The Austin Chronicle

Faster Than Sound: Saturday in Waterloo Park

Sights, sounds, and an undetermined musical niche at Downtown's new greenspace

By Rachel Rascoe, August 20, 2021, Music

Entering Waterloo Park from the southwest corner, I'm dwarfed by the cranes and scaffold-covered high-rises looming beyond the new urban greenspace's boundaries. Under the distant beeping trucks and banging machinery, a calm, 11-acre portion of what neighboring Dell Medical deemed Downtown's "innovation district" is finally complete. After a decade of shutter and COVID delays to construction, the park opened Saturday to minimal fanfare due to health precautions canceling a locally sourced concert and other festivities.

Continuing along the swooping concrete trail (Waterloo Park's modern design offers few straight lines), the sound of rushing water takes over. The park's flood-controlling rainwater filtration system creates a sizable reservoir to support the natural flow of Waller Creek. Onstage at the park's focal point – the new Moody Amphitheater – a guide points out on a brochure how Waterloo will eventually connect through 1.5 miles of trails to Lady Bird Lake, with plans stretching all the way to 2026.

Under the abstract steel-beam canopy of the amphitheatre, a style architects call "brise soleil," the day reverberates more like a grand opening. Music plays, attendants offer bandannas, and bicyclists loop around on the ramp-accessible concrete stage. This Friday and Saturday, the new venue will expand the platform, also setting up temporary chairs and fencing for its first ticketed concerts with homegrown standard Gary Clark Jr. Now the largest venue in the Red River Cultural District, the new 5,000-capacity space looks for a niche somewhere between stadium tours, like the 14,000-capacity concert grounds at Circuit of the Americas and nearby Stubb's, which allows for around 2,000 attendees.

Managing nonprofit Waterloo Greenway built the amphitheater in collaboration with local promoters C3 Presents and parent company Live Nation, which plans to produce up to 35 shows annually. Although last year then-Greenway CEO Peter Mullan confirmed to the Chronicle that "subject to availability, music programming can be produced by local promoters other than C3," no bookings outside Live Nation jurisdiction appear so far. After Clark's commencement, a rather uninspiring fall calendar oscillates between nostalgia acts – Counting Crows, 311, Needtobreathe with Switchfoot, and Y2K reggae band Rebelution – and streaming-friendly road shows Sylvan Esso, Lord Huron, and Quinn XCII with Chelsea Cutler.

With event activation dating back to 1975, Waterloo Park maintains deep roots in Austin's music history as the former host of events like Pachanga Latino Music Festival, Fun Fun Fun Fest, Mess With Texas, and the Chronicle's Hot Sauce Fest. With the Delta variant leaving many indoor crowds weary, it sounds ideal at the moment to spread out in a park with good music. Here's hoping.

For a closer look at the new Waterloo Park, see our photo gallery.

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