By all accounts, 2015 is shaping up to be a successful, if not a record year. The 115 venues on our Mid-Year Top Stops chart grossed a total of more than $1.4 billion from Oct. 16, 2014 to May 15, 2015. Venues Today checked in with a few of the Top Stops venues to see how they’ve been booking, battling weather and making memories through the first half of the year.

Durham (N.C.) Performing Arts Center (DPAC) earned the number two spot in the Top Stops 2,001-5,000-capacity category, thanks to a strong Broadway season that included big shows like Wicked, Motown: the Musical, Kinky Boots and Newsies, as well as concerts featuring legends like Diana Ross, Tony Bennett and Bob Dylan, which were all sellouts. 

“We’re off to a fantastic start,” said Bob Klaus, DPAC general manager. “Audiences really seem to be responding to the great variety of events on our lineup and this could be our biggest year ever.”

Klaus said a surprising near sellout was the Sufjan Stevens show in May that ended up grossing $95,275, with tickets at $40. Though one of his favorite shows so far has been the sellout of Harry Connick Jr in February, which grossed over $200,000.

“It was magical in our intimate theater setting,” said Klaus.

DPAC’s new Broadway season will kick off in September with Beautiful: the Carole King Musical, followed by a strong comedy lineup that includes Jerry Seinfeld and Jackson Browne. They are also working with Daktronics to add two exterior digital marquees in the fall, as well as the addition of a new VIP lounge and more women’s restrooms.  

2015 is starting off strong for The Axis at Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas, as well. The 7,000-seat venue has already hosted 40 events this year, 32 of which were Britney Spears’ residency show Britney: Piece of Me. The residency began in December 2013 and has attracted more than 350,000 guests to The Axis, grossing over $50 million in ticket revenue, according to Edward “Tex” Dike, general manager. 

“Everything is progressing really well,” said Dike. “I think we’re getting some good traction as far as getting some exposure to the venue and getting some of the other artists out there considering the residency model.”

They recently signed Jennifer Lopez to a residency that will kick off in January 2016. Dike said they have another 60 shows already in the books for the rest of the year, so by the end of the year they should have put on around 105 shows in all. Artists like Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett, Romeo Santos and Ricardo Arjona have already attracted 130,000 guests to The Axis and a recently announced seven-show engagement with Pitbull in September and October, two sold-out Janet Jackson shows and a J Cole date are sure to raise that number quite a bit more.

“This venue, although it’s been great and has a lot of great history to it, has never seen this frequency and the number of events that we’ve been doing in here,” said Dike. “This pace that we’re keeping through this year is something that most of the people involved with the theater just haven’t been used to. So just kind of getting comfortable and prepared for and used to the volume of events we’re doing has been tough, but I think we’re finally there.”

The Axis will also be presenting five Latin shows in five days in September for Mexican Independence Day Weekend. Dike said it will probably become a regular event for the venue.

“Based on how well it worked for us last year, we wanted to try that approach again,” Dike said. “It’s a little tough to pull off five separate shows in five days, but it ends up being a good fit and a good approach, and we seem to get good feedback from it.”

Despite being negatively impacted by the first-ever Florida Country Superfest at EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla., featuring artists like Miranda Lambert, Jason Aldean, Eric Church and Luke Bryan, Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena pulled out a record year for 2014 with an all-time attendance record and came through as one of our Mid-Year Top Stops. And after being dark on country for the festival, they’re rebounding. The rebound really began with six shows from Garth Brooks in October that grossed over $3.8 million.

“It was Garth himself who said he wanted to come back to Jacksonville because he remembered telling fans he’d be back 17 years ago,” said Bill McConnell, general manager, SMG Jacksonville.

Country continues to rebound with an upcoming lineup of Shania Twain, Tim McGraw and Luke Bryan. Along with the Shania Twain show, they’ll be taking advantage of their outdoor plaza to host the third annual summer block party. McConnell said they’re hoping to do more of that at the arena in the future to expand the experience beyond just the seat in the arena. 

The Jax Events mobile app was also launched this year for Veterans Memorial Arena and the other five facilities that SMG manages in the city. The app includes event calendars for each venue as well as information on parking, seating, food and beverage and maps. 

