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Michael Brandy, Deseret News
Workers put finishing touches on the Red Butte Garden Amphitheater last week.

The growth of Red Butte Garden's amphitheater will likely please most patrons, despite the growing pains that are bound to elicit winces from summer concert veterans.

The most noticeable improvements are within the amphitheater gates and will benefit artists and concertgoers alike. The downside will be especially felt at the ticket booth or by those who do not have tickets.

For the artists, there is a bigger stage that does not face the setting sun, allowing for improved sound systems and more technical lighting, while reducing temporary blindness and sunburn. There will also be an actual backstage area adjacent to the stage, instead of the curtain hung between two trees that passed as a backstage.

The audience will have a better view of the stage, thanks to the path that wraps the amphitheater being pushed behind the grass. There will also be more equitable seating, with the hill that often served as an upper-deck during packed shows replaced by the most dominant change: a building enclosing the back of the amphitheater.

The building will house two concession stands, a merchandise area and restrooms. There is also a balcony that will be reserved for VIPs.

The overall goal of the redesign was to make the Red Butte concerts a first-class experience. What was lacking before were amenities, not ambience, which is why most of the extraordinary views will remain, the natural setting will not change, and attendees can still bring in their own picnics and beverages, including alcohol.

"The charm of the Red Butte Garden concerts and the amphitheater were undeniably positive," concert promoter Chris Mautz said. "We will maintain that charm, but will improve the concert experience."

There is a downside, however. Tickets are much more expensive, with some topping $50. Plus, anyone thinking of skimping on the ticket and watching from outside the gates will now be staring at back of a building instead of peeking through chain link fence and trees.

To celebrate the new amphitheater, Mautz also brought in a revamped lineup of artists. Only a few of them have ever played the garden, and some — Wilco and Wynton Marsalis — have barely played Salt Lake City during their careers.

Only one headliner from last year, in fact, will make a return engagement. That is the Soul Stew Revival, the blues/rock/funk jam session put together by the husband-and-wife team of Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi. Alejandro Escovedo, who opened for Son Volt last year, will co-headline with folk singer Greg Brown.

The new concerts, while retaining the adult-alternative and singer-songwriter vibe of previous years, does have more of youthful edge, thanks to acts like KT Tunstall and G Love & Special Sauce.

The construction has also cramped the concert schedule, with the first show tonight. To ensure a full, 12-show schedule, there are also more weeknight shows and multiple weeks with more than one show. There is even a stretch in August when three shows — Wilco, Prairie Home Companion, and KT Tunstall — are back-to-back-to-back.

Two shows, Bonnie Raitt and the above-mentioned Wilco concert, have already sold-out. Full information, including ticket prices and packages, can be found at redbuttegarden.org.

If you go

What: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis

Where: Red Butte Garden Amphitheater, 300 Wakara Way

When: today, 7 p.m.

How much: $53

Phone: 585-0556

Web: www.redbuttegarden.org


E-mail: jloftin@desnews.com