Readers share memories of the Beatles, romance and more at the Hollywood Bowl
Is there a more universal Los Angeles experience than hearing a wine bottle plinking and plunking as it rolls down the stairs at the Hollywood Bowl?
And as L.A.'s most iconic venue celebrates its centennial, we asked readers to share their favorite memories.
They wrote of seeing the Beatles and Mel Torme, Yo-Yo Ma and ballet.
John Williams conducted the music of "Star Wars" while lightsabers swayed and social activism played into other days.
There were moving moments with the crescendo of the L.A. Phil.
And what's a good Hollywood story without a little romance?
Here's a selection of memories from readers who responded to an L.A. Times query about the most memorable experiences they've had at the Hollywood Bowl.
Meet the Beatles
The British music invasion had begun. Radio station KRLA started a contest with the prize being two tickets to see the Beatles at the Bowl. Sure enough, Casey Kasem announced that my sister, Lucille Woodard, had five minutes to call in and claim her prize. She made it. Mom heard about how wild those rock concerts could be and only let her go if she took me to watch out for her. I’m 72 now and she is 74. We both agree it was the best concert we have ever attended.
Twist and shout
I was just 13, but I somehow managed to obtain two tickets to the Hollywood Bowl to see the Beatles. My mother dropped my best friend and I off at the Bowl shuttle stop. And we made our way unaccompanied into that amazing venue.
Our seats were just above the boxes and very close to center. The Bowl still had the moat, and all I can say is that the Beatles were lucky that the shallow body of water was there, otherwise the security forces might not have been able to hold back the screaming horde of teenagers.
Occasionally, I could hear the music, but my memories are mostly filled with the screaming and the amazed looks on the young Beatles' faces.
I have no idea how my friend and I found our way back to the shuttle stop after that once-in-a-lifetime experience, but we did.
He said WHAT?
1977: The Briggs Initiative would ban openly gay teachers from working in California schools, and a bunch of us organized "A Star-Spangled Night for Rights" at the Bowl, headlined by Bette Midler, Lily Tomlin and Richard Pryor. Seventeen thousand screaming people.
Richard came out and did 10 very funny minutes, then something took hold of him. What followed was a rambling rant that began with a confession of his own homosexual acts and escalated into a condemnation of the gay community for not being supportive enough of the Black struggle. This elicited boos and catcalls and, clearly in his own fog, he said: "If any of you don't like it, you can kiss my rich Black a—." Mic drop. After an intermission, Bette came out dressed as the Statue of Liberty and said, "Who wants to kiss this rich white a—?" Cheers and laughter restored. Richard subsequently appeared at a gay rights benefit (at the Biltmore) and apologized, most sincerely, explaining that occasionally, chemical assistance released some of his demons.
Simple twist of fate
In the summer of 1999, two gods played together at the Bowl: Bob Dylan and "Paul Simons," which is how my husband referred to the latter icon.
Joe is a Beethoven guy, and I'm your average boomer. I sat through a few epics to warrant Joe's attendance that night.
We arrived at our upper-level seats as "Simons" began. I knew seeing Dylan from this distance wouldn't work, so when the break came, a spell propelled me downward to the stage door. I knocked.
A young woman saw before her an aging hippiewith a look of desperation. Without saying a word, she allowed me in and pointed to a seat on the stage. The woman next to me asked, "Are you anybody?" "No," I said.
Aside from the obvious lifetime highs, watching Dylan at close range was the best experience of my life. For the last song — Lord know what it was — I slipped out the door and hugged the center stage, surrounded by other boomers going out of their minds.
The show ended, and the crowds left. I looked up at the bleachers and saw a lone man, holding his wife's coat. It was my sweetheart. As I ascended the stairs, I hummed to myself, "If not for you, babe, I couldn't find the door...."
A welcome return
Last fall, I walked up to the Bowl from my house. I sat in the cheap seats, plunked down on a crisp September night by myself and waited for Yo-Yo Ma and his cello alone to bring the night into focus.
