There is star power to burn throughout the entertaining documentary “Enormous: The Gorge Story,” which hits screens July 21. Jam band icon Dave Matthews, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready, country star Dierks Bentley, Train’s Pat Monahan, John Oates of Hall and Oates and singer-songwriter Steve Miller are some of the luminaries who wax about how amazing it is to perform at the storied Gorge Amphitheatre.
However, a fan, Spokane’s Pat Coates, steals some of the show from the aforementioned musicians who have been headlining amphitheaters for years. “I know every inch of ground out there,” Coates said during the film. “I love the place.”
There’s an endless amount of ground to cover at the stunning concert site in George about halfway between Spokane and Seattle that started as a winery during the mid-1980s and happened to become a concert venue. Coates and her sister, Marianne, embarked on the two-hour drive a few times each year for decades.
“We shot a lot of stuff with Pat,” “Enormous” producer Tim Jack said. “She represents the millions of people who have come out to the Gorge. Everybody who comes out has a connection to the place.” That’s especially so for recording artists. When musicians are asked about their favorite venue, lip service often follows. But that wasn’t the case for the aforementioned McCready.
“When people ask our band where is your favorite place to play in the world, this is No. 1,” McCready said. ” This is No. 1 for a reason because it is so spiritual and beautiful. You can’t even explain it. You have to see it.”
Not only did the diminutive Seattle icon note that the Gorge is Pearl Jam’s favorite tour destination, McCready also detailed how a concert experience in Central Washington changed his life: watching guitar hero Stevie Ray Vaughan at the Gorge.
“I gave up on music,” McCready said. “It was a long struggle being in bands. It was fun, but it wasn’t really happening. I was kind of lost. After seeing him play here (Vaughan), that was an amazing kind of spiritual change for me. The next day, I had to play guitar again. Seeing Stevie Ray Vaughan on the Gorge put me back on the path of music.”
Less than a month after performing at the Gorge in August 1990, Vaughn died in a helicopter crash in Wisconsin. However, the seeds for Pearl Jam were planted. The Seattle band played its first show in October 1990. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famers played one of the most celebrated shows at the Gorge, an event with Neil Young in 1993. However, that wasn’t the first big event at the Gorge.
Bob Dylan was the initial recording artist to draw a large crowd in August 1988. “It kept selling tickets,” Live Nation Northwest President Jeff Trisler recalled. They weren’t sure what the capacity was. They just kept selling tickets. It was a perfect storm of good things for business. Operationally, not so much. There were like 12 security people tearing tickets and a line as far as the eye could see.”
Gorge patron Renee Maurel remembers the chaos. There was so much disarray everywhere,” Maurel said. “The only good thing was the music coming out of this one spot and this beautiful vista behind it.”
Gorge performance is in the Dylan family. Bob Dylan’s son Jakob Dylan has played the Gorge a number of times fronting his band, the Wallflowers, and it had the expected impact.
“The Gorge is a beautiful venue,” Dylan said. I’ve played that stage a handful of times, and it just stands out, just like (Morrison, Colorado’s) Red Rocks (Park and Amphitheatre). The Gorge is one of the most spectacular places to play.”
Jack and “Enormous” director Nic Davis cover all the bases by providing the evolution of the Gorge from a fledgling winery to a small, family-owned concert venue to one of the crown jewels of the Live Nation empire.
“I grew up in Bozeman,” Davis said while calling from Los Angeles. “I heard about the Gorge and going off to the Sasquatch Music Festival. It sounded like this mythical place. I never made it there until we started filming.”
Production commenced in 2016, but it wasn’t initially designed as a documentary. “We just wanted to shoot some video,” Jack said. “But the story was much bigger than a YouTube video. We were blown away by the Gorge. I’m just glad I saw a YouTube concert with Dave Matthews at the Gorge. That provided the inspiration for the film.”
Jack and Davis include footage of Matthews jamming on the side stage in 1995 before he blew up. It’s no surprise that the Gorge is one of Matthews’ favorite places to play. “There is no place like it in the world,” Matthews said. “There is something so enormous and endless about this place.”
Matthews and myriad iconic musicians who played the Gorge were photographed by house shutterbug Darren Balch, who hails from Spokane. Balch’s Gorge photos fill his book “Rock and Roll on Columbia: Tall Tales From a Short Attention Span.” “Darren owes me a copy,” Jack said. “Hopefully I’ll see him at a screening.” “Enormous” was slated for a worldwide release in April 2020, but the pandemic cancelled that.
“It was supposed to be at 500 theaters across the country last year,” Davis said. “But it’s finally going to get screened. We’re excited people from many different places can see how special the Gorge is, and those in Spokane can be reminded that it’s just a drive away. It’s not a short drive, but when you see this movie, you can see that it’s worth the effort.
“There is no place in the world like the Gorge.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Spokane7 email newsletter
Get the day’s top entertainment headlines delivered to your inbox every morning.