"To every musician out there, all I can say is get back in the game because it's the greatest feeling in the world."
Saturday was a day of major milestones in Las Vegas.
With July 10 weather hitting 117 degrees -- a tie for the hottest day ever in Clark County -- the day marked the triumphant return of full-capacity stadium concerts to the U.S. and the debut of full-capacity, no-restriction touring shows at the nation's newest stadium.
At around 8 p.m. inside Las Vegas' Allegiant Stadium, country legend Garth Brooks ushered in the moment the music industry and fans have been anticipating for 17 months: With no opening act, Brooks erupted onto the stage with fervor, a guitar and his band in tow, many whom have been with him for three decades.
Brooks took great pride in being a post-pandemic trailblazer, embracing the challenge of delivering a pivotal show for both fans and the industry.
"To every musician out there, all I can say is get back in the game because it's the greatest feeling in the world," Brooks said during the concert, at one point getting on his hands and knees to thank the audience.
The 28-song set, which is a continuation of what fans saw on his derailed 2020 tour, had Brooks and the crowd in a perpetual two-hour state of elation. He banged through all his hits and a few monumental covers including Billy Joel's "Piano Man" and George Strait's "Troubadour." In the final moments of the performance, he brought out his wife Trisha Yearwood for a cover of "Shallow," as well as "Walkaway Joe."
During a press conference on Friday, Brooks told Billboard that he was overjoyed to play "the Death Star" -- the nickname that fans have lovingly given Allegiant Stadium, the silver and black-domed home of the NFL's Raiders.
"If you're going to kick something off, this thing right here, 'the Death Star' is more famous than anybody that's going to play it," Brooks says. "You want to hang out at places where your name is smaller than the [venue]."
One of the top attractions of the "Stadium Tour" is its flat, 360-degree stage, which Brooks introduced right before the pause.
The forced hiatus gave Garth's live team a chance to retool this creation into something even better.
"The wings on the side were entirely too high. It cuts sightlines off from people and divided the stage. Now it's playing to everybody," he says, as well as giving his band the ability to pay to everyone. "They are all great entertainers. There's no way one guy and a cowboy hat can entertain that place. What it's going to take is every band member, every crew member."
Brooks' show at Allegiant was rescheduled several times due to the pandemic but when he heard the new date was July 10, he had no doubt it would finally happen.
"That's my mom's birthday," he says. "I also have to thank the people at Allegiant Stadium for taking the first step -- somebody had to do it. This place is amazing. Not a bad scene, you feel like something special is going on."
Inside Allegiant Stadium
Prior to both Brooks' show on July 10 and a one-off by DJ Illenium on July 3 -- put on by AEG, Life is Beautiful and Another Planet -- Billboard spoke with stadium executives about what to expect from the 65,000-capacity venue.
The team is comprised of veterans from all over the country and is helmed by stadium general manager Chris Wright, former vp and GM at AEG Facilities' Oakland Coliseum and Oracle Arena.
"Allegiant's concrete floor and retractable grass system expedites load in and load out, it's so much easier for a show from a production standpoint," he says. "In addition to that, Allegiant features massive retractable doors that offer both natural light and fresh air into the venue during the good weather months, plus the view. It gives you a real sense of place looking back out onto the Las Vegas Strip. The location is really second to none. Nobody has what we have across the street."
Cool features and location aside, what's metaphorically in the walls will make -- or break -- the Allegiant experience.
"From a technology perspective, we have a super hyper-converged network, which means we have a network that encompasses all the elements of the building -- music, video, boards, our IPTV system, Wi Fi, lighting system. When artists and production teams come in it makes things a lot easier, smoother, faster and quicker to implement anything and everything they want to do," says Vikrant Bodalia, vice president technology operations. "One of the unique components we have here is our DAZ implementation."
The round balls that line the roof are called MatSing ball antennas and they provide 5G DAZ coverage. "The majority of stadiums have four or five, we have total of 28 so it's going to give us that coverage and power for people to upload and download, simultaneously," Bodalia says.
Allegiant also offers a completely cashless environment, including mobile ordering, which was planned pre-COVID. In certain sections of the stadium you can order food and have it delivered, and Bodalia says they're working on other concepts to make food pickup as simple as possible.
Wright adds that they paid special attention to the club and suite levels, as well as general seating placement, to give the massive venue comfortable feel to it.
"Artists, managers, agents, promoters, the one consistent thing we hear from everyone is that it feels like you're in a large arena and not a stadium," he says. "Many stadiums are so large, that you just get the feeling that you're in a cavernous space."
Adds Michael Bess, vice president production, "Garth wanted to stage on the 30-yard line. We can do it the way the artist imagines it being done."
For production, trucks come in through elephant doors and offload directly onto the floor.
In order to seamlessly blend sports and entertainment, Allegiant went with a retractable turf model. Converting the venue from football to concert is a multistep process that takes about 24 hours. The stadium turf, which is made of recycled rubber, and also the field tray of natural grass for games are easily removed. Back of house, there are 16 200-amp plugins to provide enough power for all the tour buses, as well as dedicated rehearsal areas with full facilities.
Since the turf lives outside, Allegiant is able to have the darkest ETFE roof -- like a plastic membrane -- that's ever been made. But because of its bubble design, fans can expect to see the sun -- in a non-obtrusive way. On game days, there are no shadow lines on the field.
Las Vegas' entertainment strategy has long been the market where big artists come to perform to small crowds. But Allegiant seeks to rewrite that narrative. This is a city where A-list artists can come to perform to huge crowds.
The city's previous large-capacity venue, Sam Boyd Stadium, was built in 1971 and sits about 30 minutes from The Strip.
"This is an opportunity for artists to come and do something a little bit different. It's an opportunity to come and not do an underplay. And you're seeing it in all industries. Now, there's so much more going on in the city. Sports teams have moved here, and there is potential for other franchises. With the growth of the city, it can easily support a stadium and even the limited number of on sales that we've had so far demonstrate very quickly that a stadium in this market is ready to do very well," Wright says. "It's a destination market and people are looking for reasons to come here, we just have to give them good reasons. And we have an opportunity to do that here. We could do things here that nobody else can do."
Allegiant got around the lack of touring routes by hosting a one-off show earlier this month. Illenium was added in front of Brooks' July concert as a one-off performance tied to the release of his new album. This incubator strategy has legs beyond COVID-19, says Duc Nguyen, vice president booking.
"The past two or three years alone a lot of tours started in Las Vegas. They tried new ideas and it worked and then they rolled it out," Nguyen says.
Made pleasantly obvious during the Garth concert was just how comfortable the stadium was, temperature-wise, on a record-breaking day of heat.
"We can probably achieve pretty much any temperature right around seven degrees. We have over 30 tons of coolant in the building," says chief engineer Joe Wright. "In most spaces, we can make this very comfortable at any given time. But we do keep it right around 70 to 72."
And while it may be a whole lot cooler inside than outside, Chris Wright says he anticipates that the coming months will be very hot for business as well.
"'22 is going to be very busy and the second half of '21 depending on what markets you're in," he says. "There's a lot of traffic."