Bruno Mars performs on the Super Stage in October 2018 at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas. (Courtesy Circuit of the Americas)

Concert at Circuit of the Americas will have a festival feel

The Rolling Stones are throwing a big holiday party in Austin, Texas, a departure from their typical concert format. Their Memorial Day weekend performance at Circuit of the Americas, a Formula One racing facility, will take on a festival vibe with multiple activities at the sprawling property.

The May 24 concert is the only non-stadium booking among the 15 venues that make up the Stones’ 2020 “No Filter” tour. For COTA, it’s the first stand-alone concert for the 8-year-old track apart from live shows tied to the annual F1 races and the Germania Insurance Amphitheater, the complex’s 14,000-capacity outdoor music venue.

Call it Stonesfest, done Texas-style.

In addition to the concert, ticket holders can fish, boat, swim, play sand volleyball, ride go-karts, go on carnival rides and, for a more thrilling adventure, try the COTA zipline. Some activities, such as the Voodoo Lounge Pool Party, come with food and drink and carry separate fees. 

The live music doesn’t stop with the Stones. The Lone Star Stage, a mainstay from F1 events, will showcase local and regional bands. For Glynn Wedgewood, COTA’s director of entertainment, the side stage gives a nod to his past experience booking clubs in downtown Austin. 

“It’s important to me to bring those bands out here and put them in front of an international audience,” he said. “It’s a similar mentality for the Stones.”

Concertgoers arriving by recreational vehicle can start the party early on Saturday, one day before the show, when gates open for RVs. 

There are about 600 slots for RVs, Wedgewood said. Those camping packages start at $75 with a high of $2,500 for the Gimme Shelter Premium RV lot. It’s situated to the left of the Super Stage, the track’s setup for bigger concerts that are part of motorsports events, and includes two general admission tickets for the Stones. 

Separately, the Undercover RV lot and the Honky Tonk dry camping lot have additional space for RVs.

Map for the Rolling Stones concert at Circuit of the Americas racetrack in May.

For the Stones, the Super Stage can accommodate 85,000 people with a massive elevated lawn for 60,000, according to Wedgewood. He also serves as general manager of the amphitheater, which will go dark for the weekend. 

The Super Stage will be placed on an RV lot with 6,800 standing-room spaces sold as gold circle premium tickets on the racetrack surface, close to the stage near Turn 11, Wedgewood said.

There are several premium seat packages, including the eight loge boxes, which are groups of 12 tip-up seats, he said. Those sold out in late February. Trackside premium seats, two sections of risers flanking the stage, start at $325. 

Tickets start at $500 for two general admission pit areas that fit about 1,300 people. Otherwise, lawn tickets cost $100. As one add-on, the track is selling picnic baskets for $150 that include food and drinks from local Austin eateries, a picnic blanket, beer/wine, a main dish and binoculars.

Two food court destinations featuring local restaurants will be supplemented by food trucks and vendors roaming the crowd. RS3 Strategic Hospitality, a local firm co-owned by Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan and his family, is the track’s concessionaire.

The Super Stage setup is similar to the nine shows COTA has produced dating to 2015, the year Metallica and Nicki Minaj performed as part of the X Games at the track. Over the years, officials have made improvements in concert production for F1 events, Wedgewood said.

“As far as what the Stones are bringing in, it’s exactly the same structure you see at stadiums,” he said. “Nothing is changing. There’s a B stage (where the group’s core four plays a few songs). We didn’t want to compromise the look of the show and made some upgrades to the grounds to make it easier for the production crew.”

The Stones have been on COTA’s radar for a few years, he said. Track officials tried to get a 2019 date that instead went to NRG Stadium, home of the NFL’s Houston Texans. Wedgewood didn’t give up and continued to engage with Concerts West, the band’s promoter, to secure a 2020 date.

“We reached out again and chatted, and they were looking at doing more Texas dates,” he said. “We asked them, ‘What do we need to do?’ If you take a look at our space, we’ve done events for several years now. Yes, it’s a nontraditional layout, but if you look at Austin, they don’t have a (stadium concert venue) since they stopped doing things at UT.”

As it turned out, Paul Gongaware and Kelly DiStefano of Concerts West were visiting Austin and they both toured the track to get a closer look at how things could work for the Stones. Last summer, the Stones played Burl’s Creek Event Grounds, a 600-acre property in Canada one hour north of Toronto, which is roughly similar to the setup at COTA.

John Meglen, president and co-CEO of Concerts West, which is part of AEG Presents, did not return emails for comment.

“It was closest to our format, but it was a flat field,” Wedgewood said. “We have the advantage of a pitched lawn and it feels more like an amphitheater. We’re bringing in grandstands and hillside bleachers. It’s been an evolution, but we always had an idea of how to do it. It was part of (track owner) Bobby Epstein’s vision as part of growing the company.”

To improve traffic flow, track officials plan to open the gates at noon on the day of the concert, encouraging folks to enjoy free entertainment at the Lone Star Stage. COTA is in the process of upgrading its ride-share program by moving it closer to the concert area, Wedgewood said.

Plus, shuttle buses will operate from two locations in Austin, he said. 

“The biggest takeaway for me is putting on a fun weekend for everyone,” Wedgewood said. “We’re blowing it out.”