Hollywood Bowl is back this summer. LA Phil CEO shares what to expect

Written by Andrea Domanick, produced by Rosalie Atkinson

The Hollywood Bowl is reopening this summer, and on Tuesday, the LA Philharmonic, which puts on those summer shows, announced their line-up. Gustavo Dudamel will conduct many of the classical concerts. Artists like Christina Aguilera, Flying Lotus, and Kool and the Gang will also perform. There’ll be five free concerts for frontline workers. KCRW’s World Festival returns too. 

Shows in May and June will be socially distanced, then in July, capacity will likely expand to 67% of the venue’s 17,500 seats, says LA Phil CEO Chad Smith. People must wear masks when entering and exiting. Those who haven’t been fully vaccinated — but can show a negative COVID-19 test — will be seated in special sections. 

KCRW speaks with Smith about how the pandemic has impacted the LA Phil, what concertgoers can expect this summer, and how the organization plans to navigate the post-pandemic world. 

KCRW: How will concerts for frontline workers function? Who is considered a frontline worker, and how do they get their seats?

Chad Smith: “We've been working with community partners across the city and health care companies and the county to distribute these tickets directly to those people who have made such sacrifices for all of us over the course of this pandemic. And those are the nurses and doctors and first responders, food service people, grocery store workers.

… The LA Phil and the Hollywood Bowl have been supported in so many ways by the dedication of so many people across the community. So these first five concerts are our way of saying thank you. And then yesterday, of course, we announced the full season at the Hollywood Bowl, which will really then kick off for our subscribers and single ticket buyers with the Fourth of July concerts and extend well into September.”

How many frontline workers are you expecting?

“When we announced these concerts, the protocols that were in place with the county required us to do social distancing across the entire venue. The Hollywood Bowl is an enormous venue, it's about 17,500 seats. So under the protocols that were in place, we believe that we'll be able to have about 4000 people safely in the Hollywood Bowl for these first four or five concerts. 

And then starting in July, as we have moved into the yellow zone and are beginning to think about what comes after that, we are expected to be able to welcome back close to 67% of our full audience. So we think that we'll be able to get 10,000 to 11,000 people into the venue. We had to make some important choices about that. 

Our venue is going to be a majority vaccinated-only venue. We will have two sections available for people who are not vaccinated, who haven't been able to get fully vaccinated, but can show a negative COVID test. But the majority of the venue is for our vaccinated patrons. And that will begin to look a little bit more like the Hollywood Bowl when we can get 10 to 11,000 people there.”

Will people still have to wear masks? 

“Yes. The protocols that are in place are really about ensuring the safety of our patrons, but also recognizing that LA County is moving through this health crisis. The current protocols around attendance are beginning to be changed and relaxed, but wearing masks will absolutely be continued when coming into the venue and exiting the venue. 

Social distancing plans will be in place, and there will be markers on the ground to ensure that we keep people six feet away. 

Food service in these early months will be delivered to the boxes or people can of course bring their own food, but you can only eat it in your seats. We'll open up the picnic areas as some of the protocols change.

We obviously want to get back as soon as possible to providing that Hollywood Bowl experience, that music under the stars. And so we're working very closely with county health officials to begin to get there.”

Can you make 67% capacity financially viable?

“The LA Philharmonic is a nonprofit, and we have run the Hollywood Bowl for many, many decades. And we take our stewardship of this venue very, very seriously. … Even in the darkest days of the pandemic, back when it was very unclear how much of a Hollywood Bowl season we'd be able to have ... we made a decision as an institution that regardless of what the limitations were on capacity, we were going to give concerts if we could, whether that was 100 people or whether it was 1000 people. 

So yes, from a financial perspective, those were pretty significant losses that we were looking at. But we felt that it was important to invest in that, because the Hollywood Bowl is such an important civic space. Yes, as the numbers change, and as the percentage has increased, our losses come down. And so we want to get as many people as we can back safely into the venue. But the economic considerations were just one of the considerations that we made, as we really thought about the relaunch of the Hollywood Bowl.”

Isn't the summer season at the Bowl one of the biggest revenue generators for the LA Philharmonic?

“Absolutely. The Hollywood Bowl is really an engine for the Philharmonic. And it's an enormous part of our business model. Last season, when we had to cancel the Hollywood Bowl season, the economic impact on the association was enormous. It was about a $70 million loss, just in ticket sales related to the Hollywood Bowl. 

And of course, we had other losses from the cancellation of our season in Walt Disney Concert Hall. It's been about a $105 to $110 million loss in revenue for the association. So absolutely we are focused on ... getting back to as much of the Hollywood Bowl season as possible, because it's also an important part of our recovery.”

When will concerts at the Disney Concert Hall resume?

“We're planning to begin concerts in October. And we are very much in the planning right now. There's a little more uncertainty about what the protocols will be. In the fall, though, I suspect that, again, if we continue to manage this crisis as we have been in Los Angeles County, that we will be able to give full concerts at the Hollywood Bowl by the fall. So that is something that we are continuing to monitor. 

We're continuing to work very closely with the LA County Department of Health. And we'll be announcing our plans for Walt Disney Concert Hall a little bit later, probably mid-to-late June, when we have a much better sense of what the fall will look like. 

That's been one of the big challenges here, is that over the course of this year, the protocols change as the environment changes. And we want to make sure that what we're doing is announcing something that we can deliver.”



  • Chad Smith - CEO of the Los Angeles Philharmonic