MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Amphitheaters date way back to Greek and Roman times when they were thought to be the best way to see a performance. It’s a building design we still use today — and for good reason.
Your pick for Minnesota’s best amphitheater is right in the Metro, where things have been known to get a little wild.
For almost 40 years, the Minnesota Zoo has brought us all the sights, smells, and sounds that one might expect from a world-renowned venue. Yet on certain summer days when the crowds have left, the animals have bedded down and day turns to night, there are strange sounds coming from the zoo that might cause any normal person to jump right out of their seats.
It’s the Weesner Family Amphitheatre at the Minnesota Zoo, featuring memorable acts like the B-52s.
“There’s just no other venue like this, where you can see the strings on Willie Nelson’s guitar,” music promoter Pat McLean said.
Leave your binoculars at home — of the 1,400 seats, there’s not a bad one in the house. But there was a time when this rockin’ venue was strictly for the birds.
The “World of Birds” show was one of the main reasons for the construction of the Weesner in 1992.
With three shows a day, people flocked to to see them — but even so, many felt this beautiful bowl in the woods was underutilized.
And the genius behind this was her vision of seeing how this bird show amphitheater could turn into a great place to see music,” Pat McLean said.
So the zoo took a gamble and formed a partnership with an up-and-coming music promoter named Sue McLean.
“Artists really learned to trust that if it was a Sue McLean event that they were well taken care of,” Pat said.
Suddenly, the zoo was the hip place to be.
“We have really tried to broaden our demographic,” Michelle Geddes of the Minnesota Zoo said. “Which is why Sue McLean & Associates have really worked hard to get a diverse lineup these last couple years.”
This year marks the 25th anniversary of music in the zoo for artists from Adele to Martin Zeller. They know that the boss is watching, albeit from perhaps a higher vantage point than before.
“The stage was dedicated in 2013 when one of her favorite artists and friends, Lyle Lovett, was here,” Pat said.
Sue McLean died that year, and her niece Pat McLean jumped in head first. So far, she hasn’t missed a beat.
“I know Sue felt this too, but just being side stage, and when the artist gets on stage and that first five minutes — that’s when it really hits home,” Pat said.
Home — that’s what this place feels like to many. It’s about as close to watching a concert in your back yard as you’ll ever get.
“You can just have that intimacy here,” “You look up and you see the moon and the stars, and the water,” Pat said. “A mantra that we carry on in her legacy is that ‘live music is good for your soul.'”
Upcoming shows include Natalie Merchant, Robert Cray, and Jonny Lang.