Billy Idol rocks The Shoe outside of the Horseshoe Casino, June 14
Just one month into its maiden season, the new outdoor venue at Cincinnati's recently opened Horseshoe Casino has already begun making waves in town. The nearly 3,800-capacity general admission space, dubbed The Shoe, opened its doors on May 16 with a gig by Las Vegas rockers The Killers that sold out in 20 minutes, giving the city yet another new place to gather for live shows under the stars.
With tickets ranging from $27-$45 for a slate of summer shows that range from Billy Idol to Alice Cooper, Willie Nelson, Chicago and comedian Jeff Dunham, The Shoe has quickly become a welcome addition to the city's burgeoning slate of midsize venues, which also includes Live Nation's 4,100-seat PNC Pavilion.
“The overall entertainment programming strategy is to deliver a diverse mix of music genres that appeal to a wide range of demographics as well as feature the new Horseshoe Casino in the unique outdoor setting of downtown Cincinnati,” said Missy Hardersen, Midwest-South Regional Entertainment Director for Ceasars Entertainment. “For the inaugural year of the summer concert series, we wanted to showcase some of the hottest acts as well as some of the favorite, classic acts from the 70s and 80s.”
The Shoe has two setups, with most of the first season's 17 shows all general admission, while a select few, such as a recent Huey Lewis & the News gig, featuring a mix of reserved seating and a GA section at the back. Hardersen expected attendance averages in year one to be about 3,000 per show at the venue, which is booked by a division of Austin, Texas' C3 Presents.
So far, the Killers is the only announced sellout and Hardersen said she has gotten lucky so far with the sometimes unpredictable weather at the rain-or-shine open air venue.
“Weather is always a challenging element in the summertime,” she said. “Not only rain, thunderstorms, lightning, and wind, but the heat is also a concern. The shows are scheduled rain or shine, however, if lightning and rain are involved, it will be the decision of casino executives and the tour managers to determine if a show is canceled.” For canceled shows, Caesars will try to reschedule the date if the artist's itinerary allows it. In the case of severe weather, an evacuation plan is in place and a standing allotment of security and EMTs are on site at every show to tend to guests' needs and to help exit the venue to a safe location in extreme weather.
One of the unique aspects of The Shoe is that it is not only outside, but also at ground level, in a fairly small space. That means that unticketed customers outside of the fence barrier can hear the music loud and clear. That was initially a concern for the Caesars folks, who also were worried about parking. But with ample parking on street lots and a 2,500-space attached garage (which is free to show attendees), those worries have not become major issues.
For each show, a fence is erected around the perimeter of the venue and is wrapped with scrim material that advertises upcoming shows in order to block the view from outside. “This is to ensure that ticket buyers have a unique experience and prevent non-ticketbuyers from lining the fences to get a peek of the performance,” she said. “Security patrols the sidewalk around the venue as well as the entrance and exit gates to keep them clear during the show.”
There is also another venue indoors, the 1,400-capacity Pavilion, which has been used for sit-down comedy shows by Joel McHale and a gig by the classical singing quartet Il Divo. Outside, the sightlines are excellent from nearly every corner of the well-maintained lawn, as well as from the VIP balcony off of the main casino building. The view is also unique, providing a glimpse of the city's skyline, including the looming city jail just across the street.
Karen Foley, GM of the city's long-running nearly-1,500-capacity club Bogart's, said she welcomes the competition, even if The Shoe isn't, really, competition. “I think it's a great thing for the city,” she said. “It's similar to the concept of having one restaurant on a block, which will draw some people. But if you have a bunch, people will flock to it because it will be known for its food. What's happening in the city now is that people are waking up to the idea that it's a music town and more people from Columbus and Dayton are coming down for shows. There's plenty of bands and music for everybody.”
To date, Foley said she's seen no negative effect on ticket sales at all and, in fact, thinks that the increased booking profile of the city has made agents and managers pay more attention and think twice about skipping over Cincinnati in favor of other surrounding cities that have drawn more shows in recent years. “I think it's huge,” she said of The Shoe's addition to the mix. “We love it and encourage everyone to do music. I say bring it on. UC [University of Cincinnati, located near Bogart's] has 30,000 students, so we could all do a show on the same night and still have students that couldn't fit in!”
Hardersen has counted on a close relationship with local media (and the artists who've been booked at The Shoe) to get the word out on the shows. Those long-established ties to artists have allowed The Shoe to offer unique experiences such as the lucky fan at the recent Billy Idol show who got a signed set list from that night's gig and another who went home with a signed guitar.
“Social media is also a big part of what we do,” she said. “We have a Twitter with over 4,500 followers, and our Facebook page has almost 150,000 likes. This allows us to make sure our fans are the first to hear about new concerts, get access to presales, and see photos from the concerts.”
Interviewed for this article: Missy Hardersen, (712) 329-6404; Karen Foley, (513) 872-8801