When the idea of live theatre in Martinez was brought to the city council, all of us were very excited about enhancing the arts in our community and drawing people from all over the Bay Area. The Willows saw the potential of Martinez as a different kind of venue than their traditional main stage. The Willows wanted to try something different, and they wanted to do it in Martinez. A contingent of us made up of representatives of the Willows and the City of Martinez traveled to Ashland, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. We wanted to see first-hand how they produced this amazingly successful series and to explore the economic benefit to the region in and around Ashland. It was from this trip that the seeds of the John Muir Ampitheatre were sewn.
Within a few short months a site for the new ampitheatre was selected, and city crews and community volunteers went to work grading the site, pouring concrete, extending utilities and assembling the bones of what became the new John Muir Ampitheatre. Its’ construction was truly a community effort, with much help from Shell Oil employees, past and present.
The first performance of John Muir Mountain Days was held in July of 2000 and several more seasons followed. Since those performances, the John Muir Ampitheatre has been used as a venue for many different types of performances, including live musical concerts and the annual graduation ceremonies for Vicente High School and Briones School.
Although the John Muir Ampitheatre is a lovely waterfront setting looking out over the Carquinez Straits, it does have several deficiencies that hold it back from being a truly active artistic venue. It lacks permanent lighting, seating, windscreens, and dressing rooms, and its seating capacity needs to be expanded to accommodate more popular performances. It needs to be improved to be a “turn-key” venue that is ready to host an event with just a few days notice. Some funding is available to the city through the East Bay Regional Park Measure WW which was approved a few years ago. There has been discussion of using at least a portion of those funds to make improvements to the ampitheatre and to the waterfront area in general.
At the recent city council retreat one of the goals and objectives for the coming year was a strong interest in better utilization of the John Muir Ampitheatre. As a result, city staff opened discussion with Prime Time Entertainment regarding the possibility of offering a fall concert series. Prime Time Entertainment is a well known promoter in the San Francisco Bay Area and has produced events for wineries, corporations and major hotels. They have also worked with a number of cities to organize, promote and execute small and large concert events.
The city council recently appointed an ad hoc committee of the council to work with Prime Time Entertainment and the Parks, Recreation and Marina Commission to hammer out the details of a fall concert series at the ampitheatre.
No matter what events are held at the John Muir Ampitheatre, what is important is that it is being utilized and the public is enjoying the wonderful Martinez Waterfront. It is an asset like no other in any Central Contra Costa County community.