What do the nation’s top rapper, top country singer, one of the top all-around artists and Janet Jackson all have in common?
They’re all playing in Columbia this fall. And it’s a big deal.
The stars have aligned, so to speak, for one of the biggest concert seasons ever in Columbia.
An unusually high-profile slate of concerts starts this weekend with the “Fall Ball” featuring rappers Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz, Tory Lanez and the most popular hip-hop artist in the country right now: Cardi B.
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They’ll play at Colonial Life Arena on Saturday night (Sept. 30), followed by three more of the nation’s top touring acts in the next month at the arena:
▪ Thomas Rhett, who’s sitting at the top of country charts (Oct. 12);
▪ Foo Fighters, one of the most popular mainstream rock bands of the past two decades (Oct. 17);
▪ And The Weeknd, who has one of the hottest tickets in the world (Oct. 28).
Then there are legends Gladys Knight and Janet Jackson, playing at the Township Auditorium and Colonial Life, respectively, in October and December; newly popular country band Old Dominion at the Township in October; and, as always, a slew of alternative shows at the Music Farm.
“We’re excited about what we’ve got, but we’re working just as hard to keep that momentum going,” said Sid Kenyon, general manager of Colonial Life Arena. “I think we’ve got a really good mix. We’ve really got something for everybody.”
It’s rare for South Carolina’s capital city to host so many big-name artists so close together.
“We’re not New York City. We’re not Los Angeles,” Kenyon said. “But as far as the size of our market, we’ve got to be as attractive as anybody.”
Columbia is used to seeing some of the biggest national- and world-touring acts bypass us for our big-brother cities Charlotte and Atlanta.
Jay-Z, Bruno Mars, John Mayer, Kesha and Imagine Dragons? You’ll find them all playing an hour and a half up the road from Columbia this fall.
Travel logistics and money are two big factors for artists deciding where to stop on tour, said Armen Shaomian, a professor of entertainment management at the University of South Carolina.
“I would have a harder time believing a Jay-Z or Beyonce would do a concert in Columbia when Atlanta or Charlotte is next door,” Shaomian said. “Yes, they could sell tickets, but for an artist, it’s also about what venue are you playing. … Even though 20,000 (seats) is a lot, it’s not the same as playing a stadium in a bigger city.”
Columbia has welcomed some huge names in recent years – Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Paul McCartney and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, to name a few. But shows like those typically come along much less frequently than they are this fall.
On the other hand, the 3-year-old Music Farm venue in downtown Columbia has become the place to catch up-and-coming bands with smaller followings that have a chance to become those big-arena names in the next five to 10 years, Shaomian notes. (Looking at you, Cold War Kids and Moon Taxi.)
Now, though, Columbia’s growing a bit bigger on the map and getting more notice as an up-and-coming destination city. Consider: A historic number of people visited the city for the recent total eclipse; USC’s population is rapidly growing, and apartment units are following; more hotels and other hospitality businesses are coming online in a revitalized downtown.
“We are getting some of these bigger names because Columbia is more on the map,” Shaomian said. “It also means some promoters feel more comfortable bringing larger acts because they can bring the crowd. … We’ve become much more attractive than we were five years ago.”
Plus, local venues building good reputations and relationships with big artists’ teams tends to keep big names coming back to town, Kenyon said. The same promotional team that brought Pearl Jam to Colonial Life a while back, for instance, also brought the Red Hot Chili Peppers this spring and is now bringing the Foo Fighters, Kenyon said.
Do all those factors mean maybe we’ll see big names play here more frequently in the future?
They could, Shaomian said.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if the trend continues,” he said. “As long as the ticket sales are there and the Columbia market is thriving, the artists will keep coming because this is their livelihood.”
If you go
Second annual Fall Ball, featuring Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz, Tory Lanez and Cardi B
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 30. Doors open at 7 p.m.
WHERE: Colonial Life Arena, 801 Lincoln St.
TICKETS: Starting at $49 at ticketmaster.com.
Old Dominion: Saturday, Oct. 6, at Township Auditorium.
Thomas Rhett: Thursday, Oct. 12, at Colonial Life Arena.
Foo Fighters: Tuesday, Oct. 17, at Colonial Life Arena.
Third Eye Blind: Friday, Oct. 27, at Music Farm.
The Weeknd: Saturday, Oct. 28, at Colonial Life Arena.
Gladys Knight: Saturday, Oct. 28, at Township Auditorium.
Janet Jackson: Saturday, Dec. 16, at Colonial Life Arena.