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Visited The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park yet? More than 88,000 people have attended the first 28 concerts

The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park
The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park officially debuted on Aug. 6 with a gala opening concert by Rafael Payare and the San Diego Symphony.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The new $85 million bayside venue has hosted concerts by the symphony and Rock & Roll Hall of Famers Brian Wilson, Gladys Knight, Stewart Copeland of The Police, and other guest artists

The San Diego Symphony is off to a rousing start with its new $85 million bayside venue, The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park.

Attendance at The Shell, as it is known for short, exceeded 88,000 people in its first two months of operation. Between the Aug. 6 gala opening concert and a Sept. 30 performance by jazz guitar great Pat Metheny, the venue has hosted 28 paid events and averaged 3,100 attendees per event, the symphony announced on Wednesday.

The capacity for all but one concert has been 3,500. That was increased to 7,000 for an Aug. 14 performance by comedian Sebastian Maniscalco, which was produced by an outside promoter, AEG/Goldenvoice. All of the other performances have been in-house productions by the symphony, which has mixed orchestral performances with stand-alone concerts by such pop-music legends as Gladys Knight and Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson.

Can the outdoor, year-round bayside venue become a cultural landmark and profit-generator to rival the Hollywood Bowl and Sydney Opera House? California’s oldest orchestra is counting on it


“Looking back at the first eight weeks of performances at The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, I could not be more thrilled,” San Diego Symphony CEO Martha Gilmer said in a statement released Wednesday.

The Shell drew 48,000 attendees to its 15 paid events in August and more than 40,000 to its 13 paid events in September. That 88,000-plus total attendance exceeds the number of concertgoers during any two-month period in the symphony’s decades of previous outdoor summer concert seasons.

Moreover, The Shell was built as a year-round venue. It has another 18 nights of music scheduled between Friday and Nov. 14.

The fall lineup, which starts Friday, includes 10 Jacobs Masterworks series concerts by the 111-year-old symphony, whose previous fall and winter seasons were held indoors. The new venue enables the orchestra, led by music director Rafael Payare, to continue performing outdoors at a time when the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has made some audience members hesitant to attend indoor events.

The Shell has also exceeded expectations for drawing first-time attendees to the venue, whose opening was pushed back from last year because of the pandemic. By the symphony’s count, more than half of the concertgoers at The Shell in August and September were new to the site at Embarcadero Marina Park South (which housed a temporary summer stage for the symphony between 2004 and 2019).

“The responses from the musicians on the stage and our audiences has been overwhelmingly positive,” Gilmer said. “The fact that over 50 percent of our audiences are new makes me feel we are fulfilling our promise to be a destination for all.

“The energy and emotion created at The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park and being together again as musicians and audience in a live concert experience is something none of us will ever forget. Most importantly, the (venue’s) sound and acoustics can match any location in the country; it has fulfilled our every expectation.”

Gilmer’s enthusiasm is shared by Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Stewart Copeland, who performed at The Shell with the symphony on Aug. 27 for the world premiere of his “Police Deranged for Orchestra.”

What did this Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee learn in his early days as a roadie for Wishbone Ash and tour manager for Joan Armatrading? Quite a lot!

“It’s a fantastic venue,” Copeland told the Union-Tribune. “Venues like that are the reason we play music.”

Cello superstar Yo-Yo Ma praised The Shell’s “incredible sound” from the stage during his Aug. 22 concert with the chamber-music-meets-bluegrass group Goat Rodeo.

The venue’s opening concert in August featured Payare leading the symphony and guest soloists, including his wife, internationally renowned cellist Alisa Weilerstein.

Based in Berlin, the husband-and-wife musical team are now living in San Diego because of the coronavirus pandemic

The opening drew televised coverage on the PBS Evening News and from publications in New York, San Francisco, Toronto and Montreal, where Payare last month began his duties as designated music director of the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal. Starting next year, he will serve as the music director of both the San Diego Symphony and the orchestra in Montreal.

The Shell, which was paid for almost entirely by funding from private donors, has hosted 25 free open rehearsals during its first two months of operation. It will hold 33 more free rehearsals over the next two months at Jacobs Park, which is a free public park open to the community 85 percent of the year.

The next free rehearsals by the orchestra take place Thursday at 10 a.m. and 1:45 p.m., Friday at 10 a.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. A full schedule of free rehearsals is available online at theshell.org/rady-shell-community/open-rehearsals-at-the-rady-shell/.


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