AC/DC is coming to North Carolina for a big arena show this month! But it’s in Greensboro, not Charlotte. OK, well... Garth Brooks is doing three arena concerts over three nights in North Carolina this month! True – in Raleigh, not Charlotte.
And that’s kind of how it works around here, when it comes to the arena-concert business: Round and round the artists go, where they’ll stop, nobody knows.
Rihanna chose to play Charlotte’s Time Warner Cable Arena this year, while passing on PNC Arena in Raleigh and Greensboro Coliseum; Mumford & Sons and Selena Gomez did the same. PNC, though, has exclusives with Brooks and Pearl Jam. Meanwhile, Bruce Springsteen and Justin Bieber have joined AC/DC in making Greensboro their sole Tar Heel State visit in 2016.
If you’ve ever wondered why Time Warner Cable Arena can’t get all of the big names despite being located smack in the middle of the state’s largest city, here are the key factors for the layperson to be aware of.
1. Date availability, date availability, date availability.
Yeah, that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as “location, location, location,” but it’s true: A lot of this business comes down to whether the building is available when the artist (or the artist’s agent, or the tour’s promoter) wants or needs it.
Time Warner Cable Arena’s priority is the Charlotte Hornets, who play more than 40 games in the building per year, including the preseason. The schedule for the season, which runs from October to April – and potentially longer, if the team gets a run going in the playoffs – is locked months before the season starts.
PNC Arena in Raleigh, meanwhile, has three priorities: First, there’s NC State men’s basketball and the Carolina Hurricanes of the NHL. PNC also shares property with NC State’s Carter-Finley Stadium, and doesn’t book the arena on football game days to avoid creating a traffic nightmare.
So if a national touring artist wants to play North Carolina, they either need to work around those sports schedules or – more likely – look first at the venue or venues that aren’t booked for the desired date.
Take hard-rockers AC/DC. The band’s tour schedule includes Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on March 11 and Washington, D.C., on March 17. In between, it plays Greensboro Coliseum on March 14. That same night? The Charlotte Hornets are hosting the Dallas Mavericks at Time Warner Cable Arena.
What’s highly possible is the band and its reps really wanted to get in an N.C. date, but that March 14 was the only night they could see working with the way the tour was being routed, which – if true – would mean that TWC Arena was basically never a part of serious conversations. (Promoter AEG Live did not respond to requests for an interview for this story.)
“So really a lot of it starts off with, ‘Are we available in the time that they’re routing the tour? Can we make a date available for them?’ ” says Donna Julian, TWC Arena’s general manager. “We want to get everything that we can get, and we don’t want to ever lose anything if we can avoid it. But I also have to be realistic and say, if our date’s not available and that’s the only date (the tour) has, we’re probably going to lose the show.”
Adds Dave Olsen, general manager at PNC Arena in Raleigh: “Between hockey and basketball, I’m tied up with over 60 dates, with schedules that don’t come out in a timely fashion. When promoters want to do shows or put (a tentative hold) on a date, they want it today, not three months from now.”
One footnote to all of this, as far as TWC Arena is concerned: The Checkers, a minor-league hockey team, moved from TWC to Bojangles’ Coliseum for the 2015-16 season, opening up about 30 dates. Says Julian: “We did probably have one of our better months of December with events,” including Billy Joel, Amy Schumer, Joel Osteen, a WWE event and the UNC-Georgetown men’s basketball game.
1a. Wait a second. How is it that Greensboro Coliseum – a venue in a city barely one-third of the size of Charlotte – remains such a player in this equation?
The Coliseum was built in 1959, so compared with its counterparts in Raleigh (PNC Arena is 16 years old) and Charlotte (TWC is 10), the building is ancient. Its original seating capacity was 7,100, but the venue has been expanded and expanded again, renovated and expanded again... and again and again and again.
Today, it can hold as many as 23,500.
Anyway, for decades, it was one of the largest arenas on the East Coast. The Monkees played there once. Led Zeppelin played there twice. Elvis and The Dead each played there five times.
