Houston's favorite outdoor concert venue ranks No. 1 in the world in new list
The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion finished its summer season as the No. 1 outdoor entertainment venue in the world with 268,000 fans attending shows between mid-June and mid-September.
The Woodlands pavilion beat the Meriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland (245,000) and Waldbuhne Berlin in Germany (198,000) for the top spot, according toPollstar, the magazine of record for the concert industry.
“It’s been a good year. We’ve hosted 38 shows so far which is a little more than usual for us,” CWMP president Jerry MacDonald tells me. “We’ll do 42 shows by year-end. We’ve had more million-dollar box office grosses this year than ever.”
Cynthia Woods’ biggest shows
Post Malone’s concert on August 8 sold more than $1.7 worth of tickets, breaking the pavilion’s all-time mark for box office receipts. Shania Twain sold $1.4 million worth of tickets for her July 22 concert. The next three biggest shows belonged to Janet Jackson ($1.28 million) on June 3, Dave Matthews Band ($1.14 million) on May 19, and Duran Duran ($1.11 million) on June 9.
Two of the CWMP’s three biggest shows of the year were headlined by women, including a Black woman. Take that Jann Wenner. Who us he? He’s the Rolling Stone magazine founder recently published a book of conversations with rock stars — all of them white males. Asked why no women were included, Wenner said “none of them were as articulate enough of this intellectual level.”
For that comment, plus a slam against Black artists, Wenner was rightly kicked out of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, which he helped create.
Not to mention his poor grammar. Shouldn’t a writer know that say, “none of them WAS as articulate enough,” which still wouldn’t have saved him, however. Cyndi Lauper, for the record, says he’s senile.
Anyway, the hottest summer on record didn't exactly help the CWMP. MacDonald notes that the pavilion lawn survived this summer’s scorching heat although he believes the weather may have lowered attendance at some events.
“We’re an outdoor venue. People arrived a little later to concerts to avoid the sun as much as possible. That probably helped local restaurants and bars, though,” he says.
How Jimmy Buffett boosted The Woodlands
MacDonald reflected on the passing of Jimmy Buffett, the artist who played the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion more times and sold more tickets than any other artist. (Editor’s note: We highly recommend Ken’s must-read memoirs on the times he spent with Buffett, here.)
Buffett performed on July 31, 1990 during the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion’s first season. His opening song was “You’ll Never Work in Dis Bidness Again.”
Buffett’s last concert at the big outdoor amphitheater in The Woodlands was June 6, 2022. His final number that night was “Tin Cup Chalice.”
In between, Buffett left his mark in Houston like no other entertainer. The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion has hosted more than 1,200 concerts since its opening. Buffett performed there 25 times. He owns three of the pavilion’s 10 highest-grossing concerts. His Parrothead fans bought more snacks, drank more beverages and purchased more merchandise than any other performer.
“No one drew the range of fans like he did. Fans from 10 to 90 years old came to his concerts. His contract rider designated tailgating areas for fans to party before his shows. His crew would video his crazy fans and show them during the concert. I have been in the concert business for 48 years and there was nothing that compared to a Jimmy Buffett concert,” MacDonald reflects.
“As a venue operator, booking a Jimmy Buffett concert meant you’d have a good season. He’d be the anchor of your lineup and helped move season subscriptions, box seats and suite sales. His per capita sales set records here and at most venues.”
The Parrotheads didn’t just leave a financial impact with tickets, food, beer and cocktails and T-shirt sales. Fans came from all over Southeast Texas, packing nearby restaurants and filling hotel rooms at premium rates, including Buffett’s own Margaritaville Resort on Lake Conroe which opened in 2020.
It’s estimated that each Jimmy Buffett concert at the pavilion pumped more than $1 million into The Woodlands economy.
Buffett meant business in Houston since the early 1970s, first working smaller venues like Liberty Hall and moving on up through the Sam Houston Coliseum, Astroworld’s Southern Star Amphitheater, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the Summit/Compaq Center, and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. All told, Buffett performed about 50 concerts in Houston during his career spanning a half-century.
During his 2016 concert in The Woodlands, Buffett introduced “another passenger on the boat to Margaritaville,” Houston Texans superstar defensive end J.J. Watt. The football legend sipped an adult beverage while playing bongos for Buffett’s most famous song Margaritaville. Before the concert, Watt traded stories backstage with Buffett and Coral Reefer Band keyboardist Michael Utley on Radio Margaritaville.
That night Buffett changed the lyrics to Margaritaville to: “Nibbling on sponge cake, watching the sun bake, all of those Texans fans covered with oil.”