September 26, 2011
By Doug Carroll
Photos by David Blakeman
GCU Arena announced itself as a game-changer for the University on Friday night with a knockout staging of its first concert, a Christian rock show featuring Casting Crowns.
Casting Crowns at the GCU Arena
From the aroma of popcorn inside the main entrance as music fans arrived to the encore played by the headline act at about 11:15 p.m., the new facility and its staff delivered in a big way, receiving kudos from all corners.
"The Arena's staff was A-1 and on its game all day," said Melanie Hall, Casting Crowns' road manager and the wife of the band's lead singer, Mark Hall.
"I think they hit a home run. From an artist's perspective, the building has been really well thought out. You can tell there was attention to being a concert venue and not just a sports facility."
The show was Casting Crowns' second on its 40-city, "Come to the Well" tour that began in El Paso, Texas, the night before. The last time the band played Phoenix - two years ago - the show was at First Assembly of God Church.
Although the Georgia-based band still plays a fair number of churches, this was a high-quality arena rock show, with all of the lighting and staging details that concertgoers have come to expect. The sound was clear as a bell, even on the floor of the bowl, and the Arena gave no indication of being on its maiden voyage.
"I thought this place had been open awhile," said Mark Schmit, who was on security detail for T.E.A.M. Security and surprised to learn that it was the facility's first public event. T.E.A.M. also works shows at Comerica Theatre and Ashley Furniture HomeStore Pavilion.
"I'd gladly work here again, any time," Schmit said. "Backstage was extremely organized. And the lobby of the place is gorgeous."
Casting Crowns and the GCU Arena team.
Bob Machen, GCU's senior vice president for campus development, watched most of the show from the press box at the top of the bowl on the east side. He liked what he saw and heard.
"It's the culmination of 15 months of very hard work," he said of opening night. "The real blessing for me was having a great event, and the quality of our staff is the best. They've been the key to this success. It was great to open with such a quality Christian show."
Attendance was announced at 5,025, less than 100 short of the number of tickets distributed. For all practical purposes, the show was
Kyle Mockler, the Arena's ticket manager, said the team assembled by Machen and Cathey Moses, GCU's vice president of event planning and marketing, is a winner and perfectly capable of handling 16-hour days like Friday.
"We've all been around the block," Mockler said, "just never around the same block at the same time."
Jeff Harris, 37, who works for Air 1 Radio Network, offered what turned out to be a common perspective on the Arena: It's one killer concert venue.
"The acoustics are wonderful, and the (video) screens are top-of-the-line," he said. "The physical setup and design are top-notch. It's an arena, but it doesn't feel cavernous. The only place I've seen with these sight lines is the Cardinals' stadium. I love the style of it."
Kevin McAlevy, 34, of San Tan Valley, said the show represented his first visit to campus in more than 10 years.
The Arena is "phenomenal," he said. "It's set up nicely, and everything seems to be a decent seat. The campus is a whole different place now. It's been transformed."
Emily Filleman, 21, of Sierra Vista, who drove up to Phoenix for the show with her father, said the Arena's design was a pleasant surprise.
"I like all the windows," she said, "the way the light can come in and out."
As the tired but happy staff headed for home well past midnight, Moses breathed a sigh of relief. But the fact that the day had gone well didn't surprise her, she said.
"For a first show, it was a walk in the park," she said. "This day was surreal. I didn't feel the least bit nervous."
Reach Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or email@example.com.