Styx opened the concert space in 1999 and has played the venue 11 times. (Courtesy City National Grove of Anaheim)

The lead guitarist from the band Styx loves the eye contact with fans when performing at smaller venues like the City National Grove of Anaheim. 

“At the Grove, it is very easy to interact with the crowd, and I think the crowd really likes that,” guitarist James Young of Styx said. “It’s a great setup for the fans, and there’s not a bad seat in the house.”

Styx was the headliner when the indoor concert venue opened in 1999. The band was back in January at the Grove for the 11th time for its 20th anniversary season. 

Over the last 20 years, the 1,700-seat venue has had more than $45 million in gross ticket sales and catered to 2.3 million fans, according to Los Angeles-based Nederlander Concerts, which manages the city-owned venue. 

The location originally was an awards show-themed restaurant called Tinseltown that wasn’t successful, said Nederlander Concerts CEO Alex Hodges. It was converted into a concert venue in 1999 and named The Sun Theatre, keeping its old-school Hollywood feel, before changing its name to The Grove of Anaheim

The city of Anaheim bought The Grove in 2002 and selected Nederlander Concerts to manage, operate and book the venue. B.B. King, Willie Nelson, Stevie Nicks and Merle Haggard are just a few of the artists who have graced the stage since Nederlander Concerts took over, Hodges said. 

“Prince did four sold-out shows a few years ago. We have a very diverse schedule. Looking at the 20-year milestone, you pinch yourself, and then we try to see what things we’ve done well,” he said. The venue also brings in comedy acts, including Jamie Foxx, Ali Wong and Bill Maher. Other recent shows include Ron White, Brian McKnight and Engelbert Humperdinck.

Each year, the venue plays host to roughly 90 concerts, in addition to organizing 170 special events. It is expanding its horizons by starting to hold some of the concerts outside.

Last year, the venue hosted a couple of small outdoor festivals, including the fourth annual California Hot Sauce Expo. Those events showed Mike Goldsmith, Nederlander Concerts senior programming director, that the venue can do more than just traditional shows, and that led to the idea of holding outdoor concerts, he said.

Goldsmith has been working with Hodges on Swanfest, an outdoor concert featuring dozens of artists that will take place March 30 in the venue’s parking lot. “We’re going to do at least two of these outdoor concerts a year, if not more, to diversify,” he said. “It gives us greater versatility.”

Opening the parking lot for events doubles the venue’s indoor capacity, Hodges said.

Aramark has been the food and beverage provider for the venue since 2002 and offers full-service catering, aided in part by the venue’s previous life: Because it originally opened as a restaurant, it has a huge kitchen. “It’s spectacular and it adds a great deal of service options to the venue,” Hodges said.  

“I walk everybody through the kitchen the first time they come in,” Goldsmith said. 

The venue used to host dinner-theater-style events by putting dining tables in the main part of the venue to serve dinner along with a show. After reviewing survey results from guests, the venue opted to try a new dining model this year, allowing guests to dine preshow in the lounge. 

The venue got its current name in 2011 after it signed a five-year, $1.25 million naming-rights deal with City National Bank. The deal was renewed with the bank in 2016 for an undisclosed amount. 

Styx’s Young was happy to be back at the Grove. “It’s an easy place for people to get to, and we’ve always had a huge following in LA,” he said.  “We’re happy to be part of it.”

 

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