Monday, November 3, 2014

Macca And Greensboro: A Complete Mismatch

Paul McCartney played the Greensboro Coliseum on Thursday night, Oct. 30. He outperformed the coliseum in every way imaginable.

The concert itself was predictably extraordinary. After years of touring together, McCartney and band put on a three-hour show that has to be experienced to be believed. Greensboro was no different. No Beatles fan should ever pass up the chance. ’Nuff said.

So McCartney was his typically brilliant self Thursday night. The Greensboro Coliseum, on the other hand, was absolutely horrendous. The people who run the coliseum proved themselves to be thoroughly inept by staging a clusterfuck of epic dimensions. The list of potential grievances from Thursday’s concert is lengthy, including sound that was too loud by a factor of about a thousand, not nearly enough souvenir and concessions outlets, and not nearly enough intelligent people manning the few concessions outlets that were open.

Those complaints pale, however, when stood next to the indefensible decision to open the doors and let people into the coliseum’s entryways an hour before the seating area was ready for occupancy. The doors opened on schedule at 6:30. Those of us on the south side of the coliseum and the special events center were herded into a long, narrow entry hallway about 60 yards long. We were stuck in there until the main doors to the interior of the coliseum opened at 7:05. This corridor was not air-conditioned, and with several thousand people packed into that hallway, it got very hot, very quickly. After 35 minutes, it was downright uncomfortable.

McCartney draws fans of all ages. Many of the people in that hallway were senior citizens and aging Baby Boomers. Some did not fare well in the heat. Several standing near me got woozy, lightheaded and/or sick to their stomach. My wife got so lightheaded from the heat that she nearly fainted. After fighting it and nearly passing out, she had to go sit down on an umbrella rack along the side of the hallway. Several people nearby noticed her discomfort and asked if she was okay. It was that evident. I was genuinely concerned for her health and well-being. She was not the only one suffering from the conditions.

Once we were allowed into the main coliseum building, our problems continued because they still wouldn't let us into the seating area for another 25 minutes, until almost 7:30. So now we had many more thousands of people jammed in the coliseum’s concourses with nowhere to go. Concourses are designed to facilitate the movement of people from one point to another. They’re not intended to be a gathering spot, especially not for that many people. At least the concourse was air conditioned, but it was badly overcrowded. And remember, many of these people had just escaped a 35-minute imprisonment in a hot, overcrowded hallway. Some of them badly needed to get to their seats and get off their feet. Too bad, we were told. The seating area still was not ready. Deal with it.

They finally let us into the seating area at 7:30, a full hour after opening the doors. Whoever was running this circus violated one of the most obvious common-sense rules of staging an event like this — never open the doors and let people into an arena before the seating area is ready for occupancy. It takes a genuine idiot not to be able to figure that out. In my 45 years of concert-going, I’d never once seen that happen, until Oct. 30, 2014, at the Greensboro Coliseum.

Andrew Brown, public relations manager for the Greensboro Coliseum, responding to an email inquiry, said the decision not to open the seating area until 7:30 was because the band’s sound check ran late. If this is true — for the sake of argument we’ll pretend it is — it still doesn’t explain why the outer doors were opened and people were left to stand in an overcrowded and overheated entryway for more than a half-hour.

Once we got into the coliseum, two other problems quickly reared their ugly heads. First, the sound system was way too loud. As a result, the sound wasn’t nearly as clean as it could have been. Second, there weren’t nearly enough souvenir and concessions stands. The few that were open were badly understaffed. Lines were absurdly long. I waited in line 25 minutes just to buy a t-shirt and a concert program at a souvenir stand. That should never happen. The lines at the concessions stands were brutally long as well.

My wife and I don’t get to too many arena concerts, but we do go on occasion, so we have some experience for comparison. We saw McCartney at the Charlotte Coliseum in July 2010, and that was the gold standard for how to run a major concert. In addition to being in our seats no more than 10 minutes after the doors opened, the sound was absolutely perfect — not too loud but loud enough, and clear as a bell — and there were souvenir and concession stands open all over the building. The lines were short and the wait was brief.

We saw both Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty earlier this year at PNC Arena in Raleigh, Springsteen in April and Petty in September. Again, the concert experience for both blew away the Greensboro Coliseum. For both shows, we were in our seats within minutes of entering the building. The sound was terrific. There were ample souvenir and concessions stands. No one had to wait in line for more than a few minutes.

Brown said my complaint about the sound was the only one the coliseum has received, pointing out that it’s more the artist than the venue that sets the sound volume. Fair enough. I’m old and after a lifetime of abusing my ears with loud music, my hearing ain’t what it used to be. But again, the sound at the McCartney show in Charlotte in 2010 was perfect, as was the sound at the Springsteen and Petty shows in Raleigh earlier this year. My hearing didn’t just roll off the pier in the five weeks since Tom Petty played Raleigh.

I worked in college athletics for nearly 20 years. I’ve seen and been around for the planning of major events. It's not easy, but it’s not brain surgery, either. A group of high school students could have run that McCartney concert better than the intellectual lightweights who run the Greensboro Coliseum. The music made up for it, of course, but it shouldn't have to be a tradeoff, should it? Is it too much to ask — especially at more than $100 per ticket for the cheap seats — that the experience at the venue be as pleasing as the music itself?

Charlotte certainly met that standard when McCartney played there four years ago. PNC Arena did the same this year for both the Springsteen and Petty shows. All three of the aforementioned shows went off without a hitch for the concert-goer. Greensboro, meanwhile, came up embarrassingly short for Thursday night’s McCartney show. The music was life-changing. That cannot be overemphasized. The experience with the arena, however, could only lead one to conclude that the people who run the Greensboro Coliseum couldn’t find their own ass with both hands.

(Note: According to the Triad Business Journal, the delay in opening the doors may have been caused by the late arrival at the arena of Gov. Pat McCrory, who reportedly was the special guest of Louis DeJoy, CEO of New Breeds Logistics, which has a private suite near sections 109-111. If this unnecessary delay was so our only governor could arrive late and enter the arena without rubbing shoulders or otherwise mingling with The Great Unwashed, many of whom made the mistake of voting for him, well, no further comment at this time.)