In the summer of 2016 I left New York City in a huff. More or less forced out of the shabby apartment I shared with two other women, crammed into an ill-fitting sublet, and facing a mounting credit card bill I could barely afford, Brooklyn no longer seemed tenable. Hell, nothing did. My chosen field of music journalism wasn’t exactly thriving, and the irritable climate of the thing — and the writing internet as a whole — had me more disheartened than ever.
Even worse, all the scrappy, DIY venues, blogs and bands that made the industry inviting in the first place were one by one closing their doors, shutting down, or breaking up. Some venues shuttered due to city ordinances or the rising tide of gentrification, others because of meddling from the cops and other iterations of The Man. Infamously, the worst reason was an internet publication where I’d contributed buying the block that housed the best of these venues, and remodeling the grungy stages into sleek, neo-hip offices.
It’s all been lamented a million times before, but New York was full of dead ends, shudders, and grudges for me by the end of it. And despite the broken relationships, it was the loss of those venues that hurt the most for some reason; they were hallowed ground, sacred spaces where I’d first found the courage to float my thoughts about bands and songs out into the world — and they’d helped me build a career out of it, too.
Unhappy at work due to the departure of my beloved editor (the rare blessing of a female boss), and dreading the daily slow-as-molasses bus ride to the office, I was shocked when a job offer appeared out of nowhere like a guardian angel. It came with enough security to quell my financial anxiety, the gleaming, elusive hope of a one-bedroom apartment — and the stipulation I relocate to Los Angeles. A room of my own was motivation enough, in two weeks I was on a plane. My seven boxes (mostly books and records) were on a FedEx truck, trailing just behind.
Here’s a hypothesis based on personal experience: The reason writers obsess so feverishly over leaving New York is because they’re afraid the magic was in the city, all along, and not in them. They’re afraid they can’t take it with them, that whatever they built in Brooklyn and Manhattan won’t flourish elsewhere. I was scared of that, at least. Until the Hollywood Bowl. It only took one night at the Bowl to convince me: the song of Los Angeles was going to surpass all my Brooklyn Baby dreams.
Dolly Parton at the Hollywood Bowl wasn’t the first show I attended after moving — that honor goes to Drake and Future at the Staples Center on the Summer Sixteen tour — but almost immediately after I settled into my new role, the chance to see this country icon came along. I’d been to the Bowl only once before, back in September 2007 during college, when Arcade Fire were touring what I then considered to be the best album in the universe, Neon Bible. That night was enough to leave an impression on me, but after five years in New York, I thought I’d seen enough to be ready for anything. I didn’t think there was much magic left.
But a distant memory of my nosebleeder seats from a decade prior did little to prepare me for the joy of sitting even as close as mid-venue at the Bowl. Granted a plus one, I invited the LA friend who’d first made the new city feel like home. We sighed, giggled and wine’d our way through Dolly’s no-holds-barred country celebration of femininity and sexuality from the bench seats, and went home full of Dolly’s inescapable optimism. I took it as further proof I’d made the right decision, and seeing shows at the Bowl has become a ritual of affirmation ever since. LA wanted me, New York didn’t. Honey, love the one you’re with.
All anecdotes aside — and there are many more — it’s not just that the Hollywood Bowl is my favorite venue in Los Angeles. It’s that, objectively, it is the best. Sitting under the stars. Watching your favorite band perform with the most ideal acoustics and natural sound quality. Eating bread and cheese and drinking wine picked out at whatever store and pricepoint you prefer and brought from home… there is no venue more comfortable or comforting than the Hollywood Bowl, and there are few experiences more tailor-made for delight.
In my twenties, I glommed onto dilapidated warehouses with poor sound quality, no seating, and little hospitality beyond dirt-cheap PBRs. While I was building a career in music in New York those venues felt like they were the scene. Once they were gone, I felt disconnected from that early spirit of ingenuity, and cut off from my own finesse. Then again, if 27-year-old me could’ve seen the abundance that was coming, that would’ve scared her, too. I was so busy focusing on what I’d lost, I was unable or unwilling to appreciate everything else that was still thriving at that time.
What the last few years have taught me is to ask for, expect, and accept abundance. In my thirties — and well beyond, really, given the median age of the demographic at the Bowl on any given night — I’ve embraced a venue that it’d be tempting to call cozy if it weren’t so majestic. Now, I regularly frequent a place where plenty of patrons show up early to sit in the box seats section, settle into canvas folding chairs with the tables pulled up, and create the snug feeling of a pre-show picnic. They manifest their own abundance, and glory in it. These small moments of building community are emblematic of Los Angeles at its best.
And even for those all the way back up in the nosebleeds, the Bowl is still a cut above the rest. There’s the size inclusive element of the bench seating, a backing of California greenery, the view of the city and the mountains laid out in the distance, and the impeccable quality of a one-of-a-kind band shell. It’s a place where The Beatles and Kanye West have both played; a venue elegant enough for artists like Sade and Solange, a spot savvy enough to book a Beach House and Fleet Foxes bill, and epic enough to inspire Florence + The Machine’s epic record How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. (“Between a crucifix and the Hollywood sign / we decided to get hurt.”)
The Bowl regularly wins awards cementing its status as one of the best venues in the city (and the country), and almost every artist I’ve seen play the Bowl, from Dolly herself to LCD Soundsystem, to Trombone Shorty mention what a privilege it is to perform on such a historical and significant stage. While most of the country’s celebrated, historic monuments are on the east coast, the Bowl is a beacon of West Coast culture; a significant landmark that has no superiors and damn few equals. A gathering of abundance, light, and community thriving in the heart of the city.
Every time I return to the Bowl it offers me more proof of my own resilience. It reminds me of my early fears about leaving New York, which seem laughable now. There is plenty of magic elsewhere. Here, in LA, wouldn’t be the same, not at all. It would be magic in its own strange way, like a historic outdoor amphitheater tucked away in the middle of Hollywood. A rose in a fisted glove. It would be so much better.