Rolling Stone


Rocket town Huntsville shoots for the stars with the new Orion Amphitheat­er


Aworld-class outdoor venue inspired by ancient Roman designs is probably the last thing you’d expect to find in Huntsville, Alabama, but the city’s new ORION AMPHITHEAT­ER is all about exceeding expectatio­ns. Which makes perfect sense for a town that’s primarily known for sending rockets into outer space.

Funded by the city’s capital plan and a percentage of future hotel taxes, the $40 million, 8,000-capacity Orion is a perfect complement to the fast-growing northern Alabama city. It was also created with the idea of community in mind, something that Mumford & Sons keyboardis­t and co-founder

Ben Lovett — CEO of the Venue Group, which runs the Orion — is making a core mission of all his company’s sites. During Orion’s design phase, he stressed the importance of building something that operates differentl­y from other amphitheat­ers.

“There are lots of venues across the U.S. that play 10, 15 shows a year, and we’ve seen them a million times: the concrete pad with the lawn and the roof over the stage,” Lovett says. “And they open when they open, and the rest of the year they’re not in use. I was like, ‘Forget those rules. Let’s look at how the best do it.’ ”

That idea of making it a unique place extended to Orion’s opening weekend, dubbed “The First Waltz,” a nod to the Band’s classic concert film. There were performers like Jason Isbell, Drive-By Truckers, and Waxahatche­e, all born and raised in Alabama, and others like Mavis Staples, who recorded in nearby Muscle Shoals. The closing night was dedicated to local talent like rapper Translee and the Aeolian Singers from HBCU Oakwood University.

“Once I got it locked in, I was like, ‘Man, this is what I wanted to show the people of Huntsville, what we’re trying to achieve,’ ” says Ryan Murphy, GM of Orion and Huntsville Venue Group (a division of Lovett’s TVG). “It’s very specific to the area, and it really reflects the legacy and the future of the area.”

The Orion and Huntsville Venue Group also fit into a bigger picture envisioned by a 2018 Sound Diplomacy audit, which centered on the idea of creating an entire musical ecosystem in Huntsville to keep pace with its growth.

“You have a really cool undergroun­d punk scene and DIY garage scene and people doing house shows, some singer-songwriter stuff, and the city [is] really helping lean into that by doing different festivals,” Murphy says. The city’s Von Braun Center also expanded its venue offerings with the new 1,500-capacity Mars Music Hall.

The Venue Group has plans to open a smaller club near downtown Huntsville, rounding out an ecosystem that now includes music stores like Vertical House and Tangled String Studios at Lowe Mill.

It’s a long process that requires a lot of cooperatio­n from multiple parties, but Murphy and Lovett note that everyone is eager to collaborat­e.

“[In] Huntsville, there’s something magical about how they get things done,” Lovett says. “The rocket program and everything they’ve done with NASA, that gives them the self-confidence to do things that other people don’t do.”

Brittany Howard performs at the Orion in Huntsville.
ALABAMA SHAKING Brittany Howard performs at the Orion in Huntsville.
 ?? ?? Alabama native Deqn Sue onstage at the Orion
Alabama native Deqn Sue onstage at the Orion

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