A new outdoor music venue is opening in the Missouri mountains

A new outdoor music venue is opening in the Missouri mountains

BY Matt Meltzer | March 5, 2024

Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris is imagining this: You’re gazing out at the Ozarks, the sun setting behind Boston Mountain and glittering off Table Rock Lake. The purple sky fades to black as a handful of lights twinkle from a stage below. Electricity builds and you and 20,000 others anticipate the entrance of the night’s main attraction, a cheer coming up from the crowd as it knows the show is about to start. The last remnants of daylight frame the wilderness beyond the stage and the first chords of a familiar song blast through the Missouri summer night.

That’s the experience Morris is trying to create at the new Thunder Ridge Nature Arena, a 20,000-seat outdoor music venue set to open in June. The venue sits atop a ridgeline deep in the Ozarks, part of the Big Cedar Lodge wilderness resort which sits on a 1,200-acre nature preserve.

The Thunder Ridge Nature Arena is more of an amphitheater than a theater-in-the-round, with high stadium-style hill seating behind the floor and the stage beyond. Previously the arena had been used as home to Morris’ professional rodeo team, The Missouri Thunder, and hosted a handful of concerts earlier this decade. 

Since its last show in 2022, however, the arena has been completely redone, and the stage reconstructed for broader views of the mountains and Table Rock Lake. New parking has also been added along Highway 86, so guests will no longer have to park off-site and take shuttle buses.

Opening night for Thunder Ridge will come June 13, when country star Chris Stapleton breaks in the new stage.  Luke Bryan will follow him up on July 27. One of the cooler elements of the new venue is its Ozarks Nature Tower, Thunder Ridge’s luxury box seating. The 12-story structure will serve as the venue’s beacon, filled with two-story suites that have an elevated view of the stage, outdoor decks, a private bar and a fireplace.

Renderings of the luxury boxes.

Thunder Ridge is built beside a centuries-old historic barn, adding a retro, rustic touch. The barn’s next incarnation will be as the venue’s food, drink and merch hub, with some meeting space and more premium seating mixed in.

Morris’s venture will also be the odd, privately-owned non-profit music venue in the United States, run by the Johnny Morris Foundation, which promotes wilderness conservation. Morris says that all profits from Thunder Ridge will go towards either venue improvement or conservation projects. That won’t necessarily translate into cheaper ticket prices, but at least some of your hard-earned ticket money is going to a good cause.