In the past, I'd seen Brian Wilson, the brilliant and under-known Os Mutantes, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Cat Power and Terence Blanchard. All beautiful and inspiring, but none as brilliant as Yo-Yo Ma.
The people around me were classical music fans, and everyone was talking and eating from picnic baskets. It was the kind of perfect moment you'd expect from the Bowl. But this was post-COVID-19 restrictions, after I'd gotten vaccinated, after Yo-Yo Ma posted video of him serenading people with his cello after he too was vaccinated. It was the first time I'd been to see a live show since the shutdown.
It was sublime and nuanced and punctuated at times by sirens, which somehow made it even more of an impactful night. After the performance, I floated home on Ma's evocative, triumphal Bach salute. I felt human again.
An 'Unforgettable' evening
Newly in love, middle-aged and in a long distance relationship, my future husband and I splurged on box seats during one of his visits to L.A. In what proved to be the first of many magical nights for us at the Bowl, we heard Natalie Cole sing "Unforgettable" in a duet with her father, projected on the big screen over her head. We fell in love with the Bowl and deeper in love with each other. The Bowl has been part of our lives ever since.
A mind-blowing family outing
My actor husband and I, an artist with two precocious grade school daughters, had yet to achieve middle-class status through our respective arts. I was invited to teach at Cal State Northridge for a California Arts Project to inspire teachers from across the state. I was gifted four tickets to the Hollywood Bowl to see the Irish band the Chieftains. It was our first trip to the starry night stadium. The concert blew our minds, it was so good. My 7-year-old daughter Wendy said as we were leaving the concert, “I feel like I’ve been listening to their music for a thousand years!”
Feats of strength and grace
Mikhail Baryshnikov performed at the Hollywood Bowl on Saturday, Aug. 4, 1979. He leaped with such ease and with such height that it seemed inhuman. I still have the program. I had recently moved to Los Angeles from Michigan. My mother sent me the Detroit News article of that night. I still feel so privileged to have attended that performance.
The rock ’n’ roll water boy
It was the summer of 1981 and it was a hot one. In June, I helped plan and organize the Survival Sunday concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Everybody was there — [Bruce] Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash, a Kennedy, and some members of the Eagles. I got to meet them all, and it was a rousing success.
But the heat! At midday, it was way too hot, and my first aid people had to help with a good number of heatstroke cases. I climbed to the top of one of the lighting towers and brought a hose. I started to spray the people below, to cool them down and have a bit of fun. Dozens and dozens, maybe hundreds, turned to look up at me in utter gratitude and thanks for the hose-down. For a brief time, I was the rock ’n’ roll water boy to my masses of fans.
Throwing the beat
I was 10 and had recently moved to L.A. with my family from Pittsburgh. The department store White Front was having a special giveaway. If you bought a certain album, you got free tickets to a special concert at the Hollywood Bowl. My parents took me. My very first concert. The lineup was the Everly Brothers, the Who, the Animals, the Association, Sopwith Camel and the Sunshine Company. By the time we drove to Hollywood from Tarzana, it was raining. We stopped at the Thrifty drug store on Fairfax and Sunset to buy a clear plastic bubble umbrella, which we all sat under during the concert. It was amazing. And when Keith Moon threw his drum into the moat, I was shocked.
From Easter to graduation
I sang at the Easter sunrise service in the 1950s' "living cross" children wearing two robes, and at the exact moment we had to pull down the black robe to create the white cross. I graduated from Hollywood High School 60 years ago, Class of 1962, and the Hollywood Bowl was the site of our graduation. There were no elevators up to the 50-cent seats. But the reflection pool was there.
Good ticket karma
One of my fondest memories was the night I scored a free concert ticket. It was 1978. I arrived at the Hollywood Bowl at the last minute when my bus from Torrance ran late. While I was hurrying to the ticket line, a scalper — who was done for the evening — intercepted me and gifted me a much nicer ticket than I had intended to purchase. I got to my seat just before the program began. Who says L.A. isn't a magical place?
