Bend’s New Music and Performing Arts Scene
When you think of vacationing in Bend, what comes to mind? Maybe it’s ripping the slopes at Mount Bachelor, or hiking along the Upper Deschutes River, or enjoying a round of golf at one of Central Oregon’s world-class resorts. Perhaps it’s visiting one of Bend’s abundance of breweries, both big and small, that rival those in Portland for the title of Oregon’s Beervana.
One item you might want to add to your Bend vacation itinerary is still a secret to many: Its rapidly growing music and performing arts scene. With nearly a dozen venues, from the tinsel-town vibes of the Tower Theatre in downtown to the modern magnificence of Hayden Homes Amphitheater in the Old Mill District, there’s something for every visitor of Central Oregon, no matter your flavor.
The schedule for the 2023 season and beyond is packed—including two music festivals with a variety of acts coming to the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center in Redmond just 20 minutes north—to provide ample opportunity for lovers of music, theatre, and comedy to plan a trip around their favorite upcoming show. Here are seven venues we recommend visiting if you find yourself in Bend this year.
The Tower Theatre is perhaps the crown jewel of Bend’s performing arts scene. Opened in 1940, this 466-seat theater bills itself as “Bend’s living room.” Located on NW Wall Street in downtown, it’s just steps from some of the best dining and nightlife the city has to offer, making it a great choice for a vacation date night or activity for the whole family. As a nonprofit, the theater partners with local schools and productions companies in Central Oregon to bring student and professional plays and musicals to its stage, and supports a wide range of other acts, hosting upwards of 200 shows each year including concerts, comedy specials, variety and talk shows, film festivals and more. From the neon lighting on the building’s façade to the funky carpet and whimsical murals throughout its interior (seriously, check out the men’s bathroom on the mezzanine), the Tower Theatre is a time machine that takes visitors back to simpler times when theatrical and musical performances reigned supreme. Some upcoming shows include Majesty: A tribute to Queen, May 3; Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience, A Parody, May 6-7; Central Oregon Youth Orchestra, May 18; Oregon Ballet Theatre 2, May 20.
Hayden Homes Amphitheater
With a capacity for 8,000 guests, Hayden Homes Amphitheater in Bend’s beautifully reclaimed Old Mill District along the Deschutes River is the largest outdoor venue in Oregon (sorry McMenamins Edgefield, they beat you by 1,000). The venue has brought some massive names through in recent years including acts like John Legend, Flume, Odesza, Rufus Du Sol, The Chicks, Nine Inch Nails, Kenny Chesney, and Jack Johnson. Being located in the Old Mill—one of the most walkable areas of Bend—makes these shows the perfect opportunity to grab dinner and drinks with friends before crossing the river and heading to the show. In 2023, the amphitheater is set to host shows by James Taylor, May 28; Ringo Starr, June 3; Jimmy Eat World, July 16, Young the Giant, August 15; Dave Matthews Band, August 29; and many more.
Jazz at the Oxford Hotel
If you’re traveling to Bend and looking for events with a little more sophistication and style, look no further than the Oxford Hotel, a boutique luxury hotel located just a block off of NW Bond Street in downtown. Started in 2011, the jazz series is a partnership between acclaimed Portland musician Patrick Lamb and the Oxford. The series brings in world-class jazz, blues, and R&B artists from the Pacific Northwest and beyond. The hallways of the hotel are plastered with event posters for concerts bearing the names (and signatures) of legends who have played the Oxford’s ballroom such as Mel Brown, China Forbes, Bobby Torres, Bernard Purdie, Frank McComb, Peter Erskine, T.S. Monk, the Brubeck Brothers … the list goes on and on. Unfortunately, the series only runs about four to five weekends between November and March. But each artist plays three shows throughout a weekend, offering multiple chances to catch a show, or all of them. Keep an eye out for the series’ lineup to drop for the 2023-24 season. The Oxford Hotel is also one of Central Oregon’s finest hotels and is the top choice for many of the big acts that come through Bend (just ask John Legend how he enjoyed his stay).
One of Bend’s newest and coolest lodgings has been instrumental (pun intended) in the city’s growing music scene. The Campfire Hotel hosts a series called “Campfire Unplugged” which features musicians from around the country playing sets at the hotel’s courtyard firepit area every Thursday night from 6 p.m -8 p.m. It also hosts a monthly karaoke night in its on-premises bar, The Canteen, as well as other music and LGBTQ-friendly events. Staying at the Campfire Hotel is an experience in itself—each room of this former motel (don’t let that word scare you off, it’s not a motel anymore) has been charmingly renovated to fit the property’s outdoor-chic aesthetic. Bathrobes are provided in each room and guests are invited to use the heated pool year-round, and common areas are decked out with orange lights and seating for hanging out and meeting fellow travelers.
Midtown Ballroom/Domino Room
If Portland’s Hawthorne Theater and Wonder Ballroom had a baby you’d get the Midtown Ballroom. The venue brings in headliners like its big city parents but hasn’t gotten so big that mega corporations like Live Nation and Ticketmaster haven’t swooped in to ruin things by driving ticket prices through the roof. Some upcoming shows include The Polish Ambassador, May 12; Hobo Johnson, June 4; Goth Babe, July 19.
Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center
Two festivals will grace the fairgrounds in Deschutes County this year: FairWell Festival brings heavy hitters in the worlds of country, folk, blues and rock artists like Willie Nelson, Sheryl Crow, Gary Clark Jr., Zach Bryan and Band of Horses July 21-23; and Cascade Equinox Festival will see some huge names in music’s electronic and alternative genres including the return to the stage of Denver-based producer Pretty Lights (who hasn’t played since his “final” show at Red Rocks in 2018), and Phantogram, Big Wild, Emancipator, and Polyrhythmics, just to name a few, September 22-24. Portland Monthly probably won’t be getting an invite to FairWell after that Live Nation joke in the last blurb (they purchased a controlling stake in the festival’s producer C3 Presents back in 2014), but you can be sure to catch us at Cascade Equinox for the Pretty Light’s return to the Pacific Northwest for the first time since the Gorge Amphitheater show in August 2017!
Munch & Music
Want an event that’s certain to be fun for the whole family? Check out the Munch & Music series which takes place weekly throughout July and August in Drake Park right next to downtown Bend and the iconic Mirror Pond. These events are much more than a concert series, featuring the largest collection of food and drink in Central Oregon with more than 100 vendors including breweries, cideries, food carts, and merchants of other goods like fruit, flowers, and art and crafts. The free series began 32 years ago and has grown into one of Bend’s favorite summer-time events for local families. If you’re planning a trip to Bend, check the event’s website for a schedule which is set to drop in late spring.