Portland, Oregon, has long been a strong music market, with busy arena venues and a storied club and theater scene that rivals bustling markets like Nashville, Austin and Chicago. However, as evidenced on this month’s VenuesNow Market Focus as part of the July 2024 issue, the city in recent years has not had significant concert activity at the stadium level — any stadium.

That looks to be changing thanks to one recent booking deal that’s bringing major tours.

“The Foo Fighters in August will be our first concert in nearly 20 years,” says Heather Davis, CEO of the Portland Timbers MLS team, which has called Providence Park Stadium home since 2011.

The stadium has seen major renovations in recent years but dates back nearly 100 years, including hosting an Elvis Presley concert in 1956 — said to be one of the first stadium concerts of any kind in the United States. The other concert date on the calendar for 2024 is with Green Day and Smashing Pumpkins on Sept. 25.

“This is now by far the largest outdoor concert venue in Oregon, so these are acts that bypassed Portland and Oregon for many years, so it’s exciting to be able to offer a venue to bring some of these bigger stadium shows back to the Portland area,” said David, who joined the team as general counsel in 2021. The Timbers also operate Providence Park Stadium.

Those dates come thanks to a booking partnership with Live Nation, which is promoting both shows, and follows offseason construction that entailed leveling concrete to allow for easier stage erection and more space for fans. That work brings capacity to about 30,000 and makes for easier load-in and load-out.

“We did that also in partnership with Live Nation, so it should make it very easy, relatively speaking, to stage concerts there, and take advantage of the full bowl and field,” Davis said. “It allows for good positioning for the stage, keeping it off the field. The stadium is in a lot of ways, ideally set up for stadium shows because it’s a u-shape.” A representative for the Timbers said that work cost more than $1 million, but followed more than $130 million privately worth of improvements funded by the Timbers of the last several years.

With the Portland metro population totaling about 2.5 million, the outdoor scene in the city itself is limited, and popular amphitheater venues are on the outskirts, including McMenamins Edgefield in Troutdale, about 20 miles from Portland at 7,000 capacity, and the RV Inn Style Resorts Amphitheater in Ridgefield, also about 20 miles away and operated by Live Nation at closer to 18,000 capacity. Autzen Stadium, home of the University of Oregon Ducks in Eugene, about two hours away, boasts a football capacity of more than 50,000 and has hosted major concerts in the past, but not often or recently.

“Portland is the epicenter of culture and the economy in Oregon, so it’s the spot that makes the most sense for these bigger outdoor stadium shows,” Davis said. While Live Nation is an experienced partner in booking and producing the upcoming concerts, the goal is to open the door for more in-house productions. “We do have the ability to do shows without Live Nation at Providence Park, and we hope to be able to do some of the smaller, maybe more locally focused shows as we go forward. For the full stadium shows, they’re a great partner for us at this point in time.”

Challenges include Oregon weather and securing dates between two soccer tenants in the MLS Timbers and NWSL Thorns, which both enjoy league-leading attendance figures among their respective leagues, and the stadium being originally constructed almost 100 years ago, which leads to logistical challenges.

“But I think we’ve finally figured out how to move forward in a way that will enable us to host at least a few shows a year,” said Davis, noting the more than $100 million worth of improvements to the stadium in recent years from ownership, led by Henry Paulson and his Peregrine Sports. “Next year we’re hoping to scale up and bring closer to four or five shows over the course of the summer.”

Davis joined Peregrine Sports, which owns the Timbers, in 2022 as general counsel, having previously held a similar role at the NFL. She was named president of Peregrine following the team’s dismissal of its president of soccer operations and president of business in the aftermath of the Yates report that detailed misconduct in the NWSL including covering up sexual harassment allegations against Thorns team coach Paul Riley. Peregrine continues to own the Timbers and operate Providence Park although a different ownership group acquired the Thorns in early 2023.

“(Serving as CEO) is a privilege as far as I’m concerned, to have the opportunity to come back to my home state, my hometown and lead a franchise and club that means so much to the city and through a difficult time, certainly,” Davis said of taking on the role fully in 2023. “We have an incredible staff. We have a committed ownership group and we’re really moving forward in a positive way. We have shown that and the city’s been really receptive to that. Being entrusted with that leadership is an honor for me.”