The Best Arenas and Stadiums in America
For the last installment in a five-part series on great music venues, Rolling Stone polled 26 insiders and musicians – from top managers to Miranda Lambert – and came up with a list of the nation’s coolest arenas and stadiums. Read on for our expert panel’s picks, and visit our Venues that Rock page for an interactive map and much more.
By Steve Knopper
Corin Tucker (Corin Tucker Band, Sleater-Kinney)
Thomas Mars (Phoenix)
Britt Daniel (Spoon)
Mike McCready (Pearl Jam)
Patrick Stump (Fall Out Boy)
Sharon Osbourne (manager, Ozzy Osbourne)
Scott Rodger (manager, Paul McCartney and Arcade Fire)
Dennis Arfa (agent, Billy Joel, Metallica, Rod Stewart)
Jim Guerinot (manager, Nine Inch Nails and No Doubt)
Tom Windish (agent, numerous indie-rock acts)
Andy Cirzan (promoter, Jam Productions in Chicago)
John Scher (promoter in New York City, manager of Art Garfunkel)
Kelly Curtis (manager, Pearl Jam)
Daniel Glass (head of Glassnote Records)
Michael Rapino (Live Nation)
David T. Viecelli (agent, Arcade Fire, David Byrne/St. Vincent, many others)
Brian Ahern (agent, William Morris Endeavor)
Bob McLynn (manager, Fall Out Boy, Courtney Love, many others)
Bertis Downs (manager, R.E.M.)
Jake Schneider (manager, Bassnectar)
Andrew Cook (manager, Deadmau5)
MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey
The home of football's New York Giants and Jets, the 2.1 million-square-foot, 40-acre MetLife went up on hallowed concert ground in 2010. It's next to the site of the old Giants Stadium (now torn down) in the Meadowlands Sports Complex – home to legendary Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band shows beginning in the Eighties. Bruce finally played here last year (three shows, including one on his 63rd birthday), and so have Bon Jovi and Kenny Chesney. "Probably the best stadium for concerts in the country," says veteran New York promoter John Scher. At $1.6 billion, MetLife is reportedly the most expensive stadium in the world. But it wasn't funded by local taxpayers – the Jets and Giants themselves footed the bill.
Fun fact: Confusingly to everyone other than New Yorkers, the Mets have nothing to do with MetLife Stadium. (It's named after MetLife, the insurance corporation.)
Philips Arena, Atlanta
When billionaire Ted Turner, owner of the Hawks, opened the $213 million arena in 1999, it immediately transformed Atlanta's bland downtown and midtown areas. Giant business headquarters, revitalized parks and upscale restaurants opened in the surrounding areas, in addition to the arena's Hawk Walk, an entertainment-and-shopping zone that includes TV shows in every direction and basketball-shooting games. As for rock concerts, Elton John's sold-out show christened the arena in 1999, and U2, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Prince and Taylor Swift have followed. Why was it called Philips, and not Turner, Arena? Because the electronics giant paid $268 million for the naming rights. Turner sold it after five years.
Fun fact: Ricky Martin sold out the arena for a fall concert in 30 minutes just a few months before it opened.
Staples Center, Los Angeles
"That's where the Grammys are," says country star Miranda Lambert. "How can you not love that about it?" The Staples Center is also where the Los Angeles Lakers play, of course, as well as pretty much ever major performer touring the U.S. – Prince, Paul McCartney, U2, Jay Z and Taylor Swift, to name a few. And 2009, it's where the world paid tribute to the late Michael Jackson.
Capacity: 13,500 – 20,000
Fun fact: The downtown building site was originally a muddy area filled with squatters. After the $375 million arena went up, so did hundreds of condos, 200 bars and restaurants and a population surge from 18,000 to 50,000 people.
KFC Yum! Center, Louisville, Kentucky
Terrible name, great arena. (After the fast-food chicken chain bought the naming rights for $13.5 million, one local columnist wrote: “We’re going to have to retrofit the arena’s fountain nozzles to accommodate gravy.”) But the three-year-old, $238 million home of the University of Louisville’s sports teams is state-of-the-art everything, it’s built near a waterfall on the Ohio River and its glass façade, wavy interior ceilings and art installations give it a modern feel. It gets big-name headliners, too, and not just last year’s NCAA hoops champions. The Eagles played the first show here in October 2010; Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Bruce Springsteen, Carrie Underwood and Justin Bieber came later.
