Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion

Simple idea led to unique world-class music venue

What was originally envisioned as a quaint performing arts theater that would host specialty acts and fine arts events has evolved into one of the world's most unique and popular live music venues.

Beginning in April, the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion will kick off its 23rd season. In those previous 22 years, the Pavilion has seen more than 8.8 million event-goers sit beneath its iconic canvas canopy and atop its pristine lawn for events ranging from high school graduations to multi-performance concerts by the world's biggest rock and pop acts.

Jerry MacDonald, president and CEO of The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, read off a list of names that is a who's-who in popular music canon: Aerosmith, Radiohead, The Police, Tina Turner, Frank Sinatra, Celine Dion and Kenny Chesney. Other acts throughout the years have included Coldplay, Van Halen, Metallica, Alan Jackson, Pearl Jam, Bob Dylan "and hundreds of others," MacDonald said.

The idea of an outdoor pavilion in The Woodlands was originally conceived by Cynthia Mitchell, the late wife of Woodlands founder and developer George Mitchell, MacDonald said.

"It was really Cynthia's idea to build a facility where families could come and enjoy the fine arts," he said. "Her thinking was a small pavilion that featured fine arts, symphonies and ballets and could be an amenity for families in The Woodlands."

The initial plan called for about a 2,000-seat facility, MacDonald said. But George Mitchell conceived of attracting contemporary performances and met with Alan Becker, then promoter of Pace Concerts, which was one of the largest concert promoters in the country.

"[Becker] convinced them if they wanted to do the Jimmy Buffets of the world, that they really needed to get closer to 10,000 seats," MacDonald said. "That's how it went from 2,000 to 9,700."

The Pavilion opened on April 27, 1990 with a free performance by the Houston Symphony Orchestra. The following night, the Pavilion hosted its first contemporary, ticketed performance: Frank Sinatra.

In order to compete in the growing Houston concert market, Mitchell and Pavilion executives soon looked to expand seating capacity. The first Pavilion expansion occurred in 1994, MacDonald said, when the reserved seating area grew from 2,700 to 4,656, while lawn seating expanded from 7,000 to 8,344 for a total capacity of 13,000.

Six years later, the Pavilion underwent another expansion, when lawn seating increased by 3,000 to bring capacity to 16,000. The expanded capacity has helped the Pavilion grow to one of the world's most popular and successful live music venues. In 2010, the Pavilion was ranked by "Pollstar" magazine, the leading concert industry publication, second in the world in total ticket sales. It was also nominated by "Pollstar" that year for Best Major Outdoor Concert Venue. In 2011, the Pavilion ranked fifth in the world in ticket sales, MacDonald said.

The Pavilion operates as a non-profit organization, MacDonald said. Profits generated from its events fund the organization's efforts to bring the arts to area youth, such as the Fine Arts Education day, when the Houston Symphony Orchestra puts on a free performance for all Conroe ISD fourth grade students.

"Often times that is the first symphony the students have ever attended," MacDonald said. "Our hope is that after seeing the symphony, they will take up music for a career."


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