Submitted by: Sarah Haertl, Director of Sales & Marketing
Prior to opening the building in January 2010, one of my favorite questions to ask was “What artist do you want to open INTRUST Bank Arena?” I heard a variety of answers, but the most common name was U2. At that time, U2 wasn’t even touring in the United States, and the tour consisted of a stage so large that some football stadiums couldn’t even accommodate it, so there was never even a chance they would open our Arena. But when people are wishing, the sky is the limit, so U2 became the band many Wichitans hung their hopes on.
My personal choice to open the building was Bruce Springsteen. Nothing against Paisley, but anyone other than the Boss would have been slightly disappointing for my music taste. Once again, when you are wishing, the sky is the limit.
Wishing aside, I set my mind on everything Brad Paisley and all of the public’s expectations about their shiny, new Arena. Who would have guessed that looking back two years later, I would come to the conclusion that Brad Paisley was the perfect fit to open INTRUST Bank Arena?
My first concert was Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers Band when I was nine years old, but since that time I haven’t paid money to see a country concert. Since working for the Arena, I have come to appreciate not only country music, but also the laid back atmosphere of country artists and their genuine love of their fans. Maybe there is something to southern hospitality, or maybe it’s just that country artists realize the importance of their fans.
This could not have been more evident than in 2010 when Paisley became an impromptu INTRUST Bank Arena spokesperson to the siege of local media who covered the first show. Media coverage of concerts at a venue is usually limited to a couple of camera guys from local TV stations, a reviewer from the local paper and a couple of photographers, and that’s considered a large turnout. Specifics vary from tour to tour, but typically include shooting video or photos of the first two songs of the concert and then a quick exit before things really get going.
For the 2010 Paisley concert, every local TV station requested an interview with Brad and permission to do live shots from the Arena for their 5, 6 and 10pm newscasts. When we sent the requests to tour representatives they thought we were joking. They hadn’t been through the process of a failed Arena vote, years of tax collection, even more years of construction, non-stop bickering back and forth between Arena supporters and Arena naysayers and story after story about the lack of available parking for the “white elephant” ready to open downtown. But those of us on the inside knew how important this building and opening concert were and begged and pleaded on behalf of the media for access to Brad.
He could have said “no” and most artists probably would have. But, with a southern drawl, a cowboy hat and as much charm as you can squeeze into tight jeans, Brad Paisley answered question after question from our local press.
He talked about the honor of being the first to play in the building and thanked the community for coming out to support the show. He joked about the price tags still hanging on the furniture in the dressing rooms noting that the chairs in his room were $125.99. He mused about what a funnel cake would taste like with new grease. Little did he know, we didn’t even sell funnel cake at the Arena back then. We’ve since added them to the menu, and I plan to offer him a sample on Friday when he returns.
My favorite quote from Paisley that night was his observation about the lack of beer and vomit smell in the building. No worries, Mr. Paisley, since your first visit we have definitely been able to add those to our list of venue assets, but with the help of an excellent cleaning staff we don’t think you will notice.
As Paisley takes the stage Friday night, I will take a moment to look around the building and watch the crowd as I do at every concert. I’ll take time to reminisce about that opening concert and remember how gracious Brad Paisley was to our staff, the local media and the fans that night.
I hope I speak for all of Wichita when I say, “Thank you Brad for being a part of our history. You’re welcome back any time.”