Ben Lovett, Venue Group On Huntsville Amphitheater Progress
In late 2020, HuntsvilleMusic.com covered some of the biggest news of the year for our city – the official announcement of Huntsville’s newest park, the Amphitheater at MidCity.
And today, Huntsville Venue Group, the driving force behind the amphitheater, dropped an update on its amphitheater plans, complete with a video to stoke your excitement for the venue-recreation-entertainment juggernaut.
Plus, we got a chance to talk to Ben Lovett, founder of Venue Group and member of Grammy-award winning band Mumford & Sons, about all things amphitheater and Huntsville.
The shiniest, most exciting piece of Venue Group’s update was their video – a video showcasing Huntsville in all its vibrant, colorful glory, produced with the help of Knoxville-based videographers Loch & Key.
“This is unique,” says Devyn Keith, City Council Member, about the Amphitheater. “And if done correctly, the world will see it.” He’s sitting in his newly opened coffee shop, Dark Side Coffee, an endeavor that further cemented his reputation for not just saying but doing. And Keith, like so many others representing our city, is ready to do.
A quality that Ben Lovett recognizes about our leadership, and much of what brought the amphitheater here in the first place.
In the video, Ben enthuses about Huntsville, his passion and excitement for this project sparking on screen. When I interview him about this, I ask him why – specifically, why Huntsville?
“There’s quite a lot of elements that make Huntsville a very special opportunity for growth and culture,” says Ben, with the fluency of someone speaking from the heart. “This region of North Alabama has such a rich history when it comes to music. You’ve got the story of Singing River, the Shoals – and you connect all of this with the administration in Huntsville that really values the results.”
The administration he’s referring to is represented in Venue Group’s video, matching Ben’s excitement about this massive project. And Ben doesn’t pull punches, calling them out by name, giving praise where he feels praise is due – to Huntsville itself.
“[The administration] is clear-minded in their goals to make Huntsville a better place. They’re just exactly what leaders should be – these people like John Hamilton and Mayor Battle and Devyn Keith. They’re pure of heart and you can tell there’s no bullshit, if you pardon my French. The people leading the progress are doing it for the right reasons. The administration plus the history and the people, it all creates this perfect storm of a moment to do something special.”
And the video showcases this. Making up the rest of the motley crew of Huntsville champions represented in the five-minute watch are musical artists Translee and DEQN SUE, Mayor Tommy Battle, Venue Group founder and president Ben Lovett and Ryan Murphy, Tangled String Studios owner Danny Davis, producer Mike Luba, and city administrator John Hamilton.
“The premise is we’re gonna build the best venue in the world,” says Ben on-camera, as if it’s simple. And to Ben, a concert-venue veteran, it is. “I’ve spent a lot of time over the last 5 years trying to figure out what it is about a venue that makes it special. A really critical part of that is the food and beverage experience.”
I ask him to expand on this – specifically, I ask him which dish he’s most excited to eat once the amphitheater is open.
“We’ve been throwing around some concepts. The thought that turns my head is this noodle bar, and just… having a noodle bar in the concourse. It’s so far from what you expect from a venue. You can go get a healthy meal that actually makes you feel good at a show instead of eating something heavy that makes you feel like you need to take a nap.”
This desire to make ‘better’ on the biggest scale possible is woven throughout the project, as evidenced by Ben’s excitement over creating this ‘food village.’
“[Curating this food experience] is the next big challenge for the project over the next three to six months. I like that we can widen the palate of what’s available to the community; we can sort of bring in the best of London, of Austin, of New York City, and bring all of this to Huntsville and create this cross-pollination of culinary experience.”
Throughout the video, the rest of the amphitheater team echoes this sentiment. Ryan Murphy, president of Huntsville Venue Group and a good friend of HuntsvilleMusic.com, emphasizes the long-term effects this will have on shaping and creating the culture of our city.
“Right now, there’s a great opportunity for people to be taking that heritage and that history and not only amplifying the past but really writing the future for this whole area,” he says, sitting in his office, walls covered with blueprints of all the great things to come.
The video closes with Ben’s words as he earnestly tells the audience, “One of the greatest joys of my career has been working on the Huntsville amphitheater. I mean, there’s so much to come; we are just at the starting line.”
I ask him why, exactly, working on this particular project counts among the greatest joys, and Ben is characteristically forthcoming.
“I’ve done a lot of things in the last 15 years. I’ve written songs, gone on tours, started a record label that’s done well, founded a publishing company. But I realized six years ago that I was still missing something. I wanted this thing – I had this idea that my grandchildren could one day step inside a place of mine and feel me, feel family. Venue Group has a lot of family, it’s who we are. Generations from now, we’ll have this space that can be a part of not only our lives but other people’s lives.”
He’s referring not only to the many families that make up Venue Group but also the families within it. He and his brother, Greg Lovett, are prominent leaders within the company.
But Ben’s desire to create something lasting goes beyond family. It’s all about experience, and creating spaces where life can unfold in all of its beauty.
These are the blueprints that decorate the office of Huntsville Venue Group.
“I had this experience once, when I was seeing a show in a London venue we built. And it was this brilliant singer, Frances, performing. And she invited a friend on stage… [and] he ended up proposing to his boyfriend there, on that stage. And I just thought, ‘this stage didn’t exist a year before.’ It was just rubble. But now it’s this place where these moments are happening.”
And it’s all about looking forward and building for the future.
“I love the idea that people will have local legacy stories about the Huntsville amphitheater. It could be as simple as, ‘Oh, I saw the Alabama Shakes play at the amphitheater in 2023.’ And by then it’s 2070 and that seems so long ago – it just seems so crazy. We’ve been building [the Huntsville amphitheater] with this longevity in mind. And this is going to be the most grand music venue that’s been built in the last five or so years in the world.
Along with the video, Venue Group also released a press release with amphitheater news. We distilled down the four major takeaways from the press release:
- Construction is officially underway for the amphitheater, which is going to boast a completely unique design inspired by classical architecture but with a modern twist. ‘It looks almost Roman coliseum-like,’ says Mayor Tommy Battle.
- Doors are set to open in April, 2022 – that’s only a year and some change away, guys. I am ready.
- Ben Lovett, founder of Venue Group and member of Grammy-award winning band Mumford & Sons, hand-picked Huntsville as the ‘perfect location for their first foray into the U.S. market’ for building ‘a new era of world class music venues combined with significant community growth and amenities.’
- Venue Group is hard at work curating an experience that swells beyond ‘just’ music – their focus is on creating a ‘food village’ surrounding the amphitheater that will be open year-round and provide dining and recreation options for Huntsville, regardless of what’s going on at the amphitheater.
You can find the full press release on the Amphitheater’s website.