LP Field turned U2 away

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Scheduling conflicts at stadium mean fewer fans, less money for Metro

By Michael Cass, The Tennessean

One of the world's biggest bands won't be playing in Nashville's biggest stadium when it comes to town next summer, forcing thousands of fans to go elsewhere or wait until next time.

U2 will play at Vanderbilt Stadium, which typically holds almost 40,000 people, instead of LP Field, which normally holds more than 68,000. It will be the band's first concert in Nashville since 1981, when it also played at Vanderbilt.

The July 2 show will be unusual for U2's "360" world tour, which is generally stopping at NFL and Major League Baseball stadiums in cities such as Denver, Seattle, Miami, Chicago and Philadelphia next summer.

The Tennessee Titans, who play in and operate LP Field, were approached by U2's promoters but turned them down, citing scheduling conflicts. The venue's agreement with the CMA Music Festival, which will be held June 9-12, says no other concerts can be held within 30 to 45 days of the festival unless the Country Music Association gives its blessing.

The Titans never asked the CMA about the blackout dates, but decided against the booking over concerns the football field could not recover in time for the preseason.

"It just couldn't work," said Don MacLachlan, the Titans' executive vice president for administration and facilities.

U2's tour producer and promoter, Arthur Fogel, said he decided Vanderbilt was the best place for the band to play, based on atmosphere and history. He produced Pink Floyd and Rolling Stones shows there in the 1990s.

"When we decide that we should play a market, we basically look at all the options," said Fogel, chairman of Live Nation's global music division. "It was as simple as we felt it was the right situation to play in. We looked at both options and decided what we thought was best for that market and for U2.

"And there's a slight twist when it comes to that market in terms of the last appearance many moons ago. They played at Vanderbilt. There was a bit of a hook there that I think everybody, certainly myself, thought was interesting."

Missing out on revenue

The Titans and Metro government, which built the $292 million stadium in 1999, have been criticized for letting LP Field sit empty on most days when the Titans or Tennessee State University aren't playing football. The venue has held just four concerts that weren't related to the CMA Music Festival in 11 years: one each by George Strait and 'N Sync in 2000, and two by Kenny Chesney, in 2006 and 2008.

MacLachlan said it's difficult to find acts that can fill a stadium, but the Titans are trying.

"We want to get as many events in LP Field as we can," he said.

With U2 going to Vanderbilt, Metro will miss out on considerable tax and fee revenue. While the city will still get 2.25 cents of sales tax revenue for every dollar spent by fans, it won't collect as much as it would have at LP Field, assuming a larger crowd and the same ticket prices.

Vanderbilt expects to fit about 45,500 fans into the stadium by using almost every seat -- an advantage of U2's 360-degree stage design -- and bringing thousands of people onto the field. Other stadiums also have been able to boost attendance beyond their fixed seating, Billboard magazine reported.

Bob Lackey, a Metro Finance Department official, said LP Field also would have collected a $2 user fee from each concertgoer. That money would have gone into a Metro fund used to help pay for improvements at the stadium. The user fee went into effect this year.

The city also will be leaving some tourist tax revenue on the table. Frank Cortez, a graduate business student in Atlanta, said he would have come to Nashville and made a weekend of it -- staying in a hotel, going to restaurants and bars -- if he could have gotten tickets to the show. U2 played in Atlanta last year but isn't scheduled to return next year.

"That would have just been a fun time," Cortez said. "That's a weekend worth of money that won't be going that way."

Ray Waddell, who has covered live music for Billboard for 24 years while based in Nashville, said U2's world tour should be the most lucrative in history by the time it's over, topping $600 million in gross receipts and routinely selling out large stadiums. He said Nashville has had a reputation as a "finicky" concert market, "but that has changed" in recent years.

Based on the quick sellout at Vanderbilt, Fogel said he wouldn't have had any concerns about filling LP Field.

"With the speed of the sale, the public have spoken," he said. "Clearly, such a long time has passed since the band's been in the market that there's tremendous excitement about them coming."

A more 'intimate' show

The concert could be the largest show ever held at Vanderbilt, which also hosted Dave Matthews Band last year.

David Williams, Vanderbilt's general counsel and vice chancellor for university affairs and athletics, said U2's representatives first approached the university more than four months ago. Since Vanderbilt announced the concert in late October, Williams said, many fans have said the show will be special because it will be more "intimate" than most of the Irish band's concerts.

"I was like, 'Intimate? There's 40,000 seats in the place.' But they said, 'No, you don't understand. It's usually 80-, 85,000.'

"So that might have been part of it, that at least they wanted to do one or two where you do have a smaller seating."

Patrick McKennon, a 38-year-old landscaper in Nashville who estimates he has seen U2 at least 20 times in 10 cities, including Murfreesboro in 1987, said he's looking forward to the Vanderbilt show.

"They do well in both settings," he said. "However, it's just going to be, I think, more electric to have their enormous stage. You're going to be at the Parthenon, and you're going to see this huge thing coming up out of the ground, and even driving down West End. It's going to be awesome in a lot of different ways."

Waddell said Vanderbilt Stadium has great sightlines and may have benefited from Fogel's history there. "Whatever the reason, Vanderbilt got the nod, and good for them," he said.

Williams said he hopes Vanderbilt, which started making some touring industry contacts when Dave Matthews Band played there, will be able to host stadium shows more often now.

Playing field was issue

MacLachlan said the Titans had two main concerns after Live Nation approached them. One was the CMA Music Festival, which will end three weeks before U2 plays, well within the concert blackout window.

He also said it would take six weeks to re-sod the playing field, which would be cutting it close before the Titans' first preseason game in mid-August.

"It just wouldn't have worked out for U2 to play at LP Field," he said.

But U2 is scheduled to play at NFL stadiums in Chicago, Philadelphia, East Rutherford, N.J., and Pittsburgh after the Vanderbilt show. MacLachlan said he couldn't speak to other venues' approaches to turf management.

"Re-sodding, whether other stadiums do it or not, is a concern to us," he said.

The Titans don't have any concerts booked for 2011.

Vanderbilt is not the only college stadium on U2's tour, though it appears to be the smallest. The band -- which is expected to release a new album by May, according to Rolling Stone magazine -- also will play at the University of Minnesota, the University of Utah and Michigan State University.

For fans like McKennon, there's nothing wrong with a campus setting.

"It'll be talked about, I think, for quite some time," he said. "For them to come to Vanderbilt was so out of character, and they sometimes pull those out-of-character moves. We ought to count our blessings that they're coming to Tennessee."

© 2010 Tennessean

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on November 22, 2010 6:18 AM.

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