San Diego Symphony’s new year-round venue, The Shell, opens in July

Artists set to perform at the $45 million amphitheatre include Smokey Robinson, Maxwell, Goat Rodeo, Bobby McFerrin and Jennifer Hudson


The San Diego Symphony will start a bold new chapter with the July 10 opening of its new, year-round $45 million outdoor concert and events venue, The Shell. It replaces the symphony’s longtime seasonal Bayside Summer Nights venue, which was located at the same downtown Embarcadero Marina Park South site but had to be set up from scratch each June and then completely disassembled each September.

The Shell is named both for its design and in honor of its waterfront location between Coronado and the San Diego Convention Center. The new venue will boast a 13,015-square-foot outdoor stage, ensconced by a 57-foot steel shell that measures 33,000 square feet, weighs 270,000 pounds and is covered with two layers of a white, PVC-like fabric. Its appearance may remind some concertgoers of a more intimate version of the iconic Hollywood Bowl, relocated to a panoramic bayside setting.

To celebrate the debut of The Shell, the 111-year-old symphony will host the longest summer-and-beyond outdoor concert season in its history. Confirmed artists include jazz guitar great Pat Metheny, veteran New Zealand rock band Crowded House, Motown singing legends Smokey Robinson and Gladys Knight, and Broadway singing stars Audra McDonald, Bernadette Peters and Jennifer Hudson.

Rafael Payare, who last fall debuted as the symphony’s new music director, will conduct at least two concerts this summer at The Shell, starting with the July 10 season-opener.

“The Shell will add greatly to the vibrancy of our city,” said symphony CEO Martha Gilmer. “And there are performances we’re producing that you won’t be able to hear anywhere else.”

The 2020 lineup at the new venue also includes everyone from the Beach Boys and Mexican Ranchera music mainstay Aida Cueva to neo-R&B star Maxwell and vocal wizard Bobby McFerrin, one of three musicians to be named a 2020 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters honoree. (The Shell’s full 34-concert lineup — which is likely to expand with new shows added over the next few months — appears below, along with ticket information.)

Singer and actress Audra McDonald is shown accepting her 2014 Tony Award for her leading role in "Lady Day at Emerson's Grill." McDonald, who has give other Tony wins to her credit, will perform Aug. 8 at The Shell with the San Diego Symphony.
(Photo by Charles Sykes / Invision / Associated Press)

A new San Diego landmark?

The Shell will have a flexible seating capacity that will enable it to host between 2,000 and 10,000 attendees per event, as opposed to the 2,900 to 4,000 capacity at the symphony’s 2019 summer concerts.

Most of the 2020 season concerts will have a seating capacity of 3,660, a number that will increase to around 5,000 for Jennifer Hudson’s July 12 concert and 6,000 for the 1812 Tchaikovsky Spectacular concert on Sept. 13.

Ground for the new venue broke last fall, after the Port of San Diego agreed to lease a 3.68-acre site on Embarcadero Marina Park to the symphony for up to 50 years. In addition to its permanent new stage, The Shell will include backstage dressing rooms with showers, an on-site music library to house the musical scores performed by the orchestra, a VIP lounge, and more.

The rear of the stage area will include a 5,445-square-foot public viewing deck with concrete steps. The symphony is also building a permanent, 68-stall restroom, part of which will be open year-round to the public. The concert site will also be rented out, be it for private functions, groups meeting at the adjacent San Diego Convention Center or other events.

Carefully monitored sound levels

Construction crews work on the San Diego Symphony's new year-round outdoor concert venue, The Shell, at Embarcadero Marina Park South, adjacent to the San Diego Convention Center.
(Eduardo Contreras/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

If all goes according to plan, The Shell could quickly become a major asset for the city and the symphony, whose annual fall-through-spring concert season is held indoors at downtown’s nearby Joan and Irwin Jacobs Music Center. The new outdoor venue has been funded largely by private donations, as Symphony CEO Gilmer proudly notes.

