Odesza at the Greek Theater in Berkeley (October 28, 2017)

Music Venue Profile: The Greek Theater in Berkeley

in Music News by

The Greek Theater in Berkeley, California, is more than just a live music venue. With a history dating back through the counter-culture way back to the pre-earthquake days of the Bay Area, it has a huge record of historic performances. The longest-running outdoor amphitheater in America, the first event that the theater hosted was in 1903, when a group of students performed “The Birds” by Aristophanes. Between that, and its original funder (the Greek Theatre was originally named The William Randolph Hearst Greek Theatre, after the newspaper mogul, California mythical beast, and origin of the Kane story in Welles’ Citizen Kane), the Greek had beginnings which were not terribly rock-and-roll; but from day one, it’s been a space for social causes and academic movements. As well as its pivotal role in the UC Berkeley free speech protests of 1964, the stage has seen speeches from the Dalai Lama and President Teddy Roosevelt, amongst many others.

It was in (of course) the 60s that the Greek became a preferred space for musical concerts and festivals. Artists including Jefferson Airplane, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, B.B. King, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt and many more have played the Greek, while the Grateful Dead managed to perform 29 times there between 1967 and 1989.

Odesza lights up the Greek Theater in Berkeley (October 28, 2017)
Odesza at the Greek Theater in Berkeley (October 28, 2017)

The theatre was built on the site of Ben Weed’s Amphitheater, which was a rough, outdoor area that had been used as an amphitheater since 1894. Back then, with a design based on the ancient Greek theater, Epidaurus, the theater wasn’t as large as it is now. In 1957, Ernest Born designed a backstage area in the theater’s basement. Today, it includes a massive plaza with two stage-level additions on the sides.

Aside from music shows and theatrical performances, the Greek Theatre is at the heart of the UC Berkeley community: it’s been the venue of choice for several annual UC Berkeley events like the Commencement Convocation for graduating seniors, the departmental graduation ceremonies, and the Big Game Bonfire Rally before the annual Big Game with Stanford. Aside from these events, the Charter Day ceremonies and inaugurations of University of California presidents and Berkeley chancellors have also been conducted in the Greek Theatre, while the Berkeley High school holds their graduation ceremonies in the Greek Theatre.

In 2004, Another Planet Entertainment took over the theater’s concert promotion. Since then, the company has diligently worked on expanding the scope of the various concerts and theater productions hosted at the Greek. They also believe in being environmentally responsible, which is why the Greek became the first music venue to implement an environmental protection scheme during their entire concert season.

With such a rich history and a dedicated commitment to the future, it’s only fitting that the Greek has a great lineup of performances to offer. This month, the lineup includes a cannot-miss lineup, including performances by Arcade Fire, The National, Death Cab for Cutie, and Ben Howard. If you know these acts – and even and especially if you don’t – head to the Greek to witness some unforgettable music in a venue that has truly stood the test of time.

An avid drummer whose discography includes albums on Digital Nations (a Steve Vai imprint), music critic Louis Raphael has always kept a pulse on the San Francisco music scene. After many years as the San Francisco Music Examiner for Examiner.com and AXS.com, he decided to start Music in SF® as a way to showcase what the San Francisco music scene really has to offer.

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