Sir Paul McCartney will make history when he performs the first two shows at the Pittsburgh Penguins’ new arena.
As I’m literally sitting down to start writing this piece, I decide to procrastinate one more time, and check my Twitter feed. Low and behold, @RollingStone tweets, “Video: Paul McCartney plays ‘Birthday’ to Ringo Starr in surprise NYC appearance,” with a link to the video. I click on the link, and read the copy and start watching the video. Chills, I mean, CHILLS run through me as I watch the crowd at Radio City Music Hall explode when Sir Paul McCartney, clad in a classic suit and tie reminiscent of The Beatles early days, runs onto stage. Sir Paul and Ringo, along with the band, immediately start playing “Birthday” from the White Album as though all four Beatles were on stage. Not only does Ringo Starr not look 70 at all, Sir Paul McCartney, 67, could also pass for 50-something. This is nothing short of history.
History will be made again in Pittsburgh this month, as Sir Paul opens the CONSOL Energy Center with not one, but two sold-out performances. It is his first performance in Pittsburgh since he played the Civic Arena (now Mellon Arena) with two sold-out concerts in February 1990, and before that, on September 1964 with The Beatles — 12,603 people were in attendance at the show that took place 46 years ago.
Despite top ticket prices of $250, the first show sold out in minutes — around 15,000 seats for each performance. Capacity for a Pittsburgh Penguins game is 18,087. Note: The highest-ever capacity at Mellon Arena was 18,150 in 1999 for a WWF House Show, according to Mellon Arena’s Web site.
“I don’t think there could be a better artist to help us open CONSOL Energy Center,” says SMG (which manages the Center) manager Jay Roberts. “The chance to have a true legend and pop culture icon perform in CONSOL Energy Center’s grand opening concert is incredible. Plus, with our history at Mellon Arena with Sir Paul, it makes it even more fitting.”
According to Tom Rooney, former arena director at the Civic Arena and current president and CEO of The Rooney Sports and Entertainment Group, “The Beatles in 1964 signaled for many people the start of the arena’s identity as a concert venue.”
CONSOL Energy Center brings with it a world of possibilities — and not just for the Penguins. Over the years, the Pittsburgh market has missed opportunities for a number of major shows, including Sir Paul about 10 years ago, because Mellon Arena just could not accommodate production requirements. “That show was simply the one that got away,” Roberts says. “After reviewing the production information with our structural engineer and rigger, I had to say no, as we could not meet the requirements for the show. The McCartney production team could not cut enough weight and still maintain the show’s integrity.”
At press time, the sound engineers at CONSOL Energy Arena were still working on the sound system, but Roberts says there is every indication that it will be a giant improvement from the sound system at Mellon Arena — the problems and struggles that came with the domed roof are not an issue at CONSOL. Boasting state-of-the art technology, including high-definition video screens, ribbon boards, a high-tech curtain system, which will accommodate concerts from 2,500 to 18,000 people, and a scoreboard with an LED display, the new arena is raising eyebrows on the concert circuit. Of course, having royalty open it only adds to the pomp and circumstance.
There is also talk of our “secondary market” becoming a “primary market,” meaning, concertgoers will no longer
have to travel to places like New York City, Las Vegas, or other major-market cities to see shows that skip over Pittsburgh for one reason or another. CONSOL’s roster is already impressive — Lady Gaga, Roger Waters (building and taking down The Wall), WWE, Nickelback, Justin Bieber, George Strait and Reba McEntire,
Ringling Brothers Circus, Trans Siberian Orchestra, and Spirit of America are all confirmed, and more dates and acts are
soon to be announced.
“From a promoter’s standpoint, when you get a show that large to play in your building — especially when it kicks it off — it sends a message to the agents and to the managers that Pittsburgh needs to be on the tour plans the first time through,” says Ed Traversari, former partner with DiCesare Engler Productions and currently an instructor at Point Park University as well as head of his own consulting business that specializes in marketing and promotion. “Technically, that building is going to be like no other, so there will be no reason why an artist can’t put his full show up or handle all of the production that a band wants to. To start it off with Sir Paul McCartney is a great message.”
Realistically, this could be the last time that Sir Paul comes through Pittsburgh — and not because of what kind of a venue CONSOL Energy Center is, or because of what kind of concert market Pittsburgh is. “After this tour, he probably won’t tour again. He’ll probably put out music and do very few dates — New York, Chicago, Los Angeles — instead of a regular tour,” says Rich Engler, co-founder DiCesare Engler Productions, who promoted the 1990 McCartney shows. “A lot of people thought that it’s over for him already, that his voice isn’t as strong, that he’s not a good performer anymore. I think they are going to find that all of that is a hoax — because it will be a great show.”
Over the years, Engler, who has amassed an amazing collection of rock memorabilia from his days in the biz, knows McCartnery will rock, because his wife, Cindy, recently saw Sir Paul perform in England in June — two-and-a-half-hours of non-stop music with no intermission.
Engler recounts being invited to a private, after-show party at Soldier Field in Chicago, where McCartney played the last show on the 1989-1990 Paul McCartney World Tour: The Musical Triumph of the Year. Rich and Cindy, of course, went. “Dealing with Paul McCartney is like dealing with the ultimate gentleman. He was very welcoming, and the whole family was there. I had a long conversation with Linda, who has since passed away, and she was great,” Engler says.
Rooney and his wife, Judee, also saw McCartney perform this past June in Dublin. “People are in for a great treat. Everyone was singing endless choruses of ‘Hey Jude,’”
Of course, the opening of CONSOL Energy Center brings with it the close of the Civic/Mellon Arena. For many in Western Pennsylvania, it will be bittersweet. “God bless the Civic/Mellon Arena. It’s almost half century of service to the Tri-State Area rivals Senator Robert Byrd’s. But the market needed a state-of-the-art arena where the Pittsburgh Penguins can offer amenities necessary to compete with Heinz Field and PNC Park for corporate dollars. The new arena saved the Pens, who were saved by Mario [Lemieux] more times than Jesus saved people in the New Testament,” Rooney says.
CONSOL Energy Center is helping to “save” the city economically, too. The arena’s full-time staff has been increased, and the part-time staff is also beginning to increase. According to Roberts, on a game date, if you count all of the staff from the Pittsburgh Penguins, Aramark, SMG, and other team members, the total is close to 1,000.
Activity breeds more activity, and hopefully, this is all a sign of what’s to come. “It does not matter what you call our market. As long as we can continue to sell tickets to these great shows, we’ll continue to land great concerts,” Roberts says. “I think that CONSOL Energy Center will be a great concert venue, and will, without question, help to sell more tickets than were purchased in the past.”