After nearly two music-less years, the Ford Amphitheatre is re-opening with a brand new face-lift just in time to welcome back the summer’s most unique concert series for families: Big World Fun. Put your mini music lover’s dancing shoes on and get ready to feel the beat at one of LA’s best live music venues where kids tix are free, they can meet the artists and they just might see a deer grazing behind the stage.

Photographed by Gennia Cui for the LA County Arts Commissionphoto: Gennia Cui

What’s New
The Ford is one of those few and far between places where your little explorers can experience the history of LA first-hand. With a nearly $66 million dollar renovation project, this intimate hidden gem is set to give it’s neighbor, the Hollywood Bowl, some stiff competition for the most awesome amphitheater in the city. In addition to new lighting and sound systems, the facility and stage has been meticulously reconstructed, bringing the historic theater back to vibrant life. The picturesque hillside backdrop that makes this place truly magical has been stabilized and preserved. A new picnic terrace and concession stand is still in the works, but opening soon.

Though a lot of the enhancements are mainly behind the scenes, the massive renovation ensures that the Ford will continue to be a go-to place for one-of-a-kind family events, like Big World Fun, for years to come

There isn’t a bad seat in the still-intimate house, and shade overhead keeps kids cool even as the sun rises.  While waiting for the shows to start, keep peepers peeled behind the stage, where deer sometimes graze as if they too are drawn in by the show.

Big World Fun Blue13-Fire & Powder-Anne Slatteryphoto: Anne Slattery

The 2016 Line-Up
Once again Big World fun presents an eclectic roster of performers that will give your little learners a window into new worlds while having a blast listening and watching. The shows are all one hour, making them just the right length for your junior audience members with short attention spans. And tickets are free for all kids and just $5 for adults, making it the best deal in town.

The six-week series debuts on July 23rd with Minyo Station, a blend of traditional Japanese folk music with modern Western influences. The series also features traditional folkloric Philippine music and dance with Kayamanan Ng Lahi, East LA group, Cambalache, blending Mexican and African-Arabic sounds, a rousing Bollywood-style performance from Blue13 Dance Company, and the Gay Men’s Chorus of LA belting out Broadway ballads. Closing out the season is Street Beat, percussionists who make music with household items.

Big World Fun Kayamanan Ng Lahi-15Mar21-0196-Jorge Vismaraphoto: Jorge Vismara

Come Early and Stay Late-ish
Come early and enjoy the (free!) pre-show activities before the performance begins.  LA Department of Parks and Recreation brings Nature in Your Backyard, which gives your animal lover a hands-on lesson in conservation with a close up look at some rescued native wildlife, like reptiles and birds of prey.

There’s also a craft activity presented by Mama Earth. Each week kids will get to work on a project that ties into the morning’s act. They’ll make cuff bracelets with Japanese washi tape before Minyo Station, for example, and keyrings made of Indian fabric before Blue13 Dance. Besides teaching kids more about the cultural performances, the crafts are also focused on presenting eco-friendly themes.

We like to bring breakfast and come early to get the best stacked parking spots, which make leaving easy, and take advantage of all the pre-show fun. After the show artists come out to meet and greet kids, which is a thrill for tots, but don’t stay chatting and picture taking too late, or those parked behind you will get peeved!

photo: Gennia Cui

The Details
Tickets are $5 for adults and free for kids, but it’s definitely a good idea to reserve in advance online. Stacked parking onsite is $1. All shows begin at 10 a.m., with the box office opening and pre-show activities starting at 9 a.m. The theater is fairly shady, but be sure to pack some sunscreen just in case. The concessions are open if all that crafting builds up an appetite before the show.

Don’t forget to grab a free booklist from the County Library on your way out, with reading suggestions to learn more about the cultures and themes presented during the show. Attendees at the series’ final show will also receive a free book to take home.

The shows take place Saturdays from July 23 to August 27 and are great for kids from ages 2 to 10 (or honestly even older, they just might not admit it!).  There is an elevator for strollers, but we recommend leaving them in the car if at all possible as they can take a long time and the stairs are totally manageable.

Big World Fun Quetzal-Ford Theatres 2016 Season-by Gennia Cuiphoto: Gennia Cui

More at the Ford
Be sure to also check out the Ford’s schedule of other shows, which include many great date nights and also shows that the whole family can enjoy, like Taiko drumming, Mexican folk ballet, hip-hop, swing, Afro Funke and more.  Kids tickets are specially discounted.  And definitely check out the Ford-sponsored JAM sessions, where you watch and then learn some new dance moves.  They take place in Pomona, San Fernando, Newhall and starting August 1, every Monday night at the beautiful new Ford Amphitheatre.  Did we mention all JAM sessions (and parking) are free?  It’s a great way to start the week doing something active and educational, together!

The John Anson Ford Amphitheatre
2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East

Welcome back, Ford!  Have you been to Big World Fun?  Or a JAM?  We’d love to hear your Ford favorites and memories in the comment section.

—Shahrzad Warkentin