CLEARWATER — Just at the stroke of 8 p.m., a guitar riff unfurled offstage. Next, a clatter of drums. Five figures sauntered onstage. For the first time in the history of The Sound at Coachman Park, a crowd rose to its feet for the night’s headliner and erupted into cheers.
“Hello there, ladies and gentlemen,” said lead singer Robin Zander, who didn’t travel far from his home in Safety Harbor for the occasion. “Are you ready to rock?”
A brand new music venue calls for a big, splashy concert. On Wednesday, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees Cheap Trick officially opened The Sound with a free show. Robin Taylor Zander, son of Cheap Trick’s Zander, performed the opening set and then hopped back onstage to join his dad. With tickets fully reserved weeks before the grand opening kickoff, it’s safe to say Tampa Bay has been excited to finally see the new spot.
But how did it actually feel and sound at The Sound?
The evening’s festivities were a sweat-filled yet promising kickoff to downtown Clearwater’s next chapter of live music. Here are our thoughts on the new venue, from the parking and concessions to the performance itself.
Getting to the show
Gabrielle Calise: Despite arriving in downtown Clearwater just before 5 p.m. (two hours before the music started), I drove around for over 15 minutes hunting for a spot. I blame road closures caused by the Coachman Park ribbon cutting, though, not the lack of parking options. The downtown parking map created by the city of Clearwater was a helpful starting point to study ahead of time. I highly recommend writing down the addresses of a few different lots or garages so there’s a quick backup to punch into your GPS if your first few choices fill up before you get there.
Maddy Franklin: When I was on the road, I found the city of Clearwater’s map more confusing than helpful. I originally planned to park at a lot near the Clearwater Main Library — a prime spot on the map — but the number of cars on the road all heading the same way had me changing my tune. Instead, I snagged a spot in the first open lot I saw at 311 S Osceola Ave. (another spot on the map), and only paid 90 cents for parking.
Gabrielle: I found success at the paid lot next to the Clearwater Memorial Causeway, right up against Coachman Park (224 Pierce St.). It cost $2.40 for a little over 40 minutes of parking (the lot is free after 6 p.m.). I would probably drive to a show here again if I had ample time to park. If not, a ride-share would be my recommendation. Public transit fans may also enjoy the Clearwater trolley or water ferry.
Comforts at the venue
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Gabrielle: Strolling through the new Coachman Park was pretty exciting. Lots of kids running around, adults snapping photos, plus a whole farmers market setup of local vendors slinging banana bread, fresh fruit, plants and stickers. The heat was distracting, though. My weather app reported that it was 88 degrees, but it felt like a roasting, humid 880 in the direct sun during our trek. I appreciated every breeze that drifted in from the water next to the park.
Maddy: Relief didn’t come until we were inside, sitting under the covered part of the venue. Those five Big Ass Fans (yes, that’s the company’s actual name) spinning above us were a godsend, even as the crowd filed in. After the sun set, there really were no complaints on my end.
Gabrielle: Those constant bursts of air from above made it bearable. This is as good as it can get during late June in Florida.
Maddy: Now, let’s talk bathrooms. Outside of The Sound, the situation is a little dicey in Coachman Park, with only two family restroom stalls available near the new splash pad. But inside, there were restrooms aplenty. With women, men and family stalls toward the entrance and exit of the venue, finding places to go was easy-peasy.
Gabrielle: A special shoutout to the plastic chairs they set out under the covered portion of venue, aka the nicest folding chairs I’ve ever put my butt in. Folding chairs, I’m sorry I ever doubted you. The broad, sloped seat backs ended up being more supportive than any other amphitheater seat I’ve endured. No cup holders to be had, but what can you do?
Maddy: After walking past a slate of local food trucks and a concession stand on the way to our seats, I was a little shocked to see just pizza and some Ben & Jerry’s stands as the food options closer to the stage. I opted for some vegan sorbet from an ice cream vendor ($6 for a small cup).