Watching a legend with a legend
Opening night in 2018 with Diana Ross was magical. Sharing a box with Mable John, one of the first singers to record for Motown, part of the Motown family and later one of the Raelettes with Ray Charles, made it a night to remember. A sold-out Bowl sang along with Ross, knowing all the lyrics by heart.
Make it so
Once, we were gifted with a box. The box seated four, but the other two (we didn't know them), were a no-show. We enjoyed our picnic in relative luxury (those boxes are smaller than they look). The music was great, as usual. During intermission, I was slowly wading through the crush on my way to the ladies when I heard a distinctive voice say, "Egads!" My head whipped around and I caught a glimpse of Patrick Stewart before he and I were swept apart by the crowds. A classic Hollywood Bowl experience.
A bushel and a peck at the Bowl
I've enjoyed so many wonderful performances at the Bowl, but the 2009 performance of "Guys and Dolls" was a standout because of the dream cast: Brian Stokes Mitchell, Scott Bakula, Ellen Green, Ken Page, Jessica Biel, Beau Bridges — every one of them outstanding.
A midweek pick-me-up
In the '80s, Wednesday nights (or some of them) were devoted to jazz. So many wonderful memorable evenings: Lionel Hampton, Ella (several times), Stan Getz, Count Basie, Gary Burton, Miles Davis (who played with his back to the audience), Sarah Vaughan, Mel Torme, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck, the list goes on and on. We were fortunate to score a box for the series, and the performances were wonderful, save for the occasional wine bottle running down the stairs. In those days, the Wednesday night jazz series began at 7:30, so the more music, the better. Magical nights.
What not to wear
I was 22 the first time a date took me to the Hollywood Bowl. I had no idea what the venue looked like, so like any normal night out, I donned a cute little dress and 4-inch wedge sandals. Clutching my date's arm like a vise, I tried to act nonchalant climbing that long, steep hill up to our seats. It was a wonderful night otherwise, but I stayed in the stands the whole time, never even venturing to the restrooms or concessions. Every concert since, it's all about the sensible shoes.
I don't remember the details: the year, our seats, but it was the Blue Man Group, their joyful performance, their creativity, their liquid music. They lit the Bowl and the audience. Lost in listening and watching — all was right with the world.
Countless memories at the Bowl, but since my birthday falls on July 2, I get to have a birthday firework spectacle every year.
I've had a box on summer Thursdays at the Bowl for decades; this year will be my 44th. My two greatest memories are as follows. The first is of the late Romanian pianist Radu Lupu traversing the five Beethoven piano concertos with Lawrence Foster and the L.A. Philharmonic. These were performances of extraordinary depth and introspection. The second is of Carlo Maria Giulini, in a rare Bowl appearance, performing the Verdi Requiem. This performance was absolutely incandescent. The soloists and the backing by the Scottish National Opera Chorus were stunning. Both performances were some 40 years ago, yet they remain firmly etched in memory. Yuja Wang's first Bowl performance was also electrifying; I consider her to be the preeminent pianist of her generation.
Stunning solo work
I've been to many performances at the Bowl, having been a subscriber since 1998, and many memorable evenings. Not including non-Philharmonic events, the most profound and memorable evening was watching Yo-Yo Ma sitting solo on that huge stage playing the entire Bach cello concertos. It was absolutely a heavenly evening.
And here's to you, Mr. Hoffman
My wife and I were in a box at a Paul Simon concert. Just as Paul started to play "Mrs. Robinson," Dustin Hoffman walked in front of the box and stopped. At first, he didn't look at the stage and just stared straight ahead. Picture Dustin Hoffman in profile in the near foreground and Paul Simon in deep background singing the song that started a career. What was going on in Mr. Hoffman's head? It was magical and something that could only happen at the Hollywood Bowl.
I was an usher at the Bowl for many years in the late '70's and '80s. One night when the orchestra was playing the 1812 Overture there was a meteor streaking above the Bowl stage. It was very impressive and went perfectly with the music. It lasted about five minutes and couldn't be seen by the orchestra.
