Singing for the Fences: Behind the Scenes of Major League Stadium Concerts

Why ballpark shows from stars like Madonna and Kenny Chesney are taking off this season

Paul McCartney
Myrna Suarez/Getty Images
Paul McCartney performs at the Billy Joel 'Last Play At Shea' Concert at Shea Stadium in New York City.
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Baseball season is finally in full swing – but the crack of the bat, umpires calling strikes and vendors hawking hot dogs, popcorn and beer aren’t the only sounds one hears at the old ballpark. With the new baseball season comes a new concert season, and in 2012, several Major League venues will host shows featuring artists as diverse as Kenny Chesney (Angels Stadium), Roger Waters (Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park and Citizens Bank Park) and Madonna (Yankee Stadium).

One of the appeals of the ballpark concert experience is the energy of a large arena show held within the more intimate feel of a baseball stadium. And when major acts perform in these venues, their colleagues take notice and want to follow suit. In 2010, the Dave Matthews Band performed at Citifield (the new home of the Mets, which opened in 2009), and Dave Howard, Executive Vice President of Business Operations for the New York Mets, says part of the reason the group expressed interest in performing was because of Paul McCartney’s shows, which were the first concerts in the new space.  The Mets organization wanted McCartney as a sort of bridge to the history of concerts at Shea, including the historic 1965 performance by the Beatles. "We had three great shows," says Howard. "It was one of those awesome experiences, to witness that level of excitement and energy and history."

Ballpark stadium shows also allow the venues to make their spaces more profitable. After all, teams play 81 games on the road, and filling the seats during off times can help fill coffers. New York Yankees COO Lonn Trost says that when the team decided to build a new stadium in 2006, they took non-baseball events into consideration when planning. "We concluded that the stadium should be used 365 days a year," he says, pointing out that Yankee Stadium also hosts events for soccer, football, boxing and other events. The first concert in the new Yankee Stadium was in 2010, a year after the park opened for baseball – two nights of a double headlining bill featuring Jay-Z and Eminem. "I figured that was a good way to start," Trost says. That year, the hip-hop stars also played two nights at Detroit’s Comerica Park, home of the Tigers.  
This year, Yankee Stadium will host Madonna for two nights in September. Trost says that the impetus for booking acts boils down to a simple formula: "Big name, what’s important at the time, what we think works with the stadium." 2012 is already booked at Yankee Stadium – "we’re looking ahead to 2013," Trost says. "Yankee Stadium is the cathedral of baseball. We hope to make it the cathedral of concerts."

The Mets and the Boston Red Sox, meanwhile, are still talking to some artists about performing at their parks this season. Red Sox COO and Executive Vice President of Business Operations Sam Kennedy discussed the quirks of putting on concerts in 100-year-old Fenway Park, which is the smallest and oldest park in the league. "It’s a challenging facility to work at," Kennedy says, because of the space constraints and there being only one roll-up door in center field to load in equipment. "It’s a different flavor of ice cream than a multi-purpose stadium with 70,000 people," he says.

Fenway Park also will also host acts that might not be on the level of mega-fame of a Bruce Springsteen or Paul McCartney, but who are better known locally. Last year, the park hosted the Dropkick Murphys for two nights. The Red Sox and the Murphys have a long history together. Former Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon used their song "Shipping up to Boston" as entrance music. The band has performed in the park before games and at fan rallies, but it had never done an actual concert at Fenway.

For Dropkick Murphys lead singer Ken Casey, the performance was a special experience. "It wasn’t so much the size or the spectacle. It was that this is the place I was going since I was a little kid," he says. His grandfather was friends with Sox legend Johnny Pesky, so Casey spent his childhood running around on the field after games, and when he hit the stage, memories came flooding back. "It all kind of came full circle," Casey says. 

All the memories of the experience weren’t necessarily happy. "I got my car stolen," Casey recalls.  "[The team] suspected it was a fan that stole it and then realized it was mine," he says. "The Red Sox actually paid to get it detailed and everything, so it really worked out in my favor."

"He was a very good sport about it," Kennedy says. "For the record, we recovered it."

So as the season begins and fans hear the music of Roger Waters, Madonna, Kenny Chesney and others flooding the ballpark, there is one act that even the "cathedral of baseball" can’t manage to procure, and it’s not just because their tour is over.

"We can’t do U2," says Yankee COO Lonn Trost. "The stage is too big."

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