Billy Joel and Elton John threw out the first notes at the Nationals' new ballpark this summer. Paul McCartney stepped up to the plate at the remade Shea Stadium in July. U2 will help break in the Dallas Cowboys' megahome next week.
So what are the chances that the new Twins park or Gophers stadium will be up and rocking with concerts by next summer?
Pretty good, at least in the case of the Gophers' TCF Bank Stadium, where rumors are flying like Adam Weber passes that U2's 2010 tour could be the kickoff rock show.
Target Field operators also say they are anxious to host concerts, but will likely hold off until 2011 to guarantee smooth operations (and untrampled grass) for the Twins' first season there.
Whenever they do let a rock act plug in, the new stadiums could sharply crank up the volume on the Twin Cities' summer concert season, which has long suffered from the lack of a sizable amphitheater and the inadequacy of the Metrodome as a music venue.
"Twin Cities music fans are going to experience a renaissance because of these stadiums," predicted Mark Campana, regional president at Live Nation's Chicago office.
Live Nation is the concert industry heavyweight that would bring many top names to town, including U2. Campana said talk of the Irish band landing on Gophers turf is just a rumor for now, but he did confirm that his company is strongly considering both the University of Minnesota stadium and Target Field as venues.
Big shows = big business
From the concert business perspective, the timing of the new stadiums could be as perfect as the Twins' trade for Orlando Cabrera.
Concert ticket sales remain strong while the rest of the music industry has been in free fall. Thus, many artists have hit the road to make their money -- and they have been making loads of it in stadiums. McCartney, U2, AC/DC, Kenny Chesney and the Billy/Elton tour enjoyed rocking business in stadiums this year despite the economy's deep funk, and the Stones, Madonna, the Police and Bon Jovi did well with them in recent years.
"There is a demand amongst the superstars of the concert industry to maximize the amount of people who can see them at one concert by performing in large stadiums, and that will of course include Minneapolis," said Jerry Mickelson, founder of Chicago's Jam Productions, another big player in Minnesota concerts.
Some of these superstars are long overdue to perform in the Twin Cities, too. Madonna, for instance, has not played Minnesota since her 1987 Metrodome concert was moved to the St. Paul Civic Center following slow ticket sales -- not long after the Dome's opening concert with Dylan and the Dead revealed its poor acoustics and general discomfort.
Several other stadium-level acts that have skipped the Twin Cities in recent years are well known to prefer concerts without roofs, including the Dave Matthews Band, Jimmy Buffett and Phish. All three performed in stadiums in Chicago this year, as did country kingpins Chesney and Rascal Flatts, who regularly sell out Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
"Using Chicago as an example, we had 10 stadium concerts this summer compared to about three to five in past years," Campana said. "So it's definitely a good time to have a new stadium."
The last Dome rock show was Metallica with Linkin Park in 2003. The rampant pyrotechnics (meant for outdoor stadiums) left fans choking on smoke fumes.
Booze and grass an issue
If both the performers and the promoters are gunning for Twin Cities stadium concerts, then what are we waiting for?
"We want to make sure we can pull it off the right way -- and without anybody destroying the place," Twins communications director Kevin Smith half joked.
Smith said Twins staffers attended a Madonna concert at San Diego's Petco Park last summer for research purposes. "They were shocked to see how trashed the field was," he said. Waiting a year or two will allow the grass to strengthen up for a quicker recuperation, plus traffic and noise levels will be better tested.
"We're going to be cautious about it, but we certainly intend to host concerts when we can under the right circumstances," Smith said.
Target Corp. executives, he said, are especially eager to host rock shows in their namesake venue since it could promote the company as a music retailer. The stadium's one big disadvantage will be the Twins' 81-game home schedule, which would take precedence over any concert dates.
TCF Bank Stadium will be more readily available, but it also might have a major downside if alcohol sales are prohibited at concerts, as they are at Gophers games.
The state law passed during the hubbub over booze sales at games stipulates that if alcohol is sold, it has to be sold throughout the stadium and not just in certain sections. The U's Board of Regents subsequently banned alcohol at Gophers games, but has yet to decide about concerts.
Jam Productions' founder said an alcohol ban would lessen the stadium's appeal to touring performers, who often enlist beer or liquor companies as sponsors. Conversely, the university would have less reason to host a concert, since alcohol sales are usually a big portion of a concert venue's profits.
"The U of M would be passing up a huge revenue generator," Mickelson said. "The amount of money that could be generated would help pay for the new stadium."
Phil Esten, U associate athletics director, said that the stadium's crew is going ahead with plans to host concerts, with or without beer lines.
"Concerts are a great way to show off this beautiful building, and the student population -- whom we primarily cater to -- definitely wants to see them added to the mix here," he said. Like the Twins, though, the university wants to test noise levels and work out any kinks before committing.
Esten would not directly address whether the goal is to fine-tune those logistics in time for U2 next summer. But he did say, "Who wouldn't want to see that? It's definitely the kind of experience we hope to offer."
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658