Countdown to the First Waltz: the much-anticipated opening of Huntsville’s Orion Amphitheater

The Orion Amphitheater’s official opening is this weekend as the 3-day First Waltz festival comes to Huntsville. (City of Huntsville)

Few events in the last few years here in the Rocket City have been as heavily anticipated as the opening of the city’s new performance venue, the Orion Amphitheater. This weekend’s 3-day music celebration, First Waltz, is a taste of what’s to come for the state-of-the-art facility.

The 8,000-seat outdoor venue will host more than just music events, however. And the venue’s positive impact to the city is expected to reach multiple facets of the community.

The ins and outs of the Orion

The full capacity of the Orion Amphitheater is 8,000 seats. (Orion Amphitheater via Facebook)

The $46 million Orion Amphitheater is owned by the City of Huntsville but operated by by Huntsville Venue Group, a partnership between Mumford & Sons star Ben Lovett and industry veterans Ryan Murphy, Mike Luba, Don Sullivan, Jeff Kicklighter and Al Santos.

The 175,000-square-foot venue was designed by David M. Schwarz Architects.

“One of the reasons that Huntsville was so appealing to myself and the team is it feels like going the extra mile is in the DNA of this city and we intend to go the extra mile when it comes to not just the concert experience but the restaurants and bars that lay adjacent and that will serve customers year round.”

Ben Lovett, Grammy Award winning musician and Huntsville Venue Group CEO

Music is not the only attraction that will grace the new venue. It will be available to the community for farmers markets, festivals, graduations and other public gatherings throughout the year.

The area outside of the venue, known as Apollo Park, will be open year-round for people to exercise and roam freely. Only when there are specific ticketed events will the entire campus be enclosed. Otherwise, patrons are encouraged to utilize the grounds for their enjoyment throughout the year. 

From the planning stage to the First Waltz

This was the first rendering of the amphitheater concept released by the city in 2019. (City of Huntsville)

Mayor Tommy Battle announced the plans for the amphitheater in 2019, and the Huntsville City Council approved the project by a 4-1 vote. From there, the planning process saw bumps in the road due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the vision started truly taking shape as the management group started booking upcoming concerts.

“More than an amphitheater, this facility will help us grow our music and culture economy. It will allow us to become a community of curators, where we can develop our own creative content that is unique to Huntsville that we can share globally. In addition to arts festivals, markets and world-famous musicians, we’ll be able to incubate our own talent, showing that our next great entrepreneurs don’t all have to be in space and missile defense.”

Mayor Tommy Battle

Hence, the First Waltz, the Orion Amphitheater’s grand opening that includes some of the hottest musical acts in the country — some of which hail from right here in North Alabama.

“The Orion Amphitheater is an architectural landmark different from others in the city, and together with the elevated hospitality, we are re-setting the tone for Huntsville’s cultural future.”

Ryan Murphy, Orion Amphitheater General Manager

Just check out some of the acts performing this weekend at the Orion:

  • Brittany Howard
  • Drive-by Truckers
  • Emmylou Harris
  • Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
  • John Paul White
  • Mavis Staples
  • St. Paul & The Broken Bones
  • Waxahatchee
  • The Aeolians of Oakwood University
  • Kelvin Wooten & Deqn Sue
  • Translee
  • Huntsville Community Drumline

“We’re pretty excited to play the new amphitheater. It’s the last date of our current tour and the space looks pretty amazing from what I’ve seen. Also anytime we are in Mavis Staples periphery is a treat because we are all huge fans. It’s gonna be a great show.”

Chad Fisher, St. Paul and the Broken Bones

To see the upcoming lineup for the Orion Amphitheater, check out their website.

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Michael Seale
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