McDonald Theatre: 1010 Willamette St. Eugene, OR 97401
Phone: (541) 345-4442
Cuthbert Amphitheatre: Alton Baker Park Eugene, OR 97401
Phone: (541) 762-8099
Kesey Enterprises operates both McDonald Theatre (which the business owns) and Cuthbert Amphitheatre (which the business leases from the City of Springfield). Kesey Enterprises also helps facilitate the annual Eugene Celebration, a three-day community event that features two stages of live music, among other activities. I spoke with Cami White, Box Office, Merchandise, and Artist Hospitality Manager for Kesey Enterprises at the business’s office at 1016 Willamette on Friday, November 16th.
From the Venue Info page of McDonald Theatre’s website: “In maintaining the historical ambiance of the theatre, an effort has been made to emphasize the importance of community involvement. The theatre creates a platform for artists of all ambitions, repertoires, and ages to be displayed.” I arrived at the office adjacent to McDonald Theatre the morning after a concert that featured the bands Rootdown, Boys Like Girls, and Chris Walla. It was also a benefit concert for Food For Lane County. I asked White if nonprofit collaborations for shows increase ticket sales or otherwise differ from regular shows. She said, “Most of our collaborations have been with Food for Lane County. I don’t know that they increase ticket sales, but if someone is already planning on coming to a show, they’ll bring canned food either in the hope of winning more tickets [through a ‘canned food raffle’], or because there’s been a lot of hype about it.” Tying in a benefit aspect to a concert adds another dimension of audience participation, possibly allowing concertgoers to feel like they are contributing to a cause and therefore possibly encouraging a deeper investment in the concert experience.
At the McDonald, seating types are determined by the type of group playing and the crowd it draws, and includes three different seating arrangements, which can be found here. White told me that most shows are general admission and are standing room only. Some have a balcony bar available in addition to the bar located downstairs (called the Sky Bar), and some do not. This show in particular drew a younger crowd, so staff chose to not open the balcony Sky Bar. Seated concerts at the McDonald tend to cater to an older crowd, while general admission serves a broader range in ages. The seats are old, heavy rows of theater seats and are literally screwed into the floor for each seated concert. The building is historic (built in 1925), and the staff works within the limitations of the space.
I took a tour of the McDonald and discovered a table set up with a Harmony Medicine banner. White explained that staff from this nonprofit is present at nearly every show at the venue. They serve patrons who are intoxicated due to drinking or drug use, or (occasionally) those who have gotten injured in the crowd. This isn’t a common practice at mid-sized venues such the McDonald; in my experience, on-site medical personnel are generally reserved for arenas, stadiums, and festivals. I wonder what kind of bearing the presence of Harmony Medicine has on concert attendees who never have to use their services. I would personally feel more at ease going to a rowdy concert if I knew medical help was nearby, should it be needed. I have seen people pass out, get sick, or get knocked out while moshing on multiple occasions in my nearly two decades of seeing live music, and it is always alarming. I laud the McDonald for including Harmony Medicine regularly in their events.
In discussing differences between the Cuthbert Amphitheatre and McDonald Theatre, White explained that McDonald Theatre books bands with a growing following, bands she considers more “up and coming.” The McDonald holds 1300 people as opposed to Cuthbert’s 5000. Citing the band Pretty Lights, she noted that in a few cases, bands that played at the McDonald ended up gaining a larger fan base locally, and were able to be booked on a subsequent tour at the Cuthbert. White said going to a show at the McDonald is a stop for people who are perhaps also going out for dinner or drinks, as opposed to concerts at the Cuthbert, which are more of a destination event.
I interviewed Karen Rainsong, former Outreach and Technology Coordinator from Eugene-a-go-go on November 15th, 2012. More from that interview can be found here. Rainsong mentioned the Pretty Lights show at the Cuthbert during our conversation as well, noting that the crowd at Pretty Lights was almost entirely college-aged, and that there was a lot of drinking going on. She was said, though, that there was no “seedy” feeling at all, no hostility—and attributes the “good vibe” partially to the venue being outdoors.
The Cuthbert Amphitheatre’s season is short, going from June until late September. Besides offering the chance to view music from a grassy knoll in a large, beautiful park with bicycle paths and duck ponds, the Cuthbert offers food booths and beer gardens. White says that at the Cuthbert, one logistical thing they work with is the risk of rain, but people will still pay more to see bands outdoors. Cuthbert’s crowd tends to be older than McDonald’s, as the acts booked there draw an older crowd (Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Bonnie Raitt).