Photos courtesy of University Archives

Fresno State Amphitheater

By SAVANNAH NAKAMURA, Henry Madden Library

For much of Fresno State history, the Amphitheater led the campus in opportunities for student gatherings and entertainment. Alumni and members of the Fresno community remember the rich history of Vintage Days, plays, rallies and concerts that have taken place in this beautiful outdoor venue over the years.

The Amphitheater was built in 1962 and officially dedicated on April 24, 1963 at the second annual President’s Convocation. A bronze plaque was hung to express the student and faculty’s appreciation for the work of the maintenance department in construction of the Amphitheater. With a capacity of 5,000 and a lighting and PA system, this space was built to be an active part of the campus, and for many years it was a vital part of Fresno State student life.

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In addition to the many Fresno State band and choir performances that have taken place over the years, the Amphitheater also provided a performance space for big name concerts including: Loggins and Messina in 1975, Papa Doo Run Run in 1978 and Radiohead in 1995.

Some concerts, however, were for the not so famous. One of the most beloved traditions in the Amphitheater was the air guitar contest held at Vintage Days. Students would participate by playing the air guitar of their choice as the audience sang and played along. The site was also used to show outdoor movies during Vintage Days.

In 1978, Steve Martin performed two sold out shows in one evening at the Amphitheater. According to the Collegian, over “13,000 people” swarmed the space “overflowing onto the sidewalks and halfway up the aisles to hear the tamed crazy.” The wild and crazy guy, who had already hosted a few Saturday Night Live episodes, played the banjo and closed his show with a rendition of King Tut.

The Amphitheater has also been a place of political speeches, rallies and mourning. On November 26, 1963, afternoon classes were dismissed and a memorial service was held for John F. Kennedy, Jr. In 1967, the Peace and Freedom Party held a rally in the Amphitheater to encourage voters to register. They were accompanied by the Santana Blues Band, two years before Carlos Santana performed at Woodstock and became the Grammy winning artist known today. In 1968, two months before his assassination, Robert F. Kennedy brought his presidential campaign to the Amphitheater. In 1971, Ralph Nader used the space to discuss the importance of ending pollution.

With the arrival of the larger Save Mart Center venue, concerts and graduations have moved indoors, leaving the Amphitheater to the practicing marching band and students looking to study or relax in the outdoors.

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