Say goodbye sunsets, hello free parking.
Banished from its home of 14 years at the dilapidated Pier 62/63 due to safety concerns, One Reel's Summer Nights concert series has now officially moved to South Lake Union Park. Gone is the striking setting—the shimmering waters of Elliott Bay; the Olympic Mountains silhouetted by the late-evening sun. But gained is easier access and greater freedom of movement once inside the gates.
The inaugural concert, Lucinda Williams, last Friday night (June 24) went off without a hitch, despite dire predictions by some of Mercer Street gridlock. The first thing concertgoers noticed was how easy it was to get to the new location (on Terry Avenue North and Valley Street) and how cheap it was to park nearby.
South Lake Union Park can be accessed from Eastlake, Westlake, Mercer Street, Fairview Avenue, I-5, or one of the many surface streets that cut through the Cascade neighborhood. Parking is on the street or in lots ranging from $5 to $15. We arrived less than an hour before the concert and parked on the street for free, two blocks from the entrance. (Try that near Pier 62/63 on a beautiful night at the height of tourist season.) Of course, parking may become more difficult once Paul Allen has his way with South Lake Union, or on nights when there are big concerts or events at Seattle Center.
Inside the venue, which is cordoned off with temporary fencing, there is plenty of room to roam and there are multiple seating options for up to about 4,000 patrons. Rows of folding chairs face the stage at ground level; behind them are bleacher seats. On opening night, folks with kids lolled on blankets in a small grassy area off to the south side, while the child-free kept the beer garden hopping.
The most charming spot is on the west edge of the beer garden, where a row of picnic tables sits alongside the edge of the lake, under a canopy of trees festooned with lights. Unfortunately, you don't get much of a view of the stage from the tables. But you can savor a microbrew or wine or Mike's Hard Lemonade, if the $6 price tag doesn't diminish your enjoyment of it. As for food, serviceable boxed sandwiches and salads are served on the grounds by Sugee's, ranging in price from $8 to $10.
Overall, the South Lake Union location lacks the drama of the pier, but has a parklike charm of its own. The extra elbow room and the reasonably fast-moving lines (5–10 minutes) for food, drink, and the ubiquitous Porta Potties combine for an amazingly civil evening. As always, Summer Nights provides a concertgoing experience for people who may not ordinarily like concerts—the thirty- to fiftysomethings who dislike being herded, overcrowded, or aurally assaulted.
The remainder of the series lineup includes Summer Nights regulars Chris Isaak, Indigo Girls, and B.B. King, as well as newcomers Los Lonely Boys and their openers, Ozomatli (the show is sold out). There are nearly 20 shows in all, running through Friday, Aug. 26. For tickets and information, call 206-628-0888 or visit www.summernights.org.
Just remember, while it's a new venue, it's still the same old Seattle. That means it's chilly after dark, so extra sweaters and blankets are a must. You may no longer be able see the sunset, but especially in early summer, you will certainly feel it.