A Made-Over Concert Venue On The River Is Coming… Well, Soon-ish

Digital renderings of the new concert venue at White River State Park

While you’ve been waiting for concerts to return, a “new” downtown venue materialized. The TCU Amphitheater at White River State Park represents a major makeover at the site of the former Farm Bureau Insurance Lawn, which hosted “Weird Al” Yankovic as its final show in August 2019. Construction that began before the pandemic has added a permanent stage, a fixed-seating area for 2,500 attendees, and a canopy above that seating area. The venue has an overall capacity of 6,000, including some general-admission lawn seating.

Fans are expected to be in seats before Independence Day. Australian pop-rockers 5 Seconds of Summer will headline the first concert at TCU on June 16. Ten more performances by touring acts are scheduled for 2021, but Carolene Mays-Medley, executive director of the White River State Park Development Commission, acknowledges the challenge of ramping up a concert season while the pandemic lingers. Tours can stay on the road only as long as multiple states offer encouraging health reports. “Right now, the concerts on the schedule are scheduled to happen,” Mays-Medley says.

If it’s possible to feel at home on the road, that’s why TCU Amphitheater was built. The old Lawn operated as a pop-up concert facility from its first show in 2004 until the “Weird Al” finale in 2019. Musicians played on a temporary stage made of scaffolding, which didn’t always accommodate the bells and whistles of a tour’s production. When Vampire Weekend visited in 2019, the band had to leave its biggest visual effect—a 12-foot light-up globe—backstage in a truck. TCU Amphitheater features a permanent stage, artist dressing rooms, and improved load-in accommodations. The idea is to attract bigger and better acts.

The venue’s amenities don’t leave fans behind.  The first part of the transformation arrived two summers ago when attendees had access to permanent restrooms rather than portable toilets. Completed construction means fixed seats have replaced low-slung lawn chairs close to the stage, and the canopy will shield some of the audience from inclement weather.

But what about the old “festival feeling”? On social media, it’s not difficult to find complaints about what’s no longer possible for fans at the venue: standing close to the stage with grass under your feet and open sky above your head. For what it’s worth, the venue is saving space for a general-admission “pit” by the stage when tours prefer this configuration. Umphrey’s McGee (August 28) and Deftones (September 2) are two “pit” dates on this summer’s schedule.

White River State Park has plans beyond the music. Mays-Medley sees a role for TCU Amphitheater when downtown welcomes back large-scale conventions and conferences. “People are still more comfortable outdoors,” she says.

Don’t expect all your favorites to tour this summer. The present TCU Amphi-theater schedule of 11 shows is no threat to eclipse past summers at the Lawn that featured 25 events. At the same time, Mays-Medley says concerts might be added to the 2021 lineup in coming weeks.

A packed roster is the goal for 2022. Performances by Barenaked Ladies and Tedeschi Trucks Band at the venue have rolled from 2020 to 2021 and now to 2022 because of pandemic postponements. Music fans should expect a wealth of concert options next year. “I would love to shoot for 50 shows,” Mays-Medley says.