“The Shell has been the dream and hope of a lot of people for a long time — 17 years — a coming together of nature and culture,” she said.

“I get very emotional about it, because this site has created incredible memories for people who have attended concerts at it for a long time. But this is also an opportunity for people who haven’t been here yet to discover it.”

The window for that opportunity for discovery will be greater than ever.

Where the symphony’s previous summer concert seasons typically ran from late June to early September, the 2020 edition will go from July 10 to Oct. 1. The expanded seating capacity means that, rather than have some of the same concerts be repeated over two consecutive nights — as was the case at least six times in 2019 — a greater array of individual concerts can be held.

The stage will be equipped with a state-of-the-art Meyer Sound Constellation System, along with an expansive new lighting system. Except for the VIP tables immediately in front of the stage, the seating areas will be on a gently sloping terrace to provide attendees optimal views of the performers.

The maximum volume level for all concerts will be 98 decibels. Audio monitoring devices will be installed across the bay in Coronado to ensure the volume level there does not exceed 45 decibels during concerts held at The Shell.

“We are investing a significant amount of money to make this a premier venue,” Gilmer said. “It is important to us that we do everything right.”

17 debut performances

At least 17 of the upcoming season’s performers will be making their debuts at the bayside concert venue. They include Maxwell, Crowded House, Hot Club of Cowtown and Goat Rodeo, which is led by cello legend Yo-Yo Ma and includes two San Diego-bred musicians in mandolin great Chris Thile and award-winning violinist Stuart Duncan.

Gilmer is optimistic that the infusion of artists who have not performed summer shows here before under the auspices of the symphony will help The Shell to draw an even larger and more diverse audience than in previous years. The 2019 summer season had a record attendance of 81,000 people for 33 evenings of music. The previous record was 77,000 in 2017.

That optimism is shared by Lea Slusher, the symphony’s vice president for artistic administration and audience development, who booked the 2019 and 2020 bayside concert lineups.

“Last season was a great success and we had lots of debuts, including (an orchestral performance by hip-hop star) Common and (actress/singer) Cynthia Erivo, who knocked it out of the park,” Slusher said.

“For the 2020 summer season, we are taking what we did in 2019, adding to it and helping to elevate what we did last year. The advantage of the new venue is the (expanded) seating capacity. You base your judgment for booking acts off artist costs vs. (potential) revenue. And, when you can add more seats, it always helps and affects the artists that you can book.”

For now, at least, The Shell will be simply known as The Shell, without the name of a corporate sponsor affixed to it. Could that change?

“It’s a distinct possibility,” Gilmer said. “But a decision might not be made to do so until a future year.”

Under any name, she predicts, The Shell should thrive.

“What I think is great about this location,” Gilmer said, “is that it will be great for families, for date nights, to entertain clients or to come by yourself. There are so many gateways this provides. My hope, always, is that we build trust with our audiences. That way, if they haven’t heard of an artist we’re presenting, they take a chance regardless and come, because they know we’re bringing in excellent performers from across a spectrum of genres.

“There will be programming year-round at The Shell. But the next chapter is: ‘How can we activate the park at Shell Park?’ Because, 85 percent of the time, the park will remain open to the public. And we look forward to activating the park in some very interesting ways. We’re writing the introduction now. But there are more chapters and innovations to come, because it’s a great, welcoming venue. I mean, who doesn’t like to be outdoors in San Diego?”

Vocal wizard Bobby McFerrin will perform at The Shell on Sept. 10.
(AP Photo/ Efrem Lukatsky)

The Shell 2020 inaugural season lineup

Friday, July 10: Rafael Payare conducts the San Diego Symphony featuring Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Alisa Weilerstein, hosted by Ali Stroker

Saturday, July 11: The Best of Broadway with the San Diego Symphony, conducted by Rob Fisher, directed by Gary Griffin and hosted by Chita Rivera and Len Cariou *

