During the run-up to the 2010 election, which created what became Pinnacle Bank Arena, there was much consternation that Lincoln couldn't draw the kind of major concerts or ticket sales promised by the arena's boosters.
After all, Omaha’s Qwest Center was just 60 miles up Interstate 80 and had established itself as a strong concert venue. And Lincoln, with its population of 250,000, is a mid-sized market in the concert world, most of which don’t have the support to consistently attract top-end shows.
Eight years later, and five years into the arena’s operations, those fears have proved to be unfounded.
The concerts have come — 73 in total — and so have the crowds. The arena has sold 1,139,822 tickets with $71,181,717 in total sales.
And the shows have featured many of the biggest names in music: Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Eric Church, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Odesza, Kendrick Lamar, Kenny Chesney, Pink, Jay-Z, Carrie Underwood, Metallica, Cher, Pearl Jam, Rush and Garth Brooks.
“You’re a great crowd, and this is a great place,” McCartney said during his July 14, 2014 concert. “I love this place. ... It’s great. It’s a great venue. It really sounds good.”
McCartney isn’t alone in his praise. Brooks raved about playing there — and how it felt like a far smaller place — the Saturday after the first of his five October 2017 shows at the arena. And, almost to an artist, those praises have been echoed after each show.
Pinnacle Bank Arena has developed a reputation among artists, agents, promoters and crews as a great place to put on a show, and Lincoln is seen as a concert market that punches far above its weight.
The reason the arena is such a good place for shows goes back to the building’s design, which began eight years ago, and its construction from 2011 to 2013.
“The building was built to be basketball-centric, where it wasn’t as wide and wasn’t as long as arenas built for hockey and multiple use,” said arena manager Tom Lorenz. “Our seating is more vertical, so it feels like you’re more on top of the floor, no matter how high you are. So the artist feels, even if 15,000 are packed in here, that it’s a very intimate setting.”
But the arena incorporates much more than just basketball-centric seating, Lorenz said: "The building was designed to do major concerts."
The concert-friendly design and construction begins outside, with the loading dock at the north end of the building. That dock was built to allow four trucks to unload and load at a time. And the loading dock is just 90 feet from where the stages are erected.
That multiple truck docking and proximity to the stage saves time — at least an hour per truck — money and effort, said Don Adams, the arena's production manager.
Next is the steel grid that was installed 90 feet above the stage. With each of the 20-square-foot bays capable of holding 20,000 pounds of sound and light scaffolding and equipment, the arena has a 160,000 pound over-stage capacity — more than is needed for nearly every show on the road.
And, when utilizing all of the grid, that capacity goes beyond 200,000 pounds. That allowed the arena to present Metallica as designed when the heavy-metal icons brought their show's 240,000 pounds of “dynamic weight” to Lincoln in September.
“A lot of buildings couldn’t do the show or would have had to bring in extra steel,” Lorenz said. “We got everything they had up in the air. That really completes the show.”
As for the sound praised by McCartney, Brooks and many others, that starts with the design as well.
The design incorporated soundproofing into the building’s ceiling, aimed at preventing sound from bouncing around. And that feature wasn't eliminated from the construction budget, which often happens with arena projects.
The soft, cloth-covered seating also plays a role, absorbing sound rather than reflecting it.
The arena also has “the luxury of us being a full house, a full house sounds better than an empty house," Adams said.
It isn't just the building. Lorenz and Adams also credit the crew for contributing to the arena's reputation. IATSE union members put together the shows, rigging the sound and lights high above the arena, while arena staff respond to artist requests, set up the backstage and, when requested, organize catering for the artist and crew.
It is notable that, with the exception of smoke from the stage triggering a fire alarm during Jay-Z’s 2013 show, the arena has experienced no production issues in its first five years.
Pinnacle Bank Arena is accommodating enough that the Zac Brown Band, Eric Church and Odesza have used it for rehearsals before beginning tours, then launched those tours with Lincoln shows.
That, too, is a result of more than just the building. It’s related to hotels, restaurants and bars around the area where the bands and crews can comfortably stay and patronize when they’re not at work.
For example, members of the Zac Brown Band and their crew stayed at the Graduate Hotel during their June rehearsals.
“I think when they started setting up the tour, they called and asked if Pinnacle was open for the amount of time we needed,” multi-instrumentalist Clay Cook said during that visit. “They said certainly it was. ... We loved it the last time we were here. It’s cool for our crew to get to home here for a couple weeks. I got in and was able to hang out last night and enjoy some of the college life.”
Major arena milestones
Dec. 15, 2004
The city releases the Convention, Sports and Leisure study to the public, identifying a spot adjacent to Lincoln’s main post office as its preferred site among five for a 12,000-seat arena that’s estimated to cost $50 million.
The economic downturn put plans on hold for a couple years before the topic re-emerged, albeit in a much larger form.
Jan. 9, 2008
The arena committee announced its choice for a potential arena would indeed be in the West Haymarket. Both the Vision 2015 group and University of Nebraska-Lincoln leaders involved in the project supported the decision.
Shortly thereafter, Mayor Chris Beutler promised to take an initiative to Lincoln voters to determine if they wanted to pay for a facility — forecast to cost between $200 million and $300 million — that would rival what was then known as Qwest Center Omaha and replace Pershing Auditorium.
Feb. 9, 2010
Though Beutler had originally indicated voters would have their say on a potential new arena during municipal elections in the spring of 2009, it took until 2010 for the Lincoln City Council to agree to put a portion of the financing up for a public vote.
