Live entertainment venues in the two-state area of Tennessee and Kentucky seem to be focusing on entertainment variety and, going into 2016, that focus is definitely kick-starting what is looking to be another great year. Venues are undergoing renovations and booking adjustments to handle the influx of talent to the region.
“The majority of what we do here ranges across the board,” said David Kells, senior vice president, Booking, Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, Tenn.
Bridgestone Arena, located in the downtown hub, has a seating capacity of 20,000 and, according to VT’s Top Stops information, hosted 95 shows last year with an attendance of more than 800,000. If attendance to the NHL Predators, who call Bridgestone home, were included, the number of total visitors would break the one million mark.
The variety sentiment was echoed by Carl Hall, director of arena management, Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.
“We will be like most buildings,” Hall said. “It seems that the country music market has backed off right now for us. That could be due to the cycle of tours or the fact we are surrounded by amphitheaters that do a large amount of country during the summers.”
“But, we have been doing a broader diversity and that looks to be trending into 2016,” he said.
Rupp Arena’s seating capacity is 23,000. The building is owned and operated by the Lexington Center Corp., and is home to the University of Kentucky men and women basketball programs. Hall did say that the larger country music acts are still out there touring buildings like Rupp Arena and they are selling tickets.
In fact, Bridgestone Arena’s largest ticket selling act in 2015 was Eric Church, who broke an all-time concert attendance at 18,411 tickets.
Bridgestone Arena sold out a concert for rock band Tool nearly instantly when tickets went on sale in November for the Jan. 23 show.
Kells has seen an increase in comedy acts coming to Bridgestone. The building did well with Ken Hart’s What Now Tour, Black and Brown Comedy Get Down, and Amy Schumer in 2016 and already have Martin Lawrence booked for April.
Other acts seen at Bridgestone Arena in 2015 include Stevie Wonder, Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band, Zac Brown, New Kids on the Block, Alan Jackson, Kenny Chesney, Fall Out Boy, Shania Twain, Tim McGraw, Charlie Daniels, Def Leppard, Kelly Clarkson, Lady Antebellum, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, and Foo Fighters.
UPDATES AND EXPANSION
Next year is Bridgestone’s 20th birthday, which is one reason a continual amount of money has been going into upgrades and improvements including the $10 million spent this past summer installing a new LED lighting system, purchasing new seats and renovating concession stands.
“You have to keep up what you own,” Kells said.
Nashville’s explosive popularity has business increasing in just about all aspects. Ryman Auditorium, located just a block away from Bridgestone has increased its business 107 percent over the past five years. The 2,362-seat capacity building reported 124 shows to VT last year with an attendance of 250,258.
Ryman Auditorium has capitalized on the increase in tourism not only in ticket sales but also through a new $14-million expansion project allowing the opening of “Soul of Nashville,” a new immersive daytime tour experience. The lobbies were expanded as were the box office and the food and beverage service, including adding a cafe.
Polk Theater, also in Nashville, had new floor and rail lighting installed along with new carpeting.
The current $15-million technology upgrade project to Rupp Arena is set for completion later this year just as the facility celebrates its 40th anniversary. Hall said the technology improvements will keep the 40-year-old building relevant and up to date.
“We want to show the market how vibrant we are,” Hall said. “We could always use more, of course, but we are remaining stable and constant.”
Some improvements are driven by security needs. Aside from the installation of metal detectors at KFC YUM! Center, Louisville, Ky., there were no major improvements to the building last year.
“With everything that is going on right now, we just needed to install the metal detectors,” said Dennis Petrullo, general manager. And, so far, sending patrons through the detectors has gone pretty well. Petrullo said since the detectors were installed in January, they had found some knives, box cutters, items like that but no guns.
ADJUSTING TO POPULARITY
Nashville’s surge of notoriety and recognition has left some venue officials still sort of figuring it out, but moving forward nonetheless.
“We are still in the process of learning how to respond to the explosive popularity of Nashville,” said Brent Hyams, chief operations officer for the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC), also over the War Memorial Auditorium. “We are trying to stay on top of what is happening.”
For the performing arts side of things, it is business as usual, however. Hyams said they are seeing a mix of locals and tourists coming to performances in the 2,472-seat capacity Polk Theater. But the majority of attendees to the Broadway series there are local residents.