“We have a very long and storied history of being THE concert play in the Carolinas,” says Scott Johnson, deputy director of the Greensboro Coliseum Complex. Plus, “I think our geographic location in central North Carolina, where it’s an hour and a half from Charlotte, an hour and 15 from Raleigh – I mean, if you look at a map, every major highway or interstate runs through Greensboro. So it’s easy to get here, and we’re an economical building to be in.
“We’re not New York or Chicago or Los Angeles, but we know where the deal needs to be for us, and we work hard with all the promoters and agents to try to make it happen when we’ve all got the date available.”
2. Relax – they’ll get there (hopefully).
When it comes to major touring acts, there’s a reasonable chance they’ll eventually want to hit all three markets. Of course, this theory doesn’t always hold water, but there are certainly precedents.
In 2012, Springsteen played Greensboro Coliseum. His “High Hopes Tour” in 2014 made stops at Raleigh and Charlotte’s arenas. The singer returns to Greensboro Coliseum April 10, and it’s his only scheduled N.C. stop on “The River Tour.” But if the pattern continues, Springsteen could well spread the love back to Charlotte’s TWC and/or Raleigh’s PNC next time he comes around.
Another high-profile example is Taylor Swift. She brought her “1989 Tour” to Charlotte and Raleigh’s arenas on back-to-back nights last June, then went to Europe, then came back to the U.S. for a long second leg that finally hit Greensboro Coliseum in October. In 2013, she did something similar, visiting TWC Arena in March then circling back to play Greensboro Coliseum and PNC in Raleigh in September.
3. And in lots of cases, sorry, but you’re not meant to know why.
Deals – and the fine points of who is entitled to what percentages of the various revenue streams (and why) – are both mysterious and complicated. In addition, on the artists’ side, there are many different parties with opinions and whims and preferences.
“It’s the promoters, the agents, the artists’ management, the artists themselves who decide what venues they want to play,” says PNC Arena’s Olsen. “There could be 100 different reasons, none of which are ever told us arena managers. Scotty (Johnson in Greensboro) wouldn’t be told that, I wouldn’t be told that, Donna (Julian in Charlotte) wouldn’t be told that.
“Half the time, I hear it on the radio. I’ll turn on the radio and I’ll have holds for a particular artist, and the next thing I know, I hear it’s going to Greensboro. You don’t get that second phone call saying, ‘This is why it went to Greensboro’ – no one ever comes back and gives you that.”
Adds TWC Arena’s Julian: “It’s just such an uncontrollable animal. ... There’s so many layers of how these things get executed.”
(When asked for input on how booking works on the promoter’s end of things, a Live Nation official declined to comment.)
But in the end, Johnson says, all three arenas are going to get their fair share of attractive concerts.
“I’ve been disappointed not to get Justin Timberlake here – he’s played Raleigh and Charlotte twice – but I know that people are disappointed because we’ve got AC/DC and we’ve got Springsteen and we’ve got Justin Bieber. So you take the good with the bad, but I think there’s plenty of inventory to go around.”
Time Warner Cable Arena
Rihanna, March 20.
Mumford & Sons, April 14.
Selena Gomez, June 7.
Demi Lovato and Nick Jonas, June 30.
Maroon 5, Sept. 11.
Hornets (NBA): March 1, 4, 7, 9, 11, 12, 14, 16, 19 and 21; April 1, 8 and 13.
AC/DC, March 14.
Kirk Franklin, March 18.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, April 10.
Def Leppard, May 13.
Justin Bieber, July 6.
Josh Groban, July 19.
PNC Arena (Raleigh)
Garth Brooks, March 11-13.
Pearl Jam, April 20.
Demi Lovato and Nick Jonas, July 2.
Maroon 5, Sept. 12.
NC State vs. Boston College: March 2.
Hurricanes (NHL): March 8, 22, 26, 27 and 31; April 2 and 7.