When you discuss venues that are bucket list places to travel to and see a show, George, WA’s The Gorge Amphitheatre is arguably at the top of the list. The venue has hosted such legendary acts as Phish, Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews Band, and Bob Dylan, along with festivals like the H.O.R.D.E. Festival, Rock The Bells, Sasquatch!, and so much more. With its breathtakingly majestic views overlooking the Columbia River, along with panoramic sight lines of the gorge cliffs and valleys, just the thought of seeing one of your favorite bands put on an epic performance is enough to give you the chills.
The space itself was formed from one of the more recent geological catastrophic events, occurring approximately 50,000 years ago. When a broken ice dam in Canada sent waves of floodwaters down through the Columbia River, the Gorge was carved in just two years time. You can learn all about it in the upcoming documentary Enormous: The Gorge Movie. Watch a teaser trailer below.
But the story of how this geological phenomenon became one of the most beloved venues is a fascinating one.
Back in 1980, neurosurgeon Vincent Bryan II and his wife Carol purchased the several hundred acre piece of land to start their own vineyard, as the latitude, soil and microclimate was similar to that of the famed growing regions in France. They didn’t quite know just how fortunate they actually had been. With Champs de Brionne Winery being born out of those first grape plantlings, the Bryans needed to figure out how to get people to come and join them at their gorgeous (get it?) expanse of land.
It was during a hike of the “little gorge” with some friends, as Dr. Bryan decided to stay at the top of the bowl while Carol and some friends trekked to the bottom (over 1,000 feet below), that he realized the natural acoustics the bowl provided. He could literally hear every word that the group was saying below. At that point, the proverbial bulb went off, and the decision to bring music to the vineyard came to fruition. This was more of a tactic to bring people to a local, premier estate winery to enjoy Champs de Brionne wines rather than turn it into the massive operation that we see today, but as they say, everything starts small.
With “a small wooden stage, and a few hastily-laid sod terraces,” the Champs de Brionne Amphitheatre was born and hosting small music gatherings with the concentration on the delicious wines the land had harvested.
“People came, the band played, the wine wasn’t very good, and people still had a good time,” he said.
Unwittingly, the Bryans created a concert amphitheater that, through the next decade, they built into a 24,000-seat venue. It went from “in the middle of nowhere” to “in the middle of everywhere,” the couple often explained. It’s infectious scenery, sense of peace, and intimate community was undeniable. “When musicians picked up their instruments and began to play and opened their mouths and began to sing, all of it: the entire, visceral experience of it all – had a profound effect,” according to the Cave B website.
In 1993, they sold the entire operation — minus the surrounding vineyards — and today it is the world-famous Gorge Amphitheatre. The winery that spawned it, Champs de Brionne, was shuttered. Bryan, a Seattle neurosurgeon, went on to invent the artificial disc for the human spine.
They continued to sell their grapes to other wineries, and in 2000, the Bryans approached winemaker Brian Carter about making a little wine for them under the name Cave B. Soon, they were busy building a beautiful winery next to the Gorge Amphitheatre, followed by a restaurant and lodging. For the past several years, Freddy Arredondo has been crafting gorgeous wines to match the amazing setting.
From downtown Seattle to Cave B and its stunning views and facility, it’s just 150 miles, all interstate driving. It’s a remarkable destination that’s close to home and provides an experience you won’t soon forget. If interested in learning more about this facility, visit their website.
For those of you traveling back from the beloved Gorge Amphitheatre this weekend, perhaps you’ll stop by for some tastes from their Loving Cup before you exit what is perhaps known as one of the most scenic concert locations in the world. Safe travels, Phish phans!
With writing contributions from Chris Meyer, Eric Farnan, Kendall Deflin, and Dave Melamed in 2016.