“And, we love that,” Hyams said. “We have TPAC members that have been members for 30 years. But the performing arts business is very, very different from the concert business.”
It is across the street at the 1,789-seat auditorium where booking never gets boring.
“It seems that is always in a state of change,” he said. “We have tried our very best to set a wide variety of performances over there, but we do our best with rock. And, we are starting to see our work paying off getting acts there before they explode.”
That includes acts such as Lettuce, City and Colour, and Godsmack.
Even though the auditorium is hosting between 15 and 24 concerts annually, scheduling is still a challenge. For one thing, outdoor festivals such as Bonnaroo, held in Manchester, Tenn., and Forecastle in Louisville, Ky., have grown and TPAC officials struggle to find the right fit to schedule alongside the festivals.
“We don’t want to take a break,” Hyams said.
In addition, the City of Nashville has created several outdoor events that are free. “It is hard to beat free,” he said.
Still, Hyams said both venues had a very healthy last season and are having a very healthy 2015-2016 season.
Rupp Arena did have success with country acts in 2015 such as Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and Kenny Chesney last year. Yet, it also had success with Alice Cooper, Avett Brothers, Taylor Swift, Five Finger Death Punch, and the Eagles, the latter drawing 17,000-plus.
Set for 2016 are dates with Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy, Monster Jam, and James Taylor. The building also does its share of family entertainment shows such as Disney on Ice.
BUILDING REPEAT BUSINESS
At the Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry show, one highlight was a record number of Amy Grant and Vince Gill Christmas shows — eight shows selling 18,546 tickets.
“We are bringing that show back next Christmas and we are expanding it to nine shows, due to popular demand,” said Lisann Dupont, Communications manager. “Another highlight in 2015 was Jason Isbell, who performed four sellout shows in October selling 8,988 tickets and setting a record number of shows in a row.”
There doesn’t look to be any downtime for 2016 at the Ryman. Three Chris Stapleton shows, which were set for Feb. 18, 19, and 20, were sellouts and two John Prine shows set for March are also sold out.
Other shows set for 2016 include Tedeschi Trucks Band, Merle Haggard, The Piano Guys, Gordon Lightfoot, Vance Joy (one show in March sold out), Moody Blues, Moon Taxi, Ry Cooder, Smashing Pumpkins, Boz Scaggs, Bonnie Raitt, and Chick Corea & Bela Fleck.
Overall business at the KFC YUM! Center, an AEG-managed facility, is going very well, according to Petrullo.
The 22,000-seat capacity building on the campus of the University of Louisville and home to that school’s men’s and women’s basketball programs, reported 43 shows last year to VT, ranking it high on the Top Stops charts. Attendance was reported as 340,414. Petrullo said that Maroon 5, held in March 2015, sold the most tickets last year at 17,500.
“But, we also have done well with groups like Fleetwood Mac, Zac Brown, Smoke & Mirrors,” Petrullo said. “And, we had a great New Year’s Eve show, the first time we have ever done that.”
The Kid Rock New Year’s Eve bash was, said Petrullo, a “legitimate sellout. We had to turn people away.”
“Moving further, we will do this event every year,” he said. “AEG and Live Nation have a five-year agreement to produce it. The city embraced it with banners on the street. It was a great event.”
Other 2015 highlights included performances by Fleetwood Mac, Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney, One Direction and Madonna.
Some acts set for 2016 include Martin Lawrence, Blake Shelton, Bruce Springsteen, Fall Out Boys, Chicago and Earth, Wind, & Fire, Garth Brooks, Janet Jackson, and Selena Gomez.
Although the University of Louisville men’s and women’s basketball programs moved to the KFC YUM! Center in the 2010-2011 season, Louisville’s Freedom Hall continues to be a historic venue for youth basketball, including AAU, Eddie Ford Basketball Tournament and the Derby Festival Classic.
Freedom Hall has a seating capacity of 19,200 and is a part of the Kentucky Exposition Center.
“The 48th annual Championship Tractor Pull, held in conjunction with the National Farm Machinery Show, is the nation’s largest and longest-running tractor pull,” said Amanda Storment, vice president of communications. “It continues to call Freedom Hall home.”
The tractor pull event, held in February, normally draws nearly 70,000 people.