“I sometimes feel like it’s a well-kept secret,” said McConnell. “When people come to the venue and they experience the service and all the attributes of the venue, they realize it’s a great place to be. The more we can do to host successful events, the more momentum we’re going to maintain. However, it’s market driven. We try to maintain healthy partnerships with promoters so they can present successful shows and want to keep taking risks to bring entertainment to Jacksonville.”

Being part of a multivenue complex can sometimes be a challenge. In April, the arena was hosting two back-to-back Kevin Hart shows while the Jacksonville Suns had a game at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, a Greek festival was going on at the fairgrounds, a 40,000-person rock and roll festival was taking over Metropolitan Park and three high school proms were going on at the football stadium.

“It was a challenge, but we did it,” said McConnell. “There are always multiple things going on, but to that level we try to keep to a minimum. That kind of pushes the envelope on what we can truly host down here at one time.”

Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, is having a good summer with a successful Kenny Chesney concert in May that grossed over $4 million and an upcoming One Direction stop at the end of July.

“For our size market, if we can get two concerts in a single summer, that’s a big deal for us,” said Mike Fox, stadium director. “So this is a good year. We’d obviously love to have more, but with our size market we understand who we are and that we’re not going to get every show out there.” 

In addition to the concerts, the stadium continues to host a number of sporting events, such as Monster Jam, Supercross, the NCAA Final Four and the Big 10 football championships.

“The Final Four is a unique and challenging event that changes every time we host,” said Fox. “This was our seventh Final Four, including a women’s. It changes so much from event to event that it’s hard to recognize it. The good news is the NCAA headquarters is here in town, so we have a great relationship with them, which certainly gives us an advantage to overcome any problems.”  

The Indianapolis Colts added a 6,500-sq.-ft. Blue Room lounge on the street level that is open to anyone during Colts games, but can also be used for private functions and will occasionally be sold during the week for a private event. The 200-person Quarterback Suite is often used for private events as well, something Fox said he’s surprised it continues to be popular since the stadium is in its eighth year and the newness has started to wear off.

In addition to a great staff and an all-star facility that boasts a tremendous amount of backstage space, Fox said the true appeal is the stadium’s location in the heart of downtown Indianapolis.

“I’m sitting in my office right now, and I’m in downtown,” said Fox. “I’m within a five iron hit of a hotel, we’re connected to a bunch through skywalks, and we’re within 15 minutes of the convention center. It’s a pretty good package.”

American Airlines Center, Dallas, just ended its fiscal year as a record year, business wise.

“Even though there’s a lot to do in the Dallas and Fort Worth market, the concert business is one of the things that a lot of people want to see,” said Ken Kuhl, vice president of Event Development. “It’s pretty close to a must play, and we’re attracting the top-level talent all the time.”

The 20,000-seat arena stays away from country, because of its proximity to the Live Nation-run Gexa Energy Pavilion, but does well with classic rock acts like Aerosmith and Eagles.

“It seems like every year we talk about how the older acts won’t be around much longer,” said Kuhl, “and it seems like we’ve been saying that for 15 years now and they just keep coming. And thank God for them. Dallas is a great rock and roll market, and a lot of those bands do very well.”

Kuhl said the Dallas market didn’t take a huge economic hit, so there’s still money to spend on tickets. Artists playing Dallas also do very well on merchandise sales, often setting tour records.
In December 2014, a freak ice storm hit Dallas just in time for the arena’s sold-out Fleetwood Mac show. Kuhl said they had to process a number of calls from worried patrons.

“A lot of people were wondering if we were going to continue to play,” said Kuhl. “We’re not really equipped in the Dallas area to handle ice storms, but fortunately we didn’t lose any because of it. The artists were able to make it in town, and you know if they’re in town, they’re going to play. It was a sold-out show, and we had hardly anybody not show.”

Interviewed for this story: Bob Klaus, (919) 618-9980; Edward “Tex” Dike, (702) 785-5828; Bill McConnell, (904) 630-0336; Ken Kuhl, (214) 665-4230; Mike Fox, (317) 262-3450