BLOSSOM MUSIC CENTER is an outdoor amphitheater situated amidst 800 acres of park land in Cuyahoga Falls. It is the summer home of the CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA and a frequent warm-weather venue for popular musical acts. Blossom is owned by the Musical Arts Association, the parent organization of the Cleveland Orchestra. Its name honors the families of DUDLEY S. BLOSSOM, SR., (10 Mar. 1879-7 Oct. 1938) and Dudley S. Blossom, Jr., the former having served as president of the MUSICAL ARTS ASSOCIATION from 1936 to 1938. Blossom is the culmination of conductor GEORGE SZELL’s long-time mission to stage year-round performances and thus ensure 12-month employment for Cleveland Orchestra members. From the early 1950s to 1968, when the Blossom amphitheater opened, the Cleveland Orchestra occasionally held summer concerts at PUBLIC AUDITORIUM and, less frequently, at CLEVELAND MUNICIPAL STADIUM prior to baseball games.
The Blossom story began in July 1966 when the Musical Arts Association acquired 571 acres of land near Cuyahoga Falls. Additional land was acquired later, bringing the total to 800 acres. By July, 1967, $6.6 million had been raised and ground breaking began. The architectural firm of Shafer, Flynn and Van Dijk (see PETER VAN DIJK) designed the structure in collaboration with acoustician Christopher Jaffe and German recording engineer Heinrich Heilholz. Built into the hillside, the pavilion is made of slate and tubular steel, and seats 5,700 people. Behind the pavilion is a general-admission lawn section which can accommodate an additional 14,000.
Blossom’s inaugural concert (featuring Beethoven’s 9th Symphony conducted by George Szell) was held on July 19, 1968. The event was simulcast on local TV station WKYC. A week later, Judy Collins and Arlo Guthrie became the first popular music stars to perform at Blossom. That summer also saw shows by The Association and Herb Alpert as well as decidedly-non-rockers Ravi Shankar, Harry Belafonte and Louis Armstrong. The following summer’s fare comprised regular Cleveland Orchestra performances (including its first Fourth of July concert) along with a wildly eclectic lineup featuring Chet Atkins, Tony Bennett, Bill Cosby, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Al Hirt, Lightnin’ Hopkins, BB King, Janis Joplin, Liberace, Rowan & Martin and others. However, the season’s highlight—for better or worse—was Blood, Sweat & Tears, whose Aug. 26 show drew an astonishing and unwieldly 24,364 attendees. Following the concert, patrons endured a traffic jam that lasted till nearly dawn.
Since then, most of Blossom’s legendary parking problems have been ironed out. In 2003, Blossom a $17 million renovation also resulted in an upgraded sound system, stage and guest services facility. In 2011, 580 acres of (undeveloped) Blossom land was sold to the National Park Service, thus providing a financial boost and ensuring the preservation of Blossom’s natural surroundings. Over 50 years, the Cleveland Orchestra has performed roughly 1,000 summer concerts at Blossom, with guest conductors ranging from Pierre Boulez and Sarah Caldwell to British Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath and Big Bird. Hundreds of rock concerts have been staged along with special events such as the Blossom Festival, Lollapalooza, Mayhem Festival, Ozzfest and Vans Warped Tour.
The Blossom grounds also are home to the Porthouse Theater—a collaboration between Blossom and Kent State University. In addition to staging several productions each summer, Porthouse provides training opportunities for student actors, designers, technicians and managers—frequently in concert with professional performers. Since 1971, when the structure was completed, Porthouse has hosted more than 3,000 performances of over 175 works and entertained nearly 400,000 patrons.
Rosenberg, Donald. The Cleveland Orchestra Story: Second to None. Cleveland: Gray & Company. 2000.