Gabrielle: If I hadn’t sweated away every tear left in my body during the blistering walk from the car, I could have cried with joy walking in and seeing so many beverage stalls: little pop-up carts, water tents, cocktail and beer stands, and a convenient grab-and-go fridge. At least a dozen drink vendors were scattered around the lawn, with more nestled in the nifty food truck area where fans first enter. The only H20 option: canned mountain water from Liquid Death. The packaging was a plus for me — less plastic, plus the cold metal vessel doubled as an ice pack.
Maddy: To find a drink, all you had to do was turn your head and walk — no doubt, you’d find a place to buy one. At these stands, the nonalcoholic options are limited (just water and soda) and the alcohol is expensive — something that could be said for most venues. Be prepared to shell out $5 for water and between $10-$23 for anything with alcohol. Also, cash carriers beware: This is a cashless venue (although you can use dollar bills to tip).
Gabrielle: Thanks to the numerous food options, lines for grub were never too long. It took less than 10 minutes to order and receive my generous portion of bang bang chicken from Shisho Crispy ($17, with a vegan version available for a dollar more). Other trucks included Gigglewaters, Fo’ Cheezy, Funnelvision and Sea Dog Brewing. These vendors will rotate throughout the show calendar. The permanent onsite concession area has lighter bites — chips ($3), Bavarian pretzels ($6) and, the cheapest snack in the venue, fresh fruit ($2).
While I was ordering my dinner, a woman in line behind me remarked that everything felt thoughtfully designed. A man passing by a drink stand grumbled about high beer prices. Back inside, it was all pit stains and melted mascara — but also lots of smiles.
Gabrielle: This venue has 4,000 covered seats and room for 5,000 lawn seats, although only 3,000 tickets for the latter were made available to the public. I had a hard time picturing the full amount crammed back there on the grass.
Maddy: The Sound feels way more intimate than you’d expect an open-air, spacious venue to be. The seats are close to each other, but not squished. And the people sitting on the lawn gave everything a real music-in-the-park vibe.
Gabrielle: We sat in one of the last rows, but I strolled around the sloped lawn area behind us and thought it also offered a pretty good view down to the stage. Back at my folding chair, I loved the feeling of having my shoes on soft turf instead of concrete. My lower back would be happy the next morning.
Maddy: One downside, though, is if you’re not seated in the front, it’s hard to see those on stage. I desperately wanted a screen to see everyone’s faces — sweaty foreheads and all!
Gabrielle: Robin Zander emerged onstage wearing a comically large feathered top hat. Sitting all the way at the back of the seated portion of the venue, all I could focus on was The Big Hat. Without access to a zoomed-in video feed showing the emotions and expressions on the faces of the musicians, I felt a bit removed from the performance.
Maddy: But it does make you focus more on the music being played (it is named The Sound, after all), and the quality was crisp past the stage. It sounded more muffled off to the side by the food trucks.
Gabrielle: Robin Taylor Zander’s opening set was a bit harder to hear, but by the time his dad’s band came onstage, a rich wall of sound poured out of the speakers. You could hear every drumbeat, every blistering guitar solo, every one of Papa Zander’s rockstar howls so clearly. It was every bit the loud rock and roll this venue was built for.
The show itself
Gabrielle: Robin Taylor Zander was the only musician to directly call out the historic nature of the evening.
“Pretty cool, isn’t it? This venue,” he said during his opening set, right before launching into a cover of “Dear Prudence.”
Shortly after that, Cheap Trick took the stage. Other than a brief note about meeting the mayor, it was like any other rock show on any other night: lots of hits, lots of riffs, a sprinkle of general stage banter.
Lead guitarist and songwriter Rick Nielsen had the best line of the show: “Here’s a song that’s on one of our records. It should have been a hit but it wasn’t, so you’re going to suffer now.”
Just past the hour mark, the band disappeared from the stage. Zander returned alone, glowing in a pool of white light, for the slowest song of the evening: “The Flame.” Fans across the amphitheater shot up to their feet together for the first time since the start of the set. It was that time for swaying and grabbing your significant other and launching the Facebook Live video to make your friends back at home jealous.
The crowd stayed up and moving for more hits: “I Want You to Want Me,” then “Dream Police,” which kicked off with a siren and flashing blue and red cop lights.
Finally, an absolutely adorable end around 9:20 p.m.: As the band launched into “Surrender,” seven or so youngsters (it was hard to guess their ages without the aforementioned screens) came onstage to bop around and sing. “Mommy’s alright, Daddy’s alright / They just seem a little weird.”
