After an entertainment drought that has drawn stadium owners much criticism about how the ballpark has been used since 2003 — when Bruce Springsteen played the venue's last concert — many South Siders were wondering: Will there ever be more concerts at the Cell?
Ed Komenda talks about the history of concerts on the South Side.
The Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, the government agency that runs the ballpark, hopes there will be, while the White Sox are reserving judgment.
“We’ll see,” said Brooks Boyer, White Sox senior vice president of sales and marketing. “We’ll assess with the [sports facilities authority] how the event goes. If this works, and the support is there from the community for shows and acts like this, we’ll continue to look at them for sure.”
Lou Bertuca, CEO of the sports facilities authority, is more optimistic.
“This is the first shoe to drop for concerts,” he said. “This is the first step up the mountain, but it’s a heck of a first step.”
One of the Cell's concert booking hurdles is persuading bands to play there. Considering the rich history of concerts at Old Comiskey Park, that might be hard to believe.
Did you know The Beatles played two shows there on Aug. 20, 1965?
In 1978, it was The Eagles and AC/DC. In 1983, The Police played a show four days before Simon and Garfunkel took the stage. And on three nights in October 1984, Michael Jackson performed hits from his albums "Thriller" and "Victory."
Bruce Springsteen played the Cell's last concert in 2003, one of only two shows booked at the ballpark since it opened in 1991.
There have since been religious meetings — Joel Osteen rented the Cell in 2011 — and boxing matches. Osteen's religious gathering netted the sports facilities authority $177,000, according to its website. The Springsteen show and a Rolling Stones performance in 2002 exceeded $1 million.
Tickets are now on sale for a a Nov. 9 college gridiron matchup at the Cell between Northern Illinois University and Toledo, the first football game in the park's history — an event the authority expects to draw hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue.
Officials from the authority said there are only 20 to 25 bands on tour every summer that could fill the ballpark.
“Remember, there’s not many acts that can fill a stadium of this size,” Bertuca said. “To fill a stadium, you have to be a popular act.”
With other concert venue options all over the city, including Wrigley Field, Soldier Field and Northerly Island, arena-packing acts don’t often look to the South Side for a place to play.
“There’s certainly cachet to Wrigley, where our facility might not have that certain cachet,” said Boyer, who said he hopes September's music festival will catch the attention of top talent. “I think Chance will likely start a trend of looking at our venue for some entertainers.”
The Rolling Stones stage setup at Comiskey Park in 2002. [Illinois Sports Facilities Authority]
The Magnificent Coloring Day festival was a long time in the making.
The sports facilities authority approached Madison House Presents, the show's organizer, last summer to talk about putting on an event at the Cell.
Chance the Rapper played a large role in making it happen. The Chatham native has a close relationship with the White Sox, appearing in commercials and designing some special hats for the Sox this year.
"This is a game-changer for the facility," Bertuca said.
Bertuca and White Sox leaders hope the festival will show marquee acts that U.S. Cellular Field is a venue to consider.
“Once people come in and see how accessible our stadium is,” Bertuca said, “I think there’s going to be a lot of demand for this.”
Keeping the team happy
Though the sports facilities authority runs U.S. Cellular Field, the White Sox wield a lot of power in the planning of events.
Preparing the Cell for a special event — the loading of equipment, building stages, tearing down and loading out in a day's time — can be hard on the ballfield.
“The integrity of the field is of the utmost importance to us, and making sure that when we put a team out on a field, we don’t compromise their health,” Boyer told DNAinfo. “We want to make sure those guys can play on a surface that wouldn’t be compromised.”
In the team’s rental contract with the authority, according to Crain's, the White Sox can veto events that would happen within 72 hours of a home game or 48 hours after.
On Sept 24, while crews build a stage for The Magnificent Coloring Day festival, the White Sox will be out of town playing the Cleveland Indians. Two days after the festival, the team returns home to face the Tampa Bay Rays.
“They should be concerned. This is where their baseball team plays," Bertuca said. "We’re not talking about a beanbag tournament here."
The logistics of putting on a concert during baseball season are difficult, requiring meetings in every branch of the ballpark — but the authority hopes a pair of successful events at the Cell will strengthen its bond with the home team.
"You have to earn trust," Bertuca said. "If you go though the process with them, show that you’re going to protect the asset and work with every level of stadium officials, including the [grounds crew], you’re going to get something done.”
White Sox bosses said they’re willing to work with the authority to make more events happen.
“We’re open-minded to just about anything,” Boyer said. “If we can help [the authority] accomplish some of their goals, of course we’re going to try and do that.”
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: