VIEWPOINT: Sounding out new stadium was painful

September 22, 2008

During the Kenny C h e s n ey / Ke i t h Urban concert on Sept. 13, Lucas Oil Stadium passed its first test as a concert venue. Not acoustically-the sound ranged from barely acceptable to awful, depending on where you sat-but customer service-wise.

Anticipating some problems, stadium management had set aside a number of seats for people who complained. When I went to the first-floor ticket window, they replaced my seats in Section 635-upper level, rear of the stadium-with ones in Section 109 (first level, side of the stage).

The sound was somewhat better there. Emphasis on somewhat.

I'm not an acoustician, but I've been to more than 1,200 concerts (including Bruce Springsteen's nightmarish show that opened Conseco Fieldhouse), so I have some experience. What follows are recent entries from my diary:

7:10 p.m.: Arrived at stadium. Missed the opening acts, so didn't hear what the stadium sounded like with the roof closed (can only imagine). Hiked to my seats in Section 635 in time to see Urban come onstage. Sat through three "songs" of ear-splittingly loud mud and thud. People are applauding. Just wondering: Are they clapping for the music or the momentary respite from the noise?

7:35 p.m.: Moved down to Section 527 on the opposite end of the stadium from the stage. Heard Urban sing something about "birds of a feather." Those were the only words I could understand.

7:40 p.m.: Took the escalator to the 300 level. Actually could hear a little bit in Section 320 (opposite end of the stadium, slightly to stage left).

8 p.m.: Finagled my way into Section 115 (first level, stage left, about halfway back). Not bad. Still too loud, vocals buried in the mix. But as they say, when a donkey flies, you don't criticize it for not staying in the air very long.

8:23 p.m.: Wandered the hallways. Chatted with the women who were distributing wristbands to people who had seats on the floor. They told me about the option of exchanging tickets. Bless them.

8:24 p.m.: New seats!

8:28 p.m.: Arrive in Section 109. Apparently, music is being played onstage. Who knew?

9:27 p.m.: Kenny Chesney takes the stage. Uh-oh. Overly loud. Lots of distortion. Hard to hear the vocals.

9:45 p.m.: Back to Section 115. Sound is marginal, vocals are still difficult to discern. Good thing fans know all the words. They're going to need them.

10 p.m.: Head to the exit. Can hear the concert two blocks away. Sounds better out here.

4:50 p.m. Monday: Console myself with a conversation with Barney Levengood, executive director of the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium, who reminds me that, prior to this, the last stadium-sized concert in Indianapolis was 'NSync in 2001 at the RCA Dome. Before that, it was Billy Joel and Elton John, also at the Dome, in 1995.

Saturday night's sound, he said, "is an issue that we've heard about, we're going to take seriously and we're going to chat with those who designed the building and also those who man the soundboard and see if there are things that can be improved upon."

Since we probably have six or seven years before there'll be another show this size, there's plenty of time to fix the problems.



Allan is a local freelance writer and music critic.
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