BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
(This story was originally posted at 12:13 a.m. May 31, 2018. It has been updated to reflect Chastain’s changed policy on glassware, liquor and wine bottles.)
Cushy box seating and genuine concession stands are great.
But perhaps the most exciting upgrade at State Bank Amphitheatre at Chastain Park?
Brand new, air-conditioned bathrooms.
Since November, the Atlanta venue has undergone a $6 million-plus makeover, including tweaks to the stage, a new accessible seating platform near stage right and elevator for easier access, and a completely rebuilt plaza area where crumbling green buildings dating back to the 1940s used to house bathrooms, minimal concession options and catering.
On Saturday, the gates will open for the first time this season with a show by R&B stalwarts Frankie Beverly and Maze; on June 6, the initial “series” concert, featuring ZZ Top and John Fogerty, will give another round of fans the opportunity to see the changes.
“It’s going to make a big difference upon your experience,” said Peter Conlon, president of Live Nation Atlanta, which books and manages the amphitheater and paid for the makeover. The venue is owned by the city of Atlanta.
As he walked amid the construction crews wrapping up their work on Wednesday afternoon during an exclusive first look at the renovations, Conlon pointed out that while the audience might not notice, the steel beams atop the stage have been raised 6 1/2-feet – to better accommodate artists’ lighting and video production requirements – and the stage itself juts out about another foot toward the coveted floor tables.
The open plaza area near Gate 4, with its subdued light gray and white palette, will be dubbed “Cooley/Conlon Plaza,” in a nod to Conlon’s longtime friend and concert promoter partner, Alex Cooley, who died in 2015.
“I really wish Alex could see this,” Conlon said, walking alongside the new fencing on the road next to the venue that was renamed Alex Cooley Parkway last year. “He would love it.”
Concert attendees will no doubt appreciate the new bathrooms (37 stalls with automatic faucets and, again we stress, air conditioning, in the women’s room and twice the number of stalls and urinals – compared to previous accommodations - in the men’s room) on the plaza side.
Nothing has changed with the bathrooms or concession area near Gate 1 and the box office, which received an update about a decade ago.
Fans can still bring their own food and beverages for table setup concerts, though there are some modifications this year: coolers cannot be larger than 23” wide and 16” deep and kept under seats to keep the aisles clear. Only one cooler per person will be permitted and glassware of any kind will not be allowed into the amphitheater (there is a 375 ml size limit per bottle of liquor, but regular wine bottles are fine).
Longtime Chastain caterer Proof of the Pudding will also remain on site; however, those who prefer to grab a smaller bite have many more options with the installation of what Conlon calls a “millennium kitchen.”
For the first time, Chastain will offer burgers, fries and grilled hot dogs. A pizza oven and frozen drink machines will also expand the choices.
And let’s not forget the seats.
While the sturdy, green chairs in the bowl haven’t changed, those with box tickets will now plop into theater-style seats – instead of folding chairs – complete with cup holders. Since they are bigger, their arrival means the loss of about 130 seats in the venue, which holds about 6,500.
Conlon said his three goals for the renovation were to “raise the steel, increase bathroom capacity and have more concession options.”
Three check marks for completion.