The Kentucky State Fair Main Stage Concert series continues to bring music fans to the Freedom Hall for three nights during the 11-day fair. Storment said those shows are predominantly country music.
“And the World’s Championship Horse Show, celebrating over 112 years, is also at home in Freedom Hall for eight (8) days during the Kentucky State Fair,” Storment said.
Aside from fair usage, shows on the calendar for 2016 are the Rock and Worship Roadshow, Bluegrass Bash and Dilana.
Motorsports continue to fill the calendar for Freedom Hall, and it is used as tradeshow exhibit space for both many events held at the Kentucky Exposition Center.
BY THE NUMBERS
Five-year growth at the Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, Tenn.
Five-year growth total 107 percent
> Amy Grant and Vince Gill performed a record eight Christmas shows at the Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, and sold 18,546 tickets. Due to popular demand, they are set to perform nine Christmas shows in 2016.
> KFC YUM! Center, Louisville, Ky., sold 17,500 tickets to a Maroon 5 concert in March 2015, the most tickets sold for a concert in 2015.
> Officials at the KFC YUM! Center, Louisville, Ky., had to turn people away at the door for the venue’s first-ever New Year’s Eve party, The Kid Rock New Year’s Eve Bash. Venue officials plan to host a New Year’s Eve event every year going forward.
> Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, broke an all-time concert attendance in January 2015, when 18,411 tickets were sold to an Eric Church concert.
BETTER AND BIGGER
Venues that host live entertainment in the states of Tennessee and Kentucky are dropping some big bucks into their buildings.
Following is a rundown of what’s been done and what’s in the works.
Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, Tenn.
Bridgestone Arena underwent more than $10 million in renovations during 2015, adding up to over $50 million in the past five years alone.
In September 2015, the Nashville arena, home to the National Hockey League’s Predators, became the sixth NHL venue to be fitted with the a new LED system by Ephesus Lighting. Up to 75 percent more efficient than the metal halide bulbs that were previously installed there, the lights create a brighter playing surface with easily adjusted color temperatures.
The arena installed 34 metal detectors last year with 12 at the main entrance. Three employees are stationed at each unit.
Also for 2015, approximately 7,000 new seats were installed in the arena’s lower bowl.
The remaining seats in the upper bowl and Gary Force Club Level will be replaced during the summer of 2016.
Other improvements completed in 2015 or set for 2016 are:
• Complete upgrade of 16 total rest rooms (eight men’s and eight women’s), including new
stalls, toilets, sinks, faucets, counter tops and more.
• Concession stands at the main food court on the Nissan Atrium have been gutted and
completely renovated, while every other concession stand in the building received some
sort of upgrade. In total, $2.8 million in concession work was done.
Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.
Rupp Arena began a $15-million technology overhaul that started last summer and will continue through most of 2016. The project is being executed in phases so arena programming will face no major interruptions during its busy time of the year. The building will shut down June 10-Oct. 10.
New ribbon boards were installed in 2015 on the upper arena fascia and completed for the start of the University of Kentucky basketball season. The boards cost $800,000 and were provided by Rupp’s media partner, Learfield Sports.
Completed during December’s holiday season was the installation of new venue video production equipment bringing the venue video system to an HD level and replacing the four corner LED screens with HD state-of-the-art screens in a 16-by-9-foot aspect ratio.
Other planned improvements:
• The press box on the east side upper arena to match the one on the west side will be
installed after the 2015-2016 UK basketball season.
• A new center-hung video, audio and scoreboard array, wireless internet for fans and
patrons and major roof structure improvements.
• The video display in the Rupp Arena lobby and the exterior LED marquis signs that hang
on the Hyatt Regency hotel will be replaced.
• Upgraded Wi-Fi will be installed before the 2016-17 season.
• Improvements to the roof’s steel support structure are scheduled.
• The sports lighting used for basketball games will be replaced with LED fixtures.
KFC YUM! Center, Louisville, Ky.
This center installed 28 metal detectors at a cost of between $150,000 and $200,000. The project was completed in January 2016. The stations require three employees each, upping the number of additional employees to 40-55 at each event.
Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, Tenn.
About $14 million was invested into Ryman Auditorium during 2015 for expansions, which included the opening of the “Soul of Nashville,” a new immersive daytime tour experience.
Other expansions were made to the lobbies, box office and to food and beverage services,
which included the opening of a cafe.