Music News & Reviews

Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga and Jay-Z: Is Golden 1 Center already a must-play for A-list artists?

Brush that dirt off your shoulder, Sacramento: It looks like you’re finally becoming a destination for some of the biggest names in live music.

The recent announcement that Jay-Z will perform at Golden 1 Center in December was notable in part because it was Jay-Z – hip-hop megastar, near-billionaire, husband of Beyoncé and the kind of A-list act that in recent years local music fans often had to drive two hours to see.

But it was also the latest in a series of top-concert artists lining up to visit Golden 1 Center in its first year of operation. Bruno Mars played at the arena this past week. John Mayer arrives Thursday. Kendrick Lamar and Lady Gaga are scheduled for August while Sir Paul McCartney and Kanye West (briefly, anyway) have already filled the building.

Traditionally, Sacramento attracted the occasional A-list performer. But armed with a $557 million, state-of-the-art venue, the city appears to be boosting its profile on the music circuit, while experiencing arguably its biggest concert-going year in recent history.

“(Former Sleep Train Arena) was never considered a state-of-the-art building,” said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the concert trade publication Pollstar. “And before it came on the scene nobody played Sacramento at all on that level. Sacramento is a market that basically got bypassed.

“That’s not the case anymore. Sacramento has become pretty much a must-stop on any arena tour.”

OK, maybe not every arena tour. The Red Hot Chili Peppers, for example, passed on Sacramento during their U.S. swing earlier this year, which included a stop at Oracle Arena in Oakland. But compared to the final years at Sleep Train Arena, during which visits by Garth Brooks and Justin Bieber dotted a mostly barren calendar, this year’s Golden 1 Center lineup is elevated in both star power and scope.

The list of acts that have played or will play Golden 1 includes seven that have performed in Super Bowl halftime shows – McCartney, Mars, Gaga, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Enrique Iglesias, Janet Jackson and Katy Perry.

Upcoming shows feature new hit-makers such as The Weeknd (Oct. 11) and Ed Sheeran (Aug. 1) and enduring acts like Neil Diamond (Aug. 2). Country stars Tim McGraw and Faith Hill play the arena July 28, while popular Latin music artists Iglesias and Pitbull performed there last month.

At last count, the arena was slated to host 23 concerts between June and October alone. A Kings spokesman said the busiest summer at the team’s former building came in 1998 – when then-Arco Arena hosted 14 concerts.

Bongiovanni said part of the appeal is likely that Golden 1 Center is still in a honeymoon period following its opening last October.

“New arenas, artists like playing them because the acoustics are generally much better than in older buildings, because they’re factored into the design,” Bongiovanni said. “And local populations, maybe because of the newness of the facility, tend to support more than if the building had been there for 10 years.”

One comparison for the latter point could be the currently named Toyota Amphitheatre in Wheatland, which offered a loaded concert lineup for its first summer in 2000. Britney Spears, Marc Anthony, Bob Dylan, No Doubt and The Who all played the amphitheater 35 miles north of Sacramento. The number of concerts dwindled after a strong start, though, and while the venue has rebounded it now offers largely classic rock and country acts.

The differences are that Golden 1 Center is centrally located in downtown, is an indoor venue equipped to handle arena shows and, as Kings majority owner Vivek Ranadive previously said, was conceived partly with the goal of creating a world-class venue for musical performances.

John Rinehart, who recently replaced Chris Granger as the Kings’ president of business operations, said the process of attracting top concert acts to Golden 1 Center started before the building was even finished. During design and construction, Rinehart said, the team invited music promoters, managers and some artists to the site to give input on what makes a must-play venue on the tour circuit.

Some Golden 1 features reflect that input. Rinehart said rigging capability was a common request so the arena is equipped with extensive rigging and power sources that allow for a stage to be set up at different areas of the floor. Rinehart, who oversaw arena booking and operations for the Kings for the last 17 years, also said bigger shows now travel with 14-16 trucks compared to six to eight “in the old days,” and Golden 1 Center’s loading dock is designed to manage the extra traffic.

Now that the arena is open, Rinehart said, landing major shows is a matter of monitoring which artists are going on tour, reaching out and fitting them into a schedule that includes basketball games at least seven months out of the year.

“Really the first three months was, ‘OK, it’s a new building and I have a tour routing, so let’s make sure we get in there.’ But after that is when we really created the must-play,” Rinehart said. “The region of Sacramento really responded. We sold tickets faster than pretty much all of our neighboring cities.”

According to Pollstar data of the 200 top-selling arenas worldwide in the first half of 2017, Golden 1 Center ranked 64th with 142,957 tickets sold and a $9.7 million gross, behind the nearby SAP Center in San Jose (27th) and Oracle Arena (48th). Those totals might have omitted shows that went unreported, Pollstar said, and don’t include tickets sold for shows after June 30.

Locally, the difference is stark. During its final full year of operation in 2015, Sleep Train arena sold a total of 94,057 concert tickets and grossed $4.8 million for the whole year, Pollstar said.

Eric Rushing, co-founder of the live music club Ace of Spades in midtown, said that A-list acts often bypassed Sacramento in the past partly because the city “didn’t have a facility that could produce the types of shows that Golden 1 is now producing.” Rushing said the effect of the new arena “kind of speaks for itself.”

“You look at Golden 1 opening just last year to today, and then looking six months from now to the shows they have booked – it’s insane,” Rushing said. “There are so many more shows in Sacramento now than there ever were before.”

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