Saturday, October 23, 2004

Festival seats return tonight at pop concert



By C.E. Hanifin
Enquirer staff writer

At U.S. Bank Arena tonight, Green Day fans will be able to do something that hasn't been permitted, except for one time, at the venue for 25 years: Go without a reserved seat.

IF YOU GO
What: Green Day with New Found Glory and Sugarcult.
When: 7 p.m. today.
Where: U.S. Bank Arena, 100 Broadway St., Downtown.
Admission: $35; call Ticketmaster at 562-4949 or go to ticketmaster.com.
Information: Call (513) 421-4111 or go to www.usbankarena.com.
WHO DISASTER
In the years since the 1979 Who disaster, safety procedures at concerts have grown increasingly sophisticated, says Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of the industry trade publication Pollstar.

"Let's face it, U.S. Bank Arena is one of the last major-market arenas to not allow festival seating," he says. "We've proven that, if it's planned for, it can be as safe as any other arrangement."

That's the argument that U.S. Bank Arena brought to the city earlier this year, seeking to reinstate festival seating. City officials and venue representatives worked together to create a comprehensive safety plan, says Matt Dunne, vice president and general manager of U.S. Bank Arena.

The 1,500 people with general-admission tickets will come into the venue through a separate entrance, and no one from the reserved-seating area will have access to the floor. Doors will open two hours before the event, and city officials and security crews will patrol the arena to keep the crowd under control.

C.E. Hanifin

The punk-pop band's performance marks the first time since 1979 that festival seating will be available on a regular basis. About 1,500 people will have general-admission tickets, instead of reserved seats, that allow them to stand, move and dance freely on the venue's floor.

The city of Cincinnati banned festival seating after 11 people were trampled to death at a Who concert Dec. 3, 1979, outside what was then known as Riverfront Coliseum.

Since then, safety measures have improved industrywide, and the demand by artists and concertgoers for festival seating has grown, according to industry experts.

After City Council lifted the ban in August, U.S. Bank Arena was able to book Green Day and other major acts that require festival seating, says Matt Dunne, the venue's vice president and general manager. That means increased concert revenue for the city and more dynamic shows for musicians and their audiences, he says.

Other concerts that the venue could not have attracted without festival seating include a Nov. 6 show with teen popster Avril Lavigne, Dunne says, and a Nov. 7 performance by Velvet Revolver, a rock group featuring former members of Guns N' Roses.

U.S. Bank Arena likely has been the only major-market venue that in recent years did not offer festival seating, says Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of Pollstar, the concert industry trade publication.

"Some artists really feed off the energy of the crowd," he says.

"The last thing they want is for people to be sitting on their hands in the front row."

Springsteen exception

A desire to interact with the audience led Bruce Springsteen to insist that all dates on his 2002 tour include festival seating. City officials granted an exemption.

Andy Hittle, who had a general-admission ticket to Springsteen's local stop, says that getting close to the stage really enhanced his concert experience.

"I had seen Springsteen several times with crummy nosebleed seats," says Hittle, 32, who lives in Northside. "It was so cool to be down on the floor . . . it's nice to inject some energy back into these big rock 'n' roll concerts."

The Springsteen concert demonstrated that festival seating could be done safely, Cincinnati Fire Department Captain Joe Wolf says.Just as with that event, the Green Day show will be monitored by city safety officials.

A number of safety measures, all of which conform to national standards, have been put in place, Wolf says. Only those with general-admission tickets will be allowed access to the floor; the majority of the venue's seats will remain reserved tickets. The venue's security crew will make sure that moshing and other dangerous activities doesn't occur, he says.

"I think we've learned from what happened 25 years ago, and we've put what we've learned into place here. We're going to ensure that it doesn't happen again."

Good for music lovers

Bringing more big-name acts into U.S. Bank Arena will help promote Cincinnati as a great destination for music lovers, says Ray Buse, spokesman for the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce.

"Cincinnati's strength is very much art-oriented, and music is a large part of that," he says.

Festival seating makes checking out an event at U.S. Bank Arena a lot more enticing, says Hittle, who had to travel to Lexington and Indianapolis to see U2 three years ago.

"This is definitely good for local rock 'n' roll fans," he says.

E-mail chanifin@enquirer.com




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