Film honors Central Washington’s Gorge amphitheater


Even though it’s been delayed for over a year, the release of a documentary film on the Gorge Amphitheater in Central Washington – a film about music and the sheer bliss of being together – seems right on time after all. “Enormous: The Gorge Story” opens July 21 in area theaters, including Vancouver’s Kiggins and Camas’ Liberty, in what is expected to be a short airing.

“We’ve all had a hell of a year,” director Nic Davis said in a telephone interview. “Being able to come back and celebrate this place that we all love and haven’t been able to go to – it’s kind of a unique window, to be able to go to the theater again and watch this movie with people.”

“Enormous” is a loving, rock, and swift homage to the most unlikely of all concert halls: an outdoor amphitheater and adjacent campground nestled in a hot, dry, and menacing landscape that truly sits in the middle of nowhere.

It takes two and a half hours to get to the Gorge Amphitheater from Seattle. It is a strenuous four and a half hour drive from Vancouver. The nearest town – tiny George, Washington – is still about 10 miles from the venue, where there’s nothing to eat except what you bring (or buy at festival prices) and nowhere to stay except your own tent.

But it’s part of what people love about this faraway place, singer-songwriter Jason Mraz explains in the movie: Venturing through mountains and deserts to hear their favorite stars gives pilgrims rock ‘n’ roll. n’roll the feeling that they have really accomplished something.


What: “Enormous: The Gorge Story”, directed by Nic Davis.

When: Opening July 21 for a limited edition.

Or: Kiggins Theater, 1011 Main Street, Vancouver; Liberty Theater, 315 NE Fourth Ave., Camas.

Check the websites for times, prices, tickets:,

“You don’t just go to a show and come home that night,” Davis said. “You devote your time to planning and camping and you join a great Gorge community. It is an alternative environment. Every concert weekend is like a festival.

And then there’s that spectacular desert-canyon backdrop to every show. “There is something huge and endless about this place,” says Dave Matthews, singer-songwriter and Gorge regular, in the film.

“I’m going to play everything I know, even if I have to stay here all night,” legendary singer Smokey Robinson said in the film. “.

Risky business

Today’s Gorge Amphitheater was started in 1985 as a risky winery business by Dr Vincent Bryan and Carol Bryan, New Yorkers who moved west unaware of the local landscape.

“A Brooklyn neurosurgeon and his wife,” Davis said. “No experience in entertainment. They wanted to try a cellar.

This is how the Bryans ended up with a remnant of rugged, rocky land that no local farmer wanted. Most thought the Bryans were out of their minds, but the couple persevered in their new sagebrush landscape. When their opening day invitation drew over a thousand RSVPs, the Bryans realized they should be offering more than wine. At the last minute, they rushed to build a small music stage and carved modest stadium-style terraces out of the landscape.

That first batch of wine was terrible, Vincent Bryan recalls, laughing in the film. But the outdoor music experience was so magical that their visitors asked, “When’s the next show?” “

The Bryans began negotiating with entertainment agencies and concert promoters. They ended up launching what was then called Champs de Brionne Summer Music Theater, and reached their maximum for their inaugural act: Bob Dylan.

On August 20, 1988, Dylan’s concert at the Summer Music Theater demonstrated just how successful and challenging the business can be. With high hopes and no idea what to expect, the promoters continued to sell tickets with no limits. In the end, 17,000 people showed up and overwhelmed the inadequate staff at the site. While there were plenty of crowd and camper control issues – like people bathing and washing their dishes in irrigation ditches – Dylan’s concert proved that the venue itself can be a draw. major and successful.

But performers also found the Gorge to be a difficult gig in those early days, says rocker Steve Miller. The traffic was terrible on the unpaved roads. The equipment got dirty. The toilets were not working. The filmmakers told The Columbian they shot footage and heard stories about the early amphitheater challenges and neighborhood strife, but didn’t include them in their film.

“All of a sudden … the hospitals are flooded, the infrastructure is not there, tens of thousands of people are showing up,” said producer Tim Williams. “We explored these elements but they didn’t seem to fit into the structure of the film.”

This structure ranges from an overview of the Gorge’s dramatic geological origins, to interviews with talents like Matthews and Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, to stories of ordinary people whose lives have been changed by the evolution and expansion of the concert hall.

Concert photographer Darren Balch found his calling and met his wife at the Gorge. Longtime music lover Pat Coats, a loyal Dave Matthews viewer with his beloved sister, eventually scattered his sister’s ashes there.

“That’s my favorite thing about it,” Williams said. “The people we interviewed had such interesting stories. This idea is extrapolated to thousands of different stories. Millions of people have visited the place over the years, everyone has been affected.

The Bryans sold the site a long time ago, but they are still nearby and operate Cave B Estate Winery. On their website, they say visitors often praise them for their chance to launch their winery alongside the famous Gorge Amphitheater.

Even though it is packed with interviews and musical excerpts, “Enormous” arrives at just over an hour. So much worthy material did not fit their narrow structure, the filmmakers said, they also pieced together five brief “Enormisodes” of bonus material, to be screened after the main feature: additional interviews, musical selections, a reel of blooper and even a deeper dive into the site’s geological history by Nick (“On the Rocks”) Zentner, a popular geology lecturer and professor at Central Washington University.

“It’s a different story, but the geology of this region is so fascinating,” Davis said.


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