The Hollywood Bowl Is Making a Triumphant Summer Return

After its first summer closed in nearly a century, the landmark is roaring back with one of its most exciting seasons yet

In May 2020, the Hollywood Bowl made a historic announcement. For the first time in 98 years, it would not have a summer season. Never in the life of the Los Angeles institution had there been more than two summer weeks without a show at the Bowl.

“It was very emotional,” says Laura Connelly, vice president of presentations and general manager at the beloved venue. “I’ve worked at the Hollywood Bowl for 22 years. To not be able to open and have live music…I was in a state of shock for at least a week.”

Thankfully, this summer the Bowl is making a triumphant comeback. After a series of free concerts for frontline workers in May and June, the official season starts Fourth of July weekend with Kool & The Gang playing both Saturday and Sunday nights, ending with a traditional fireworks spectacular both nights.

“We cannot think of a better way to kick off our return to touring than the Hollywood Bowl!” says the band’s co-founder, Robert “Kool” Bell, who kept busy during the pandemic working on a new album, Perfect Union, due out later this year.

Kool & the gang
Kool & the Gang’s Dennis Thomas, James “JT” Taylor, and Robert “Kool” Bell celebrated their induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2018 with a typically rollicking performance.

Despite the new material they’ve been working on, Bell says those in the audience at the Bowl should expect to hear the soulful songs the band is best known for, like “Celebration,” “Jungle Boogie,” and “Ladies’ Night.”

“This is a get up on your feet, dance, and sing-along show. Expect all Kool hits the whole time,” says Bell. “Live shows starting again is a sign of hope. Music is a universal language, and right now it’s saying, ‘The music goes on, the world goes on—let’s celebrate that!’ ”

Kool & The Gang was first formed in Jersey City in 1964 by Bell and his brother, Ronald “Khalis” Bell, who passed away last September at 68.

The band’s opening weekend will be followed by a number of exciting Bowl shows. Christina Aguilera will belt it out on July 16 and 17, accompanied by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel; Cynthia Erivo gives a Friday night concert on July 30; Yo-Yo Ma plays Bach on September 14; and James Blake takes the stage on September 25. There will also be a number of nights devoted to classic film scores and soundtracks, from The Princess Bride on July 31 and a Sound of Music sing-along on August 21 to Black Panther on September 10, 11, and 12, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince on September 17. Outside of the L.A. Phil’s programming, there are some rousing independent shows in the fall, such as Alanis Morissette on October 5 and New Order and the Pet Shop Boys on October 15 and 16.

“I think it’s one of the best seasons we’ve ever programmed, frankly,” says Connelly, who is most excited about movie maestro John Williams’s shows September 3, 4, and 5. “I love seeing the audience reactions to the Star Wars songs and scenes.” It’s all especially thrilling, Connelly adds, given that in December Bowl officials weren’t sure they’d be able to have a regular season this year. But in April, when Governor Newsom announced plans for the state to reopen in June, they cautiously began to put together a lineup.

“We’ve probably had, you know, six or seven different iterations of a season,” she says. “That’s been the most challenging thing.”

At press time, exactly how the Bowl will reopen in terms of masking, capacity, and proof of vaccination, is still in flux. But Connelly says officials are committed to making things as similar to the good ol’ days as possible. Delicious food and wine from A.O.C.’s Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne will be available at concession stands, and Connelly says they’ll be encouraging more concertgoers to order ahead via an app for contactless pickup. And, of course, there will be picnicking.

“We want to make sure that coming to the Hollywood Bowl is the same experience that people have had over the years,” Connelly says. “We look forward to people being able to come with all their mountains of food and alcohol.”

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