Welcome to The Middle of Nowhere, Washington.
The sweeping, panoramic views. The mighty Columbia River off in the distance. The stage. The perfect acoustics. The bands. The crowds. Those who call the Pacific Northwest home and some of history’s most iconic artists flock to The Gorge Amphitheatre each year for some of the most memorable concerts on the planet. The Gorge is almost an annual pilgrimage for many. But do you know the story behind Washington’s most recognized and remote concert venue? Director Nic Davis and producer Tim Williams lay out the relatively short history for you in their new documentary, Enormous: The Gorge Story, which just made it’s debut at the Seattle International Film Festival.
The documentary pulls you in from the moment the camera pans across the the practically barren landscape east of the lush Cascade mountain range. You learn right away that the land the amphitheatre sits on was not formed over tens of thousands of years like the Grand Canyon but in a matter of days through a “crazy series of geologic accidents.”
From humble beginnings, in 1980, Vince and Carol Bryan were simply looking to build a vineyard on land with poor soil. Using where sage brush grew as their guide, they purchased what is now Cave B Estate Winery (formerly Champs de Brionne). The ampitheatre itself was initially built to coincide with the opening of the winery. Their son built the small stage and they cut out the terraces for guests to sit. They opened to the world and while the wine was terrible at first, the show and the experience were so good, Champs de Brionne Summer Music Theater was born in 1984.
Throughout the documentary, Nic and Tim interview music legends Dave Matthews, Mike McCready, Patrick Monahan, Jason Mraz, Dierks Bentley, John Oates, and Steve Miller, interweaving their personal Gorge stories with footage from some of the most memorable concerts ever played. Dave says there is “something enormous and endless about this place” and walks the viewers through some of his fondest memories. Mike reiterated why The Gorge was Pearl Jam’s number one place to play, and reminisces of their insane 1993 show. Patrick loves the intimate experience The Gorge brings for an artist, as you can see the faces of all the fans in the crowd.
The film also reveals how The Gorge changed Jason Mraz’s life forever. Today, The Gorge remains one of his favorite place to play, not just because of what happened for him, but as he best put it, “here we are in the middle of nowhere with an exclusive performance just for us.”
Beyond the artist and promoter interviews, Nic and Tim talk to super fans like Pat Coates and many others, who has been attending shows at The Gorge for 30 years and keeps photo albums of all of her experiences.
From it’s wine concert venue beginnings, Nic and Tim talk to the pioneers who helped turn The Gorge into what it is today: Ken Kinnear, Jeff Trister, Darren Balch and Adam Zacks. You learn how Ken and Jeff booked Bob Dylan to play and 17,000 fans showed up when they could only hold 12,000 – the show which truly put the ampitheatre on the musical venue map. You see Darren’s legendary concert photography, where he would wait for the music to go through the artist before snapping a photo (this was way before camera phones y’all!!). And you see how folks like Adam created the Sasquatch Music Festival in 2002. After Live Nation bought out the The Gorge in 2007, the “hillbilly sleepover” that is Watershed and the EDM festival of Paradiso were also born.
As Central Washington University Professor Nick Zentner perfectly sums up the story of The Gorge Ampitheatre, “All those events happened to get where we are now. Everything changes and we have one little moment to enjoy this beautiful place.”
Go out now and see Enormous: The Gorge Story.
Lesley is the founder and editor of What’s Up NW. Prior to creating WhatsUpNW.com, she was the Seattle city editor for AskMissA.com. For both publications, Lesley has covered fashion shows, openings, and local charity events. She has written numerous articles shining the light on local businesses, encouraging readers to always shop local.