Fun fact: Populous, the stadium-designing specialists responsible for London’s Wembley Stadium, New York’s Yankee Stadium and numerous others, handled the architecture.
Bridgestone Arena, Nashville
Like L.A.'s Staples Center or New York's Madison Square Garden, Bridgestone pulls in big names in part because it's the biggest venue in the biggest music city in the region. The Country Music Association Awards return here November 6th, and headliners from Eric Clapton to the Black Keys to Jimmy Buffett provide the ongoing star power. Built in 1996, the former Nashville Arena is in many ways like any other sports arena, although artists revel in its high-tech effects and sound quality. "Their Jumbotron is the most tricked-out orgy of video screens I've ever seen," says Bassnectar.
Fun fact: A nine-cent tax increase funded the $120 million arena.
Yankee Stadium, New York
Only the biggest megastars headline Yankee Stadium. Since it re-opened in a new Bronx location in 2009, Madonna, Paul McCartney, Jay Z, Justin Timberlake and Roger Waters have played here. And let's just say the artists don't phone in their performances. An inspired Madonna told the crowd during her MDNA tour, "I'm a New Yorker too!" McCartney went off his usual script to joke,"Who is this Derek Jeter guy? Somebody said he's got more hits than me." And there's no better place to see Jay Z perform "Empire State of Mind" (except maybe the Barclays Center).
Fun fact: The new stadium cost $1.5 billion to build, overshadowing the Mets' new Citi Field, built the same year.
Barclays Center, Brooklyn
Jay Z inaugurated his home borough's new arena with a string of triumphant shows last fall, wearing a Brooklyn Nets jersey as he joined the crowd in toasting "a celebration of the place where I'm from." Barclays is the first major sports arena in Brooklyn – and it's quicky become a major draw, attracting acts like the Stones, Paul McCartney, Leonard Cohen, Rihanna, Vampire Weekend, Phoenix and more.
Fun fact: Building the arena cost $1 billion.
Fenway Park, Boston
Some Red Sox fans believe Bruce Springsteen singlehandedly lifted the 86-year Curse of the Bambino when he and the E Street Band performed at Fenway in September 2003. A year later, the Red Sox won the World Series after coming from behind to beat the Yankees in the playoffs. Springsteen's rock show was the first concert at Fenway since 1973, when Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles performed at the Newport-New England Jazz Festival. Since then, the historic ballpark has welcomed monster acts from the Stones and the Police to Aerosmith and – yep – Springsteen again, who played the Standells' Boston classic "Dirty Water" as an encore.
Fun fact: The Sox website claims Fenway stopped concerts because of "violence" at the 1973 jazz festival starring Wonder and Charles. Thirty years later, the festival's organizer, George Wein, had a more straightforward explanation: "We lost money."
Wrigley Field, Chicago
The famous vine-covered baseball stadium in the heart of Chicago's North Side finally allowed rock shows in 2005, when longtime Cubs fan Jimmy Buffett took the stage in center field. Since then, acts like the Police, Elton John and Billy Joel, Dave Matthews Band, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney and, this summer, Pearl Jam, have followed Buffett's lead. "It's where Ed [Vedder] used to go see the Cubs play when he was a young boy," says Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready. "We're all stoked about that."
Fun fact: Buffett, Vedder, Billy Corgan, Fall Out Boy's Patrick Stump and Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne are among the people who have sung "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh-inning stretch at home Cubs games.
Madison Square Garden, New York
"There aren't many venues that make a difference, but the Garden does," says top agent Dennis Arfa, who reps Billy Joel and Metallica. With its prime Manhattan location and a surprisingly intimate vibe, it's no wonder Bruce Springsteen has played here 44 times since 1978. Other stars who have touched down here include Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Elton John, James Brown, Madonna and Swedish House Mafia, among many – basically everyone who's anyone. "The public pays to go there," adds Arfa. "I tell my artists: 'MSG may be more expensive, but in return you get back more tickets at a higher price.'"
Fun fact: The current building, in midtown Manhattan, is the fourth to be called "Madison Square Garden." It opened in 1968 with an event starring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.
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