Dr. Traffic

Circumstances created ‘perfect storm’ at Janet Jackson concert

Charlotte traffic was so gridlocked for Janet Jackson’s Unbreakable World Tour concert at PNC Music Pavilion that many fans did not get in. BENJAMIN ROBSON
Charlotte traffic was so gridlocked for Janet Jackson’s Unbreakable World Tour concert at PNC Music Pavilion that many fans did not get in. BENJAMIN ROBSON

There just weren’t enough parking spaces.

That’s a Charlotte traffic official’s simple explanation for the mess surrounding the Janet Jackson concert at PNC Music Pavilion on Sept. 18.

But there were other reasons that many of the estimated 18,500 fans sat in traffic for hours for the sold-out show, said Maj. Mike Smathers, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s event commander for PNC Pavilion.

Some fans never did get inside, despite paying handsomely for tickets. One told us she and three friends each paid $345 for seats.

They had no “Control” that night. (That’s one of Jackson’s biggest hits, in case you’re unfamiliar.)

There were so many cars, Smathers said.

“I can tell you I have been the venue commander there for other sellout shows, and we’ve had parking leftover many times,” he said. “I’ve never seen them run out of space.”

Asked if too many tickets might have been sold, Smathers said he found it comfortable to move around inside the venue, but then so many people were still in their cars.

Pavilion Boulevard, the two-lane road with a center turn lane that leads to the entrance and parking areas, was ground zero. Once the parking lots were full, people parked on the streets, Smathers said. That made it tougher to get in or out.

Other things contributed to the gridlock, Smathers said. There was no opening act to encourage a trickling in, and Jackson came on stage early, around 8:30 p.m. rather than the more typical 9 to 9:45 start time for a headliner. Everyone needed to be inside around the same time.

And several people needed medical assistance. Traffic stops when ambulances and fire trucks need to get through, and in this case the streets were lined with parked cars.

“It was a perfect storm of negative things,” Smathers said.

Nineteen officers were on traffic duty to direct traffic and control traffic lights, Smathers said. Live Nation hired Lanier Parking Solutions to run the parking lots, Smathers said.

“How they get them into the parking lot has a tremendous impact on traffic flow on the street,” Smathers said.

I called PNC Music Pavilion general manager Peter O’Donnell and sent an email through the website, explaining that ticket holders were asking for information. I’ve gotten no response. O’Donnell issued this statement on Sept. 21:

“The parking situation for the Janet Jackson show was something that we have not experienced at this venue. We are currently analyzing the factors which came together to cause the situation so that we can take appropriate action to ensure it does not happen again. We apologize to the fans for any inconvenience this may have caused them ...”

O’Donnell included a phone number (704-549-1292) for anyone who has questions or comments.

Karen Sullivan: 704-358-5532, @Sullivan_kms

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