DAILY PILOT: Curtain to close on Irvine Meadows Amphitheater

By Matt Morrison

The sunset over Irvine Thursday night will mark the proverbial fade to memory for Orange County’s premier outdoor concert venue.

That’s when Irvine Meadows Amphitheater begins its 35th and final season of musical performances before closing this fall.

The first of the final season of eclectic shows opens with an ethnic punk themed lineup featuring L.A. based Celtic rockers Flogging Molly. Filling out the marquee are Southern California ska/reggae band Hepcat and gypsy punk group Gogol Bordello.

Already announced shows include Fallout Boy, Journey with the Doobie Brothers and Dave Mason, Dave Matthews Band, Brad Paisley, Duran Duran and Def Leppard.

Over the years, the stage has hosted some of the biggest names in pop, rock and country, including Michael Jackson, Oingo Boingo, Ozzy Osbourne, Bob Dylan and Orange County’s own No Doubt. Irvine Meadows also supported numerous groundbreaking musical festivals like Lollapalooza, Lilith Fair and the Christian Fishfest.

“One of the biggest events I can remember was when the Eagles reunited for their comeback ‘Hell Freezes Over tour'” in 1994, said Irvine Meadows General Manager Mark Curto. “They played three sold-out shows here, and it was just really special.”

The same can be said for scores of superstar acts that performed under the stars. Jackson, at the pinnacle of his popularity, played three nights in November 1988 during his “Bad” tour. Jimmy Buffett has been bringing the parrot-heads out for years in a regular stop on his tour schedule, and the Grateful Dead played in Irvine 15 times — there was what police called a “near riot” at a 1989 show — before bandleader Jerry Garcia died in 1995.

“The parking lot was always fun, especially when the Grateful Dead showed up,” said Stanton J. Beal, 56, remembering his treks to Irvine on several occasions in the ’80’s as a UCLA undergrad. “It was always like a carnival outside a carnival.”

The amphitheater opened in 1981 on 50 acres of land owned by the Irvine Co. and leased to Live Nation concert promoters on a 35-year land-lease deal. The venue was known as the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, after its main sponsor, from 2000 to 2014.

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Photo credit: Live Nation