RIP Irvine Meadows: Reflecting on the Venue After Its Final Bow

RIP Irvine Meadows: Reflecting on the Venue After Its Final Bow
John Gilhooley

I’ve lived in Southern California since Barack Obama was locking up his first presidential nomination,  so I didn’t think I’d ever become as emotionally tied to a place, nevertheless a concert venue, that was beyond my native New York. I’ve been going to concerts since I was 14, so nostalgia has a place in my heart, but as picking up and leaving the comfort of Gotham shows, it’s not as much as it should be.

Yet, now that the curtain has finally dropped on Irvine Meadows, a venue that matches me in age, I’m extricably tied to, and saddened by its impending — and senseless — departure. Unlike the L.A. Sports Arena, which Bruce Springsteen ‘shut down’ way back in March, losing Irvine Meadows has somehow become something that brings me much sadness. That said, I can’t imagine of the other 16,000-plus at the final show were feeling.

The only thing can I can compare to this — on a personal level — is losing Shea Stadium. For those non-baseball fans, Shea was the long time home of the New York Mets and was a venue I’d been going to since I was six. I watched it depart from the confines from my Hollywood apartment, and the feeling was like losing a familymember. Yes, it was an outdated, dump, BUT, it was our dump!  That was the attitude of many Mets fans, even as the stadium was the butt of many jokes. Irvine Meadows doesn’t compare in that regard, but its certainly to an extent the Rodney Dangerfield of Southern California concert venues (San Manuel Amphitheater, your turn!).

RIP Irvine Meadows: Reflecting on the Venue After Its Final Bow (3)
Micah Wright

I remember my first show at Irvine Meadows back in 2010. The only reason I’d ever think about attending a Jack Johnson show (I know, I know), nevertheless make the trek down during my final grad school semester at USC was that I got a free Sony Bloggie for attending. Of course, due to the relentless traffic, I missed my free handheld camera, but I instantly was hooked on the venue. Yeah, I didn’t like the parking, and yeah, the dust killed my asthma, but damn it, this was as close as to the venues I’d spent my youth. There’s a certain charm that I was I attracted to. The lawn area felt like common-person area that populated similar cookie cutter amphitheaters on the East Coast (Saratoga Springs, NY and Camden, NJ in particular) and the level of bands was unquestioned.

As I pulled up to the venue under the gloominess of the October sky, I reflected on my time spent at Irvine Meadows over the years. Seeing the semi-reunited Van Halen after so many years stands out, as does missing out on the Beach Boys 50th anniversary.

The mood felt right, especially as an OC centric lineup Gwen Stefani, Young the Giant and Save Ferris were tapped to close out the night. The sense of nostalgia and sadness still lingered, as did a sense of closure.

RIP Irvine Meadows: Reflecting on the Venue After Its Final Bow (2)

As a solution continues to be hammered out in order to keep major, outdoor live music in Orange County and Irvine, fans were genuinely sad that the place where they saw Michael Jackson, KISS, Guns N’ Roses, Pearl Jam, Snoop Dogg, Blink-182, Dave Matthews Band, Darius Rucker, Jason Aldean and almost every Weenie Roast was to be a pile of rubble before becoming yet another faceless apartment complex.

Gwen Stefani performs at the last show at Irvine Meadows.EXPAND
Gwen Stefani performs at the last show at Irvine Meadows.
Christopher Victorio

But, instead of it being eulogy, the venue felt like a celebration. Gone, but not forgotten or any other cliché you want to throw in there, describes how people treated their last night at the venue. Tapping Stefani was a logical choice as was the rest of the lineup, but the vibe was as explosive and emotional as any other show during this final season. Nonetheless, hearing stories of this somehow being some fans’ first shows at the last one felt right and as solutions continue to evolve, a new chapter for younger concertgoers will begin at the proposed site of the new venue that Live Nation and FivePoint are putting the finishing touches on.

When many people’s rose-tinted personal history is brushed aside, they’ll remember a venue that was much like my beloved Shea Stadium. Whereas you'd feel better about drinking fine wine and having your picnic at the Hollywood Bowl, Irvine Meadows was the place you could down a shitty domestic beer and slogging through a taco, pizza or hot dog without worrying about being frowned up by the high and mighty. It wasn’t the prettiest or most popular venue, but damn it, Irvine Meadows, much like Shea, became a part of me. Besides, I'd take heart, soul and grittiness over Yankee Stadium any day.

Goodnight, sweet prince, may you rest easy.


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