Renovations at Western Fair District (WFD) were undertaken last year to clear the way — literally — for creation of an outdoor concert venue, which officials say will change London’s entertainment future.
WFD announced on March 24 it had entered into a multi-year partnership with concert promoter Live Nation to bring significant concert events to the Forest City. The first of those concerts — the first of many according to WFD officials — will be veteran rockers Van Halen, who will take the stage in London on Wednesday, Aug. 5, along with special guest the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band.
In a statement on the WFD website, it's said the deal with Live Nation will strengthen ties to London the promoter already has through Budweiser Gardens.
In the same statement, Brian Ohl, Global