Nielsen broke out a massive five-necked guitar for one last shred. There was another rumble of drums. Then the members of the band took their final bows. “Thank you, thank you, goodnight!”
The venue lights snapped on, and the crowd instantly began to evaporate, shuffling toward the exits. No chance for an encore.
But with plenty more concerts on the books for the newly opened venue, it was just the first of many rocking shows to come.
Read more about The Sound’s debut at Coachman Park:
- Planning to head to a show soon? Here are 10 things to know about the new Coachman Park.
- We also compiled a guide of places to eat and drink near the Sound.
- The Sound is a much-needed midsize music venue in Tampa Bay. Here’s why it could be a “sweet spot” for nabbing well-known acts.
- Clearwater finally opened its new Coachman Park and waterfront after decades of dreaming. Here’s what the celebration was like.
- Read the City of Clearwater’s annotated parking map to find a lot or garage downtown.
Upcoming concerts at The Sound at Coachman Park:
The opening celebration continues through the weekend in Clearwater. Prices vary. Visit rutheckerdhall.com/grand-opening-celebration to reserve or purchase this weekend and read more details.
- The Clearwater Celebrates Diversity & Culture event on Thursday features local group The Black Honkeys, plus a multicultural market with children’s activities dance troupes, crafters and musicians. General admission is first come, first served. The venue recommends bringing a blanket for the lawn. The Black Honkeys perform at 8:15 p.m.
- On Friday, Clearwater Celebrates Music. The event features performances by Colbie Caillat and Gavin DeGraw at 7 p.m. There will be a ribbon cutting on the stage of The Sound, plus daytime festivities at Coachman Park including a craft beer garden, street entertainment and local musicians performing on The Green in the park all day.
- On Saturday, Clearwater Celebrates Community. There is a 5K run to kick off the event, plus a farmers market. At The Sound, check out the Dave Koz & Friends Summer Horns 2023 Tour at 7 p.m. Special guests Candy Dulfer and Eric Darius will join.
- On Sunday, Clearwater Celebrates Hispanic Culture. Daytime events include dance classes, DJs and food trucks selling Hispanic cuisine. Peter Frampton performs at 7 p.m. at The Sound.
- On Monday, Clearwater Celebrates Wellness. There won’t be a concert, but there will be a community cleanup.
- On Tuesday, Clearwater Celebrates America. Closing out the long weekend, this event includes a daytime classic car show, a farmers market and family games and entertainment. At night, the Florida Orchestra will play a free concert to accompany the largest fireworks display in Clearwater’s history. General admission is first come, first served.
Future events at The Sound include:
- Sad Summer Festival featuring Taking Back Sunday, The Maine, PVRIS, LS Dunes, Hot Mulligan, Mom Jeans, Stand Atlantic and Cliffdiver: 2 p.m. July 7. $39.50 and up.
- Greg Gutfeld King of Late Night Tour: 7 p.m. July 15. $49.50 and up.
- Michael Franti & Spearhead, with Fortunate Youth: 7 p.m. July 21. $36 and up.
- Goo Goo Dolls with O.A.R.: 6 p.m. July 24. $49 and up.
- John Fogerty with Hearty Har: 8 p.m. July 29. $65 and up.
- Billy Currington with Jessie James Decker: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 9. $35 and up.
- Kenny Loggins with Pablo Cruise: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 16. $59 and up.
- Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band: 7 p.m. Sept. 26. $39 and up.
- Chicago for Hooters 40th Anniversary Benefit: 8 p.m. Oct. 7. $9 and up.
- Sammy Hagar and the Circle with George Thorogood, Damon Fowler: 7 p.m. Oct. 28. $39 and up.
- Chris Young with Nate Smith and BRELAND: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 10. $39 and up.
- Steve Miller Band with Samantha Fish Band: 7 p.m. Dec. 14. $49.50-$164.
Go to rutheckerdhall.com/events or call 727-791-7400 for tickets. Fans can also purchase tickets at the Ruth Eckerd Hall box office at 1111 McMullen Booth Road, Clearwater.