Sunday, July 12: Jennifer Hudson, with the San Diego Symphony *

Monday, July 13: The Beach Boys *

Friday, July 17: Voice and the Violin, with the San Diego Symphony

Saturday, July 18: Maxwell, with the San Diego Symphony, conducted by Steve Reineke *

Sunday, July 19: Classics Albums Live performs Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”

Tuesday, July 28: Gladys Knight, with Joss Stone *

Thursday, July 30: Gilbert Castellanos & The KSDS Jazz Orchestra performs Miles Davis’s version of “Porgy & Bess”

Friday, July 31: Ted Sperling’s “Broadway Romances,” with Laura Osnes and Santino Fontana *

Saturday, Aug. 1: Smokey Robinson *

Sunday, Aug. 2: Rafael Payare conducts the San Diego Symphony

Friday, Aug. 7: “The Princess Bride” in concert, conducted by David Newman

Saturday, Aug. 8: Audra McDonald, with the San Diego Symphony, conducted by Andy Einhorn *

Thursday, Aug. 13: Brian Newman

Friday, Aug. 14: Bernadette Peters, with the San Diego Symphony *

Saturday, Aug. 15: Sergio Mendes, with the San Diego Symphony, conducted by Sean O’Loughlin *

Sunday, Aug. 16: Beethoven by the Bay, with the San Diego Symphony, conducted by Aram Demirjian

Thursday, Aug. 20 and Friday, Aug. 21: “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi” in concert, conducted by Christopher Dragon

Saturday, Aug. 22: Goat Rodeo, featuring Yo-Yo Ma, Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer & Stuart Duncan, with guest singer Aoife O’Donovan

Sunday, Aug. 23: Sing Along: The Music of Stevie Wonder, featuring Ray Chew

Friday, Aug. 28 and Saturday, Aug. 29: A Celebration of Broadway Legend Jerry Herman, with the San Diego Symphony, conducted by Rob Fisher *

Sunday, Aug. 30: The Finest Hour: Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the Music That Ended World World War II, featuring Davina and the Vagabonds and Hot Club of Cowtown

Friday, Sept. 4 and Saturday, Sept. 5: “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2,” with the San Diego Symphony, conducted by Rob Fisher

Sunday, Sept. 6: “Music of the Knights,” with the San Diego Symphony, conducted by Stuart Chafetz

Thursday, Sept. 10: Bobby McFerrin

Friday, Sept. 11: Music of Selena, with the San Diego Symphony, conducted by Lawrence Loh *

Saturday, Sept. 12: Crowded House *

Sunday, Sept. 13: 1812 Tchaikovsky Spectacular, with the San Diego Symphony, conducted by Gemma New *

Tuesday, Sept. 29: Aida Cuevas, with Mariachi Juvenil Tecalitlán and Mariachi Los Camperos

Thursday, Oct. 1: Pat Metheny Side-Eye, featuring James Francies and Marcus Gilmore

All concerts at The Shell listed here begin at 7:30 p.m. Gates open at 5:30 p.m. Fireworks follow the conclusion of all concerts marked *. Additional concerts and events to be announced.

Ticket sales: Series tickets are on sale online at, by phone at (619) 235-0804 and at the symphony box office at 750 B Street, dowtown. Single tickets go on sale May 17, with prices initially ranging from $20 to $250.

Ticket packages: Early bird subscription pricing available through February 29. Series ticket packages are as follows:

Friday or Saturday Panorama package: 7 concerts, $174-$916

Friday or Saturday Sunset package: 4 concerts, $102-$564

Friday or Saturday Starlight package: 3 concerts, $72-$352

Classical Vista package: 3 concerts, $63-$240

Jazz on the Bay package package: 4 concerts, $72-$269

Special Concerts package: 9 concerts, $25-$300


12:52 p.m. Feb. 10, 2020: Due to incorrect information from the San Diego Symphony, the conductors for two of this summer’s concerts at The Shell were reversed. Stuart Chafetz will conduct the Sept. 6 “Music of the Knights” concert, while Lawrence Loh will conduct the Sept. 11 Selena tribute concert.