The Chastain Park Amphitheater is a 6,000-seat outdoor performance space in the northern suburbs of Atlanta. The park is only minutes from Interstate 75, Interstate 285, Atlanta's beltway; and Georgia Highway 400. The amphitheater is a thriving music venue as well as a part of Atlanta's history. Archaeological evidence shows that the site was occupied by Native Americans long before the interior of Georgia was settled by Europeans.
The 268-acre Chastain Park, the largest park in Atlanta, was laid out in 1933 on the grounds of two alms houses, one for whites and one for blacks, which sheltered the city's poor. The alms houses still stand on the property. Many of the buildings in the park were built in classic 1930s style by the Works Progress Administration. The amphitheater was the dream of Troy Chastain, who was, at the time, supervisor of public buildings for the city of Atlanta. The venue opened in 1944 and the park was renamed for Chastain after his death in 1945. Many other recreational opportunities are available in the park, including golf, hiking, horseback riding, swimming and tennis.
Chastain hosts an eclectic selection of musical performances throughout its season. It is the summer home of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, one of the country's top ten orchestras. Their "Classic Chastain'' series alone attracts more than 100,000 visitors to the park each summer. The symphony has been playing Chastain since 1973. Other performers include adult contemporary and classic pop stars like Stevie Wonder, Harry Connick and Jackson Browne; soul and R&B artists like Al Green, John Legend and Etta James; younger, contemporary performers like Jay-Z and Jamie Foxx and country legends like Emmylou Harris and Lyle Lovett.
For Atlantans, Chastain is a beloved venue not only for its wide variety of performers, but because of its long tradition of picnicking during concerts. Some shows are set up with tables in the audience, to which visitors may bring their own food and beverages, including alcohol. For many families, an elegant, candlelit dinner complete with wine is an annual event at Chastain. Porters are available to help carry items. If guests do not want to bring their own food, they can pre-order dinners and hors d'oeuvres from one of the two caterers at the park. The caterers will even set your table before you arrive. The catered food has a reputation for being delicious but overpriced. For "non-table'' shows, food is not allowed, but guests may bring a one-liter or smaller beverage in a plastic container.
A $2.3-million renovation in 2004 refurbished some of the park's older amenities, making them more modern and comfortable. Reviews of visits to the amphitheater are generally positive. One concert-goer called it a "good place to kick back for an evening.'' Another said of the venue, "Very fan friendly, every seat is good.'' A long-time complaint about hearing concerts at Chastain is the crowd noise. Many people, particularly the diners, are more interested in socializing than listening, which can be disruptive. Another criticism is lack of parking close to the amphitheater. One visitor advises others to be prepared for a long walk and to bring any food in a wheeled container.
The Chastain Amphitheater is a local legend. Despite any drawbacks, it will continue to be a part of summers in Atlanta for many years to come.