Baumgartner Vaughan: If Durham had an amphitheater

Jul. 26, 2014 @ 04:11 PM

As far as indoor entertainment venues go, the Durham Performing Arts Center is arguably the biggest draw in the Triangle, bringing both Broadway shows and big-name concerts to the stage since it opened in late 2007. Pollstar Magazine just rated it third on its list of national attendance at theaters. But that’s indoors.
That kind of huge draw to an outdoor venue is something Durham doesn’t have, not on that scale. Should it? Does Durham need an amphitheater? John Mellencamp’s announcement earlier this year that Farm Aid would be coming to Durham set the rumor mill rumbling about where exactly many thousand people could go for a music event of that size. The ballpark? West Point on the Eno? Durham County Stadium? Wallace Wade, Duke University’s football stadium? All have possibilities. But when the official announcement came this past week, it was Walnut Creek Amphitheatre in Raleigh that will host the benefit for family farms. An amphitheater is a better fit for Farm Aid than a stadium, a spokeswoman told Herald-Sun reporter Steve Wiseman this week.
Dave Matthews Band, who will also perform at Farm Aid, happened to play Walnut Creek on July 23, the day of the announcement. I saw Dave Matthews at Walnut Creek about seven years ago. It’s a good venue. In the years since, downtown Raleigh has also developed an urban amphitheater, Red Hat Amphitheater. Concert lineups for both places fill each outdoor music season. Indoors, DPAC is the place to be. Durham is also home to The Carolina Theatre and smaller concert venues. But where is Durham’s large outdoor concert space? Cary has Koka Booth Amphitheatre, so that’s three amphitheaters in the Triangle. Maybe that’s enough? Durham already has DPAC, so there’s no need to be greedy when it comes to entertainment locations. It’s an easy drive to Raleigh from Durham just as it’s an easy drive to Durham from Raleigh, most days anyway, outside of rush hour. But still, it’d be nice to have another option. Obviously, people here -- and people in driving distance of here -- want to go to concerts. Here comes the baseball movie reference: If we built it, would they come? I think so. Where it would be, and who would pay for it? Those might be the questions that keep it at the idea only phase.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan may be reached at or 919-419-6563. Follow on Twitter: @dawnbvaughan