Friday, June 16, 2000

Speedway's layout attracts Metallica

By Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Speed is almost as important in the concert business as it is in car racing. Speed of set-up that is, when dealing with a road crew that needs to assemble and tear down a huge concert stage and complex light and sound production equipment and scaffolding as fast as possible. That's one big reason the new Kentucky Speedway was picked by Metallica's concert promoters for the veteran hard-rock band's “Summer Sanitarium” mega-tour.

        This show makes the Speedway the Tristate's newest — and biggest — concert venue.

Ky. Speedway
Special Coverage

        Kentucky Speedway general manager Mark Cassis says concerts will play an important part of the facility's schedule.

        “You're going to see a lot of musical entertainment,” he promises. “When you've got this kind of facility — we can park 35,000 cars, we can comfortably put 100,000 people in here — we're going to be doing concerts, business conferences, anything we can do year-round to generate dollars.”

        “From a production standpoint it's great,” says Dan Kemer, spokesman for Cleveland-based Belkin Productions, promoter of Metallica's July 8 Speedway date.

        The biggest summer concerts usually go the way of 'N Sync or the George Strait tour and play stadiums. But though stadiums are fine in terms of loading in and out, they force promoters to work around busy baseball schedules and offer little flexibility in placing the audience.

        The other traditional option has been to hold the concert on a big, bare area of land, such as Buckeye Lake outside Columbus, where the Grateful Dead and Jimmy Buffett have performed. But in those situations, promoters have to haul in everything, from toilets to phone lines to production trailers. Expenses and headaches are increased accordingly.

        “There aren't a whole lot of places where you can go and do 60,000 people in an open field event,” says Mr. Kemer. But a speedway is a perfect compromise, he adds. “You've got a lot of housing (offices, dressing rooms and other infrastructure) right there, so it's not like you're going into a wide open field. And you've got an option. You've got the stands if you want to sit and and you've got the open infield if you want to hang out on the lawn.”

        Metallica agrees. Four of the 12 dates of its “Summer Sanitarium Tour” are being held at race tracks. In addition to the July 8 show here, the band plays North Carolina's Rockingham Dragway on July 1; July 3, it's St. Louis' Gateway International Speedway; July 22, “Summer Sanitarium” hits the Chicago Motor Speedway.

        The setup for Summer Sanitarium will place the stage at the north end of the infield facing the infield and pit row. Tickets are general admission, so fans can sit where they choose.

        “With a mile-and-a-half of track, we've got a huge infield,” Mr. Cassis says. “We've got a couple acres of grass in there. We can put 40,000 people just in the grass infield alone, with another 20,000 in the stands.”

        Few shows are big enough to draw those numbers. But the Speedway will also be doing smaller, race-related shows, such as former Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh's concert (See Nightbeat in Weekend) on open day Saturday, done in conjunction with a day of racing. A country music event is planned for October.

        With as many as 60,000-plus Metallica fans expected, security is a concern for the concert, which begins at 4 p.m. and is expected to end at midnight.

        Along with Metallica, two of the biggest acts on today's hard-rock scene will play — Korn and rap-metal king Kid Rock — along with up-and-comers System of a Down and Powerman 5000.

        Mr. Cassis said that security people provided by Metallica and Belkin, together with uniformed Kentucky and local police will mean a combined force of around “a couple hundred” will be on hand to keep order in what's expected to be a pretty rowdy crowd.

        “We're gonna learn from this experience, there's no question about it,” says Mr. Cassis with a laugh. “People have said to me, "Oh my god, Metallica?' But we're brand-new and we've got to get started. It's a big one, but we're gonna dive right in with both feet.”

        It should be worth the trouble. Metallica's “Summer Sanitarium” could sell as many as 65,000 tickets at the Speedway, grossing more than $4 million. That's a good day at the track by any standard.


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