Following a parade of testimony — most of which was in support — the council voted to put a $25 million funding question on the 2010 primary ballot. At the same meeting, council members approved plans to include UNL in the joint public agency that would help finance the arena and for the Husker men’s and women’s basketball teams to play in the city-owned arena.
May 11, 2010
By a 56-44 margin, Lincoln voters approved a $25 million general obligation bond — the public portion of the financing, to go along with $319 million in bonds issued by the JPA to build a 16,000-seat arena in the West Haymarket area in what was the largest public works project in the city’s history, at a total cost of $344 million.
With its passage came two taxes to help pay for the arena construction and maintenance — 2 percent surcharges on restaurant and bar sales and 4 percent taxes on hotel rooms and car rentals — and plans to build an entertainment district across the street that later became known as the Railyard.
Nov. 16, 2010
Lincoln’s downtown footprint shifts, as construction equipment begins work on the West Haymarket arena site. The former site of railroad tracks began its transformation from a blighted area into a crown jewel of the city center.
For nearly three years, it underwent the metamorphosis that converted a remnant of the heavy industry that once abutted downtown Lincoln to the west to an arena with rounded edges and distinctive silver paneling around its upper levels.
Dec. 6, 2011
Beutler announces the West Haymarket arena will be named Pinnacle Bank Arena. The agreement calls for the bank to pay $11.25 million for the naming rights for 25 years, with the option to renew.
"We're happy with the name,” said arena coordinator and former City Councilman Dan Marvin that day. “We think it reflects the direction that Lincoln is going."
Sept. 13, 2013
Michael Bublé opened Pinnacle Bank Arena on Friday the 13th, with a rousing show for a sold-out crowd. The concert featured plenty of his own numbers, in addition to songs by Frank Sinatra, the Beatles, Jackson 5, Daft Punk, Van Morrison and Nat King Cole.
He was the first of many performers in the building to pay homage to the Huskers, revealing a No. 13 jersey beneath his tuxedo during the concert.
“I feel honored you chose me to open this up,” he told the inaugural crowd.
Dec. 1, 2013
An hour into rapper Jay Z’s concert, the power went out — the first mishap in Pinnacle Bank Arena’s short existence.
For 40 minutes, the high-energy show ground to a halt until the lights shined once again. He returned to the stage — wearing a No. 93 Blackshirts jersey — for what the Journal Star’s review called at the time “the liveliest Pinnacle Bank Arena show yet.”
“We turned up too loud in Nebraska,” Jay Z told the crowd. “We broke the (expletive) building. I appreciate every one of you in the building that stayed and rocked with me.”
March 9, 2014
Nearly five years later, the three-word name still elicits fond memories from Nebrasketball fans: No-Sit Sunday.
Before an electric record crowd of 15,998, the Husker men’s basketball team upset No. 9 Wisconsin 77-68 en route to an at-large NCAA tournament berth, the team’s first — and only — since 1999. No event at the facility, before or after, can claim larger attendance.
March 31, 2014
Though the Nebraska women’s basketball team was upset one game shy of playing on its home floor in the Lincoln Regional, the Sweet 16 round went on. Eventual national champion UConn emerged from the four-team field over BYU, Texas A&M and DePaul.
"All we heard before we came here was how amazing the facilities and the people were,” Huskies coach Geno Auriemma told the crowd after cutting down the nets. “If I have anything to do with it, we'll be back."
He was a man of his word. UConn returned to Lincoln on Dec. 21, 2016, and secured an 84-41 victory over the Huskers.
Jan. 17, 2015
In more than four decades of touring, Fleetwood Mac encountered a first in Lincoln.
The iconic rockers were unable to finish the show after founder and drummer Mick Fleetwood fell ill during the concert. After he went backstage to throw up, the band played two more songs, abruptly ending the show at 90 minutes — nearly an hour shorter than it had been running elsewhere.
Singer Stevie Nicks had promised a show and a half on the band’s return to Lincoln, which came last month. This time, Fleetwood completed a full 24 songs and 2½ hours of music.
May 21, 2015
The largest crowd ever to see a concert at Pinnacle Bank Arena, eclipsing the previous record set in 2013 by Elton John, rocked out to 28 songs by Eric Church.
According to Church’s website, the concert drew 15,823 people — making it the most attended event in arena history that wasn’t a Husker men’s basketball game. The country star entertained the packed house for 2 hours and 15 minutes, acknowledging early in the show that they were making history together.
“We’re in a place that has been very, very good to me,” he told the audience. “Tonight, you have broken a record. There have never been more people in this arena than there are tonight. That means we’re going to be here for a long time and play a lot of songs.”
Church later opened his 2017 “Holdin’ My Own” tour in Lincoln, noting that the attendance and energy were major reasons for that decision.
March 24, 2018
The show went on for Lorde — but it wasn’t without a close call.
The singer from New Zealand asked her fans on social media if she should go ahead with her Lincoln show if the full stage performance — one she’d designed herself and considered an integral part of her live performance — was unable to arrive in time for the concert. A snowstorm and a wreck elsewhere stranded one of her equipment trucks en route to Pinnacle Bank Arena.
More than 100 people encouraged her to take the stage regardless. In the end, the momentary panic was for naught, as the truck arrived 45 minutes before the doors opened, and the lighting in it was installed during an intermission between the opener, Run the Jewels, and the headliner.
Sept. 6, 2018
Metallica didn’t set the record for largest crowd in what was the closest thing to a fifth-anniversary concert, but it was the largest show in arena history in terms of weight.
The hard rockers hung 100 tons of audio and visual equipment from the rafters in their first-ever appearance in Lincoln. Few venues could withstand the stress of supporting that much weight, but Pinnacle Bank Arena was built with such A-list displays in mind.