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Lincoln’s 5-year-old arena brings in crowds, ticket sales

November 25, 2018

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — During the run-up to the 2010 election, which created what became Pinnacle Bank Arena, there was much consternation that Lincoln couldn’t draw the kind of major concerts or ticket sales promised by the arena’s boosters.

After all, Omaha’s Qwest Center was just 60 miles up Interstate 80 and had established itself as a strong concert venue. And Lincoln, with its population of 250,000, is a mid-sized market in the concert world, most of which don’t have the support to consistently attract top-end shows.

Eight years later, and five years into the arena’s operations, those fears have proved to be unfounded.

The concerts have come — 73 in total — and so have the crowds. The arena has sold 1,139,822 tickets with $71,181,717 in total sales, the Lincoln Journal Star reported.

And the shows have featured many of the biggest names in music: Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Eric Church, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Odesza, Kendrick Lamar, Kenny Chesney, Pink, Jay-Z, Carrie Underwood, Metallica, Cher, Pearl Jam, Rush and Garth Brooks.

“You’re a great crowd, and this is a great place,” McCartney said during his July 14, 2014 concert. “I love this place. ... It’s great. It’s a great venue. It really sounds good.”

McCartney isn’t alone in his praise. Brooks raved about playing there — and how it felt like a far smaller place — the Saturday after the first of his five October 2017 shows at the arena. And, almost to an artist, those praises have been echoed after each show.

Pinnacle Bank Arena has developed a reputation among artists, agents, promoters and crews as a great place to put on a show, and Lincoln is seen as a concert market that punches far above its weight.

The reason the arena is such a good place for shows goes back to the building’s design, which began eight years ago, and its construction from 2011 to 2013.

“The building was built to be basketball-centric, where it wasn’t as wide and wasn’t as long as arenas built for hockey and multiple use,” said arena manager Tom Lorenz. “Our seating is more vertical, so it feels like you’re more on top of the floor, no matter how high you are. So the artist feels, even if 15,000 are packed in here, that it’s a very intimate setting.”

But the arena incorporates much more than just basketball-centric seating, Lorenz said: “The building was designed to do major concerts.”

The concert-friendly design and construction begins outside, with the loading dock at the north end of the building. That dock was built to allow four trucks to unload and load at a time. And the loading dock is just 90 feet from where the stages are erected.

That multiple truck docking and proximity to the stage saves time — at least an hour per truck — money and effort, said Don Adams, the arena’s production manager.

Next is the steel grid that was installed 90 feet above the stage. With each of the 20-square-foot bays capable of holding 20,000 pounds of sound and light scaffolding and equipment, the arena has a 160,000 pound over-stage capacity — more than is needed for nearly every show on the road.

And, when utilizing all of the grid, that capacity goes beyond 200,000 pounds. That allowed the arena to present Metallica as designed when the heavy-metal icons brought their show’s 240,000 pounds of “dynamic weight” to Lincoln in September.

“A lot of buildings couldn’t do the show or would have had to bring in extra steel,” Lorenz said. “We got everything they had up in the air. That really completes the show.”

As for the sound praised by McCartney, Brooks and many others, that starts with the design as well.

The design incorporated soundproofing into the building’s ceiling, aimed at preventing sound from bouncing around. And that feature wasn’t eliminated from the construction budget, which often happens with arena projects.

The soft, cloth-covered seating also plays a role, absorbing sound rather than reflecting it.

The arena also has “the luxury of us being a full house, a full house sounds better than an empty house,” Adams said.

It isn’t just the building. Lorenz and Adams also credit the crew for contributing to the arena’s reputation. IATSE union members put together the shows, rigging the sound and lights high above the arena, while arena staff respond to artist requests, set up the backstage and, when requested, organize catering for the artist and crew.

It is notable that, with the exception of smoke from the stage triggering a fire alarm during Jay-Z’s 2013 show, the arena has experienced no production issues in its first five years.

Pinnacle Bank Arena is accommodating enough that the Zac Brown Band, Eric Church and Odesza have used it for rehearsals before beginning tours, then launched those tours with Lincoln shows.

That, too, is a result of more than just the building. It’s related to hotels, restaurants and bars around the area where the bands and crews can comfortably stay and patronize when they’re not at work.

For example, members of the Zac Brown Band and their crew stayed at the Graduate Hotel during their June rehearsals.

“I think when they started setting up the tour, they called and asked if Pinnacle was open for the amount of time we needed,” multi-instrumentalist Clay Cook said during that visit. “They said certainly it was. ... We loved it the last time we were here. It’s cool for our crew to get to home here for a couple weeks. I got in and was able to hang out last night and enjoy some of the college life.”

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Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com

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