If You Build (Or Upgrade) It, They Will Come: 20 Venues To Watch

Cardi B
Justin Agoncillo @justnjames

Cardi B performed at the new Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles during the 2018 Rolling Loud festival. 

From the rooftop of a pier on New York’s East River to a soccer stadium with arena-quality sound in Los Angeles, the construction and upgrading of concert venues continues nationwide as live-music ticket sales reach an all-time high. Here are 20 of the most notable facilities in North America luring artists and their fans.

Concert Capacity: 23,000

The anchor venue of Milwaukee’s famed Summerfest, which marked its 50th anniversary in 2017, the American Family Insurance Amphitheater is undergoing a two-phase renovation through 2020. Ahead of this summer’s performances (June 26-30 and July 2-7), improvements will give the venue one of the largest and most flexible production rigs in the nation for sound and lights. Also planned: 19 top-line dressing rooms, new production offices, backstage dining facilities for 150 and nine loading docks able to accomodate 13 semitrailer trucks at one time. Before the 2020 season, the amphitheater will unveil expanded food and beverage options for fans, improved handicapped access and new hospitality and VIP areas.

Moncton, New Brunswick
Concert Capacity: 9,500 (in the round)

Drawing from a regional market of 1.4 million people (and within driving distance of Quebec City; Halifax, Nova Scotia; and Bangor, Maine), the new $110 million Avenir Centre opened in September and has since hosted performers such as Keith Urban and Jerry Seinfeld. The venue capacity can be cut down to serve an array of events, and on-site catering is available -- as is a skating rink in the arena’s outside plaza.

Los Angeles
Concert Capacity: 23,000

Designed as both a sports facility and a concert venue, with arena-like sightlines, sound quality, production capabilities and premium hospitality spaces, Banc of California Stadium debuted in 2018 as home of both the Los Angeles Football Club soccer franchise and the L.A. satellite of the Rolling Loud hip-hop festival. Among the headliners at Rolling Loud in the stadium Dec. 14-15 were Post Malone, Lil Wayne, Lil Uzi Vert and Cardi B. Stadium developer BOCS Entertainment is also able to stage festivals in surrounding Exposition Park and has rights to book concerts in the adjacent Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Concert Capacity: 8,000

One of the nation’s longest-running free summer festivals, the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival in 2018 booked acts including Brandi Carlile, anticipating her rise -- six months before she became the most nominated woman for the 61st Grammy Awards. For its upcoming 41st season, the festival is upgrading its backstage areas and installing a sound system with leading-edge technology.

New York
Concert Capacity: 5,500

New York’s largest free outdoor performing arts festival, CityParks SummerStage offers some 100 events in Manhattan’s Central Park and across 15 neighborhoods around the city for an annual audience of over 250,000. For its 2019 season, the festival’s flagship SummerStage venue will feature new staging, raised seating, increased lighting, a new sound system and upgraded backstage areas.

Fort Worth, Texas
Concert Capacity: 14,000

It’s not unusual for touring artists to compete with sporting events for venues. But at the new Dickies Arena, due to open in the fifth-largest city in Texas in November, only one nonmusical anchor tenant has a hold on dates: the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, held mid-January to early February. Concert dates are otherwise wide open, with one exception: Rodeo rider and Texas superstar George Strait is confirmed to perform on Nov. 22.

Washington, D.C.
Concert Capacity: 4,200

The least contentious news out of the nation’s capital in recent months might have been the launch of the Entertainment and Sports Arena, which opened Oct. 6 with a concert by Mary J. Blige, thereby establishing a new draw for visitors to the southeast side of town. The venue is the first phase of a development project expected to include retail, office space and residences, as well as a new practice facility for the NBA’s Washington Wizards.

Concert Capacity: 3,700

The late Bill Graham, the legendary promoter who opened the groundbreaking Fillmore West in San Francisco in the 1960s, teamed up with Denver promoter Chuck Morris to open the city’s Fillmore Auditorium in 1999. Live Nation, which now operates the venue, marks its 20th anniversary as a concert hall this year and has invested millions in the building (which originally opened in 1907 as a roller rink) to improve its sound, upgrade its air conditioning, create new entrances and add bathrooms.

Concert Capacity: 18,000

CJ Bown/Fiserv Forum
The distinctive architecture of Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum sets it apart.

Violent Femmes, Milwaukee’s own famed folk-punk band, opened for The Killers during the first concert at the Fiserv Forum on Sept. 4, 2018, staged nine days after members of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks welcomed a crowd of 50,000 to their new $524 million home. In October, the building hosted five sold-out events in five days, including concerts by Metallica, Foo Fighters, the Eagles and twenty one pilots, as well as the Bucks’ home opener. The celebration continued with the first MilROCKee Fest, staged in the plaza outside the venue.

Concert Capacity: 7,500

Levitt Pavilion Denver completed its first full year of outdoor programming in 2018 as the latest permanent venue funded in part by the Levitt Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to reinvigorating public spaces through the performing arts. Denver-based architects Joseph Montalbano and Jared Floyd designed the pavilion -- with tilt-up concrete side wings, a protruding steel roof canopy and an intertwining ribbon of metal mesh -- to resemble an unwrapped present when viewed from above. The gift of the foundation to the city of Denver is now hosting 50 free concerts a year and additional admission-based shows produced by Levitt partner Emporium Presents, now majority-owned by Live Nation.

