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Eagle editorial: Arena needs musical variety

  • Published Friday, Dec. 20, 2013, at 12 a.m.

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In its nearly four years of life, Intrust Bank Arena has proved its power to draw one big country crowd after another. But the scarcity of other kinds of acts remains a major disappointment. So does the reluctance of promoters to even give Wichita a chance to demonstrate its taste for arena-scale rock, rap, pop and R&B.

“Success for one type of show breeds more of that type of show,” A.J. Boleski, the arena general manager for private firm SMG, recently told The Eagle’s Deb Gruver.

But bookings are based on the arena’s track record, and crowds can’t turn out for acts that aren’t playing Wichita because promoters have written off the market as country-only. It’s a cycle of frustration.

And apparently Wichitans didn’t do themselves any favors on Dec. 1, when John Mayer drew fewer than 7,000 arenagoers. That house needed “a couple thousand more,” according to Boleski. “If you want Justin Timberlake, you’re going to have to start somewhere,” he said. “It’s about supporting a John Mayer.”

Really? Is the turnout for Mayer, who is a singular artist, a fair reflection of the local appetite for all pop?

Meanwhile, a lot of big names are passing up the Sedgwick County-owned arena while playing other regional markets that don’t seem all that different demographically or even in total population.

The Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City hosted Rihanna and Pearl Jam last month and Jay Z on Wednesday. The Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., saw concerts this month by Kanye West (who admittedly drew what was described as a “meager crowd” of 4,500) and Drake.

The BOK Center in Tulsa hosted Timberlake in November and Jimmy Buffett in December, and the Tulsa World this week was able to also reflect on 2013 concerts by Justin Bieber, the Who and Paul McCartney. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis recently played Omaha’s CenturyLink Center, which expects to see Timberlake, Miley Cyrus and Bruno Mars in 2014.

Avenged Sevenfold played Oklahoma City and Omaha this fall, while Pink wowed crowds in both Kansas City and Little Rock.

Yes, Intrust Bank Arena hosted Kid Rock and the Eagles in 2013, along with some of country’s biggest stars (as usual). Earlier this year it was the 33rd busiest arena in the nation based on tickets sold, according to Pollstar magazine. The arena also has become an exciting place to see basketball as well as hockey, including the sold-out NBA game in October, last weekend’s Shockers-Tennessee matchup and, on Saturday, the contest between Kansas State and Gonzaga.

The area also draws a diverse lineup of musical acts to smaller venues, including Hartman Arena, the Kansas Star Casino Arena, the Orpheum Theatre and the Cotillion.

But part of the promise of contracting with SMG to operate the arena was the private management company’s access to big stars and tours.

Wichita needs and deserves many more opportunities to show that its musical tastes don’t begin and end with country.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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