Hollywood Bowl is back. After historic closure, first shows are free for essential workers

An archival photo of fireworks shooting from the top of the Hollywood Bowl.
The Hollywood Bowl will reopen after an unprecedented 18-month pandemic closure.
(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)

Dust off the seat cushion and grab your picnic basket. The Hollywood Bowl is coming back — and sooner than you might expect.

After COVID-19 forced the storied venue to scrap the 2020 season — the first full cancellation in 98 years — the Los Angeles Philharmonic is expected to announce Friday that the Bowl will reopen May 15 with a free concert for healthcare workers, first responders and other essential workers, including grocery store staff, custodians and delivery drivers.

“This is the moment we’ve been waiting for,” said L.A. Phil President and Chief Executive Chad Smith. “The Bowl is back.”


The 2021 season, which officially will kick off in early July, consists of 14 weeks of concerts, possibly attended by full capacity crowds given the state’s plan to reopen businesses and venues fully by June 15.

“If we meet the state’s criteria for a full reopening, we’re going to be able to give concerts at 100% of our audience capacity, and that’s a game changer for us and other performing arts organizations,” Smith said.

Before the Bowl opens to the public at large, it will host four free concerts for essential workers as thanks for their service during the pandemic. Because those concerts will take place before June 15, they likely will be governed by the tiered, color-coded capacity rules that California has used since last summer. Attendance at the 17,500-seat venue will be limited to 4,000 to ensure six feet of distance between pods of guests.

The L.A. Phil said it is working with partners such as Kaiser Permanente to identify frontline workers throughout the county who will receive an invitation to one of the first four shows.

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The Bowl said it will release detailed programming and ticket information May 11. The organization is still ramping up to tackle the complexities of reopening, but Smith said the L.A. Phil is planning 45 to 60 concerts. Talks are underway with Live Nation, which will schedule its own concerts by local, national and international touring bands. On Thursday, Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli announced his appearance at the Bowl on Oct. 24.

Fan favorites including Fourth of July fireworks will be in the lineup, the Bowl said.

“We’ve been through so much, and we continue to go through so much” said Smith, noting how the pandemic silenced stages in an unprecedented way. “We recognize the role we have played — and that we must play — in the healing process, art as a balm.”


Like most L.A. arts institutions, Smith and his team were caught off guard this week by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s unexpected reopening target of June 15. The L.A. Phil had been planning to announce a July reopeningearlier this week but revised its plans when the potential for full-capacity audiences cracked open a world of options.

The Bowl staged its last live show for the public in November 2019, so the iconic hatch shell will have been largely dark for a staggering 18 months when the lights rise on a May 15 performance by L.A. Phil Artistic and Music Director Gustavo Dudamel and his orchestra playing Tchaikovsky and Montgomery. That program will repeat May 22. L.A. producer and DJ Flying Lotus will team with jazz-fusion bassist and singer Thundercat for a free concert June 12; local cumbia band La Santa Cecilia will take the stage for the final free concert, set for June 26.

With the arrival of full-capacity audiences comes the need for full-capacity staff, which is happy news for the 226 seasonal employees who were laid off last May. Smith said the organization will do its best to rehire those same workers — parking attendants, ushers, food service workers and more — many of whom have been with the Bowl for years.

The L.A. Phil manages not only the Bowl but also the nearby Ford Theatres, which will reopen in late July. Details of the Ford’s 15-week season will be announced May 25.

The orchestra onstage in an empty Hollywood Bowl to record for at-home viewing.
Gustavo Dudamel and a distanced L.A. Phil record a performance inside an empty Hollywood Bowl in August for its pandemic “Sound/Stage” series. The venue has been largely dark since November 2019.
(Natalie Suarez / L.A. Phil)

The historic closures of the Bowl, the Ford and Walt Disney Concert Hall resulted in a $105-million budget shortfall for the L.A. Phil, Smith said, citing a number that is up significantly from the $80-million loss the organization projected a year ago. The L.A. Phil had to furlough 25% of its nonunion workforce and the entire Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Full-time members of the L.A. Phil orchestra had their salaries slashed to 70% of their regular weekly minimum scale.


Smith said he has no idea yet how much the L.A. Phil stands to generate in ticket sales from a full-capacity summer at the Bowl and the Ford. The summer season will start a game of catch-up, he said.

“As wonderful as this moment is — that we’re going to come out of this and get back to dong what we do — we know as an institution it’s going to take some time to recover,” Smith said, adding that pent-up demand from audiences eager to see live performance again will be balanced by those who harbor some understandable hesitancy.

“We have to put together a season that inspires people and gives them a reason to come back to the venue,” Smith said. “And we have to keep everyone safe.”

The L.A. County Department of Public Health has yet to sign off on the state’s June 15 reopening plan, which calls on venues to follow the protocols laid out by the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal/OSHA. If history is any indication, those safety precautions will evolve regularly. For now, the rules for the four free shows will be familiar to anyone tracking live performance in the region.

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Tickets will be for California residents only and limited to two, four or six people per order, all from the same household. Paperless tickets will be encouraged, but for those without access to digital devices, printed tickets can be obtained at the box office on the day of the performance.

Food and drink (including alcohol) must be ordered ahead and will be delivered to boxes or, for audience members in bench seats, made available for pickup at designated spots. Orders must be consumed in seats. Marketplaces will be closed.


Guests can bring their own snacks and drinks for in-seat consumption only. The traditional picnic areas will be closed.

Entry lines will be distanced, and ushers will work to ensure social distancing upon exit.

The four free shows will have free parking. Shuttle schedules and additional safety protocols will be announced as soon as guidance is released by the county.

By June 15, if all goes well, the scene could look quite different — with the first truly full house in a very, very long time.

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