Concert Capacity: 25,000-80,000

In its first full year of operation, the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in 2018 became a must-play for every artist on a stadium tour. Ed Sheeran, Jay-Z and Beyoncé, Taylor Swift and Kenny Chesney are among those who packed the building, playing through its more than 4,200 speakers while fans absorbed images from 82,500 square feet of LED video displays. The first professional sports stadium in the United States to achieve LEED Platinum certification for the sustainability of its design, the building collected over 70 tons of recyclable material during one month of events. While it offers the expected array of food and beverage options, ongoing customer surveys have confirmed the enduring popularity of the stadium’s $2 hot dogs, $3 pizza slices and $5 craft beers.

Columbia, Md.
Concert Capacity: 18,000

One of the country’s most storied amphitheaters, located between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Merriweather Post Pavilion, which opened in 1967 with an original design by Frank Gehry, is in the final phase of a five-year renovation. The venue has invested over $50 million to rebuild its backstage area (complete with a pool for artists) and add dressing-room suites, a VIP balcony overlooking the rotating Brazilian redwood stage, new pavilion seating and a higher roof to improve sightlines and the sound for fans on the lawn.

Edmonton, Alberta
Concert Capacity: 18,900

The newest arena among the 10 top-grossing venues in Canada (according to Billboard Boxscore), Rogers Place opened in 2016 as the home of the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers and centerpiece of a mixed-use sports and entertainment ICE District in downtown Edmonton, one of an increasing number of facilities anchoring urban centers. In its first two years of operation, Rogers Place has welcomed over 3.3 million fans and hosted shows by Paul McCartney, Jay-Z, Keith Urban, Rod Stewart -- and nine sellouts by Garth Brooks.

New York 
Concert Capacity: 3,400 (general-admission estimate)

Few outdoor venues can rival the setting of Rooftop at Pier 17, which debuted in 2018 on New York’s East River, where the Brooklyn Bridge serves as its backdrop. Booked by Live Nation, the facility hosted 23 artists during its inaugural season and had 18 sellouts, according to the venue. During the winter, the venue was converted into a skating rink.

Tacoma, Wash.
Concert Capacity: 20,000

The paint really was still drying on the Tacoma Dome’s fast-tracked renovation, reports the arena, when Drake’s sold-out performance on Nov. 1 christened the refreshed venue after a $31 million revitalization. Washington state’s largest indoor arena, with its iconic wooden roof, opened in 1983, and the upgrades, completed between June and November last year, have brought new seating and artist quarters, upgraded food and beverage options, additional loading docks -- and a 300 percent increase in the number of event-level restrooms.

Salt Lake City
Concert Capacity: 20,000

In 2018, during its first full 12 months of operation since the completion of a $125 million renovation, Vivint Smart Home Arena hosted many of the hottest tours of the year, including Justin Timberlake, P!nk, Maroon 5 and Shania Twain. Fans who had flocked to the arena for over 25 years to cheer the NBA’s Utah Jazz found, on the venue’s six levels, more than 30 restaurants and vendors, high-speed Wi-Fi and over 400 TV screens broadcasting court or stage action throughout the concourses.

Webster Hall
New York
Concert Capacity: TBA

One of the city’s most historic venues, the landmarked Webster Hall was built in 1886 and, according to The New York Times that year, was available for “balls, receptions, Hebrew weddings and sociables.” A concert hall since 1980, it was purchased in April 2017 by AEG and BSE Global, and closed that August for an estimated $10 million in renovations to its three performance spaces: the Grand Ballroom, Studio and Marlin Room. Webster Hall announced in January that the venue “will return in spring 2019.”

Global markets present new venue opportunities.

Antel Arena
Montevideo, Uruguay
Concert Capacity: 10,000

Pata Torres
Uruguay’s Antel Arena sets a new standard in South America.

Colombian reggaetón singer Maluma, Spanish singer-songwriter Joan Manuel Serrat and English soprano Sarah Brightman were among the first artists to play Antel Arena, which opened Nov. 18, 2018, with a celebration attended by Uruguay President Tabaré Vázquez. The arena, which is bathed in exterior lights that change color based on the type of event booked, is operated by AEG and one of the first multiuse entertainment/convention/sports facilities of its kind in South America.

Hull, England
Concert Capacity: 3,500

Even before their venue opened last August, the staff at the SMG Europe-operated Bonus Arena proved exceptionally adept at social media promotion. After a dis of the seaport town of Hull by Oasis co-founder Noel Gallagher was captured by a fan on Twitter, the arena countered with a tweet inviting Gallagher’s frequent nemesis, his brother Liam, to open the new building. “The tweet went viral -- 200,000 people reached on Twitter and 250,000 on Facebook -- without a single penny spent,” says head of sales and marketing Paul Savage. While Van Morrison ultimately played the venue’s first show on Aug. 30, “Liam’s visit in 2019 is hotly anticipated,” he says.

Aberdeen, Scotland
Concert Capacity: 12,500

Due to open in August as a $433 million replacement for Aberdeen’s existing exhibition and conference center, TECA will include performance spaces with capacities ranging from 1,700 to 12,500 fans; meeting, banquet and convention facilities; a 150-seat restaurant; and three on-site lodging options, including a Hilton and an Aloft Hotel. Operated by SMG, the venue already has announced a performance by Elton John in November 2020.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 16 issue of Billboard.