, designed or funded, but it will be expensive, likely to require well over $1 million for construction and installation.
For now, recent alterations are expected to push the bowl’s capacity up from the current 4,500 mark for seated concerts.
“We think we probably gained a little bit,” Lorenz said. “We certainly gained in a general admission pit.”
Any changes to seating configurations won’t be evident until next year. Tickets for the 2022 season are being sold under the previous alignment.
If next year’s seating capacity hits the concert industry magic number of 5,000, it could bring more shows to the bowl, which hosted an average of 10 shows a year from 2012, when the city approved alcohol sales allowing concerts to take place, to 2019.
A total of 14 shows were slated for Pinewood Bowl this year. Last month’s Styx/REO Speedwagon and Earth, Wind & Fire concerts were moved to the arena after construction-related runoff from heavy rains covered the upper part of the bowl with mud.
“It may add to the number of shows,” Lorenz said. “But it really might change the mix of shows, with a few more larger artists who probably wouldn’t have been available before.”
Reach the writer at 402-473-7244 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @KentWolgamott