By Peter Schwartz
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During the Mets’ run to the World Series last October, Citi Field had an atmosphere like never before since the stadium opened in 2009. You could just feel it in the stands just like it did at Shea Stadium, especially in 1986 and as recently as 2006, when the Mets reached the National League Championship Series.
But that real estate in Flushing alongside Roosevelt Avenue and the Grand Central Parkway is not just about what happens on the diamond. In fact, going back to the days of Shea Stadium, there have been plenty of hits belted out over the years, not only in baseball, but also at musical concerts.
Monday was the 51st anniversary of the Beatles’ first Shea Stadium concert, a show that kicked off their 1965 tour and really set the tone for outdoor concerts in the United States. Shea would go on to host many more concerts, including the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, The Who and Billy Joel, who played the final two concerts at Shea in 2008.
The tradition of concerts at Shea Stadium has carried over to the Mets’ new home, Citi Field.
“It was very important to us,” said Heather Collamore, vice president of metropolitan hospitality at Citi Field. “There were a lot of things that we thought about when we built the ballpark, and concerts were certainly one of them.”
The tradition of concerts hosted by the Mets continues Friday when the Zac Brown Band returns to Citi Field. It’s going to be the fourth time the group has performed in Flushing. They opened up for the Dave Matthews Band at Citi Field in 2010 and also headlined two concerts there last summer.
With hits like “Homegrown,” “Chicken Fried” and “Loving You Easy,” the Zac Brown is ready to make Citi Field shake.
“They’re wonderful,” said Collamore. “We had a really good experience with them last year. It was just amazing for us to see their following and how many folks come out and really enjoy their music. We’re very excited. It’s going to be a sold-out show, and we’re thrilled about that.”
Friday’s show is rain or shine and is scheduled for a 7 p.m. start. Parking lots will open at 3 p.m., with doors opening at 5:30 p.m.
To keep with the tradition that the Beatles started at Shea in 1965, the Mets turned to Paul McCartney to play the first concert at Citi Field in 2009. McCartney played three shows to begin the concert era at the world-class venue, and he actually helped close the old place in 2008 when he joined Billy Joel on stage for the “Last Play at Shea.”
“It was important for us to have Billy close (Shea), and it was very important to have the Paul element show up to Billy’s show and to be able to close out Shea,” said Collamore. “It was a no-brainer for us to ensure that Paul McCartney was the first to open” Citi Field.
Bringing concerts to Citi Field is a challenge but one the Mets and Metropolitan Hospitality are tackling head on. Since Shea Stadium closed, the competition for summertime shows in the area has heated up with the addition of Barclays Center and the Ford Amphitheater in Brooklyn as well as the renovation of Forest Hills Stadium, which got back into the concert business in 2013.
Citi Field was forced to roll up its sleeves and leave no stone unturned in lining up concerts.
“What we had to do was really figure out a good way to sort of re-establish ourselves as the destination that artists really wanted to come and play at when they’re in New York,” said Collamore.
Collamore teams with Mike Landeen, the Mets’ senior vice president of venue and operations, to take a look at the schedule and get a feel of what artists or groups might be available and how they’re tour schedules fit into Citi Field’s availability.
“We work with whose touring, and we start having those conversations as early as possible to see who would be a good match here,” said Collamore.
For Citi Field, the ultimate match occurred earlier this year when Beyoncé played the center field stage in Flushing. There was plenty of competition in the area to host the New York stop on her tour, and she chose the home of the Mets for two shows.
“This year when we were able to get Beyoncé … that was sort of the pinnacle,” said Collamore. “The fact that Beyoncé chose us to play when she had a host of other opportunities is pretty impressive.”
From April to October, the staff at Citi Field is primarily in baseball mode making sure that the ballpark is ready for each Mets game. The field looks great, the fans have fun, and the players feel right at home with some of the best amenities in baseball. But when the Mets are away and a concert takes over the venue, the preparation is a bit different.
“It’s kind of magical, to be honest, to see the transformation of the ballpark,” said Collamore.
If a concert is scheduled, the preparation begins as the Mets finish up the final game of their homestand. As soon as the game ends, the semi-trucks are waiting to get to work to begin preparations for a concert. The grounds crew preps the field and lays the floor down as the stage is put together.
“It’s pretty special,” said Collamore. “I find myself going down there and looking up and seeing how magical it is. It’s really different. It’s special to us.”
One has to wonder what’s on the radar screen for the Mets’ fabulous home.
So who’s next?
“In all honesty, Beyoncé was sort of that reach for us,” said Collamore. “We do have our eyes on a specific act for next year. We’re waiting to see if a tour is going to be confirmed or not.”
When it comes to music in Flushing, whether it was Shea back in the day or Citi Field today, it’s been Amazin’!
Don’t forget to follow Pete on Twitter at @pschwartzcbsfan. You can also following what’s happening at Citi Field and Metropolitan Hospitality @CitiField.