Home is up the hill
So many memories and so many amazing performances: "Star Wars," Radiohead, Joao Gilberto, Bunny Wailer. This wouldn't have happened if it weren't for the close relationship with the amazing radio that L.A. has to offer. I always feel at home when I walk up the hill to the seats. There is a comfort walking up and down the hill that I just don't get from any other venue on the planet. That is why I appreciate it so much. In all the bustle of L.A., there is the amazing vibe of the Hollywood Bowl.
A not-so-Hollywood ending
I was living in San Diego and on a visit to L.A. met an exciting, very handsome man. I later flew up for a weekend visit, and he took me to the Hollywood Bowl. I don't recall a specific act, so perhaps it was the L.A. Philharmonic that night.
He had prepared a picnic; I remember a tablecloth. And I remember thinking, "Ooh, how fancy" — there was Brie (in those days, I was a Cheez Whiz gal) and Champagne.
We had a couple more dates when I'd come to L.A. I eventually moved here (unrelated to knowing him), never saw him again. He went on to be a super-successful, inspirational, accolade- and award-winning man with a lovely, also successful wife whom he loves and who loves him deeply.
Should have been me.
But I'll always have the Bowl.
Stop, hey, what's that sound?
I played in the Battle of the Bands in 1977. All up-and-coming bands of different sizes could compete. It was a wonderfully encouraging event for young musicians in Los Angeles. They had the rotating stage, so one band would be playing while the next was set up behind, then rotate in front of the crowd. The first time the stage swung around, my jaw dropped at seeing all those people. I played a sax solo, and I couldn't figure out what the rumbling sound was. Finally realized it was applause.
A cherished memory
First time at the Bowl is the best. My wife and I flew down from Fairbanks, Alaska, to see the Eagles for our first time at the Bowl in April 2010. Wanted to make a special memory. Had real good seats, and I loved how the sound washed over us like we were in a backyard cookout. Called the kids back home, and during the concert, their puppies were born. Hester and I loved the same music. Last fun thing we did as a married couple. She had been ill. She died at the end of September 2010, just after our 29th anniversary.
A powerful duet
The anticipation of seeing Elton John at the Hollywood Bowl was palpable. His performance didn't disappoint, but when he sang "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," and George Michael appeared to sing his part, it was more than anyone could have hoped for. It was a magical moment I will never forget.
A unique crossover audience
1974: Elderly season box ticket holders mixed with a pot-smoking crowd of youngsters for Rick Wakeman's "Journey to the Centre of the Earth" concert with the London Philharmonic, all on their feet for a standing ovation and third encore call. Wakeman said, "We haven't prepared any more music", so they repeated the last 30 minutes of "Journey."
Get them to the Bowl!
My husband and I have been together for 19 years, and our best dates have been at the Bowl. Seeing Roger Waters at the Hollywood Bowl in 2006 was a magical time. The vocals and the vibe of the crowd were exhilarating. Another memory, we were running late to see the Jeff Beck show in 2017, missed Buddy Guy's opening performance, but the Hollywood Bowl security team was so kind when they saw us running to the entrance (our Uber dropped us off on the other side) and drove us all the way to the front. Every memory of the Bowl has been no short of being amazing.
A sea of lightsabers
I remember going to hear film music master John Williams for the first time in August 2011 with a bunch of fellow sci-fi and movie music geeks. I couldn't figure out why so many people had "Star Wars" lightsabers with them until the orchestra struck up "The Imperial March" from "The Empire Strikes Back," and the audience lit up with a sea of lightsabers. As the music pulsed, audience members kept rhythm with their sabers, like swells in the ocean. It was glorious.
I too was at that amazing performance when Ella Fitzgerald "fell for us" and gasped along with everyone there. It was Paul Smith, her accompanist, who left the piano and helped her up. After her famous comment, they both jumped right back into the song at the very place they were when she fell. The audience collectively breathed a sigh of relief.
I attended the Jazz at the Bowl concerts all through the '80s and early '90s, so have so many special memories. But another one I will never forget was during a performance by Oscar Peterson. His band had taken a break and he was playing solo in the middle of the stage. Regrettably, I cannot recall the piece, but the mood was mellow and soothing. After he had played for a while, and unbeknownst to him, a mama raccoon and her babies wandered onto the stage behind him. They were calmly checking out the stage until people in the audience began to notice them. Of course, there was a ripple of oohs and aahs and some laughter from the crowd. Oscar looked up at the audience but just kept playing while the critters turned and left the stage. As far as I know, he never saw them and he never skipped a beat.
Gwen A. Shroder
The Velvet Fog
I never saw Frank Sinatra perform live, but I did see Mel Torme perform at the Bowl in the late 1980s. While I had heard of Torme before seeing him live, his performance was a revelation. He was an amazing live performer. His singing made me think I had not missed much (though I did miss something) by not seeing Sinatra perform live. The parking situation was terrible, but Mel made it worth it.
Decades of fun in the sun
When friends from the high school band and I scored tickets to the very first Playboy Jazz Festival, I never realized I would still be enjoying jazz under the stars some 30 years later. But the most memorable jazz festival was when my husband and I were at the Bowl and the Los Angeles Times snapped a pic of me blowing bubbles — and it ended up on the front page of Calendar.
Millicent Borges Accardi
A family affair
Liza Minnelli came to the Bowl in 2009 when I had just turned 9. I went with my mom, her brother and my grandmother. I remember feeling exceedingly mature and special to be with the grown-ups and seeing someone who I was already well aware to be a Hollywood legend. The energy that night was buzzing, and she commanded the stage like no one I had ever seen before. It was so special, and it was a reminder of why the Bowl is one of the best places in the city.
The bottle that got away
Just as the crowd was quieting down and the conductor was stepping onto the rostrum for a classical program, a wine bottle made its way into the aisle at the top of the stairs for what we now call the Super Seats. The bottle made a little grinding sound as it rolled to the next stair ... and the next stair ... and the next stair. Grind, grind, grind, PLINK! Grind, grind, grind, PLINK! All 15 or 20 stairs until it got to a landing. At first the audience tittered, then chuckled, then laughed out loud. The wayward bottle was retrieved, applause was given, and the orchestra began the classical program with aplomb.
An embraceable memory
In the late 1960s, we went to a Gershwin concert that was very well attended, probably around 12,000 people on a lovely night. Midway through the concert, when the orchestra played the opening notes to "Embraceable You," "Embrace me, you sweet embraceable you," what seemed like the entire audience heaved a collective soft sigh in unison. It's a sound I've never forgotten and think of every time I hear the beautiful song.
I was 14. My mother took me to see Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic with Itzhak Perlman as the guest. We had front-row box seats, and those were the days one really dressed up for these occasions. In the adjacent box was an "elderly" man in a white tuxedo and his wife. At intermission, he leaned over and said to me, "You are really enjoying this concert. Would you like to go backstage?" OMG would I! Yes, he took me backstage and introduced me to Leonard Bernstein and Itzhak Perlman as his "new friend." Wow! My “new friend” was Gregor Piatigorsky. That was 64 years ago, and I will remember this experience till the day I die.
A sweet treat
My husband and I have so so many memories from the Hollywood Bowl, from Cher on her final tour to seeing Oasis before they split, but for me it was at "The Sound of Music” singalong. Never mind being a child raised by Austrian parents, who knew every lyric in the movie, it was the picnic baskets coming out all around us that night. I mean full-on homemade dinner. Right in front of us, a group of guys brought one delectable dish out after another. At the very end, they brought out homemade chocolate chip cookies. I couldn't take it any more and tapped one of the fellows on the shoulder. I told him how amazed I was at all the good food and could not contain myself and asked for a cookie. With delight and a huge smile, I got two. "Climb Ev'ry Mountain " never sounded so great.
Elli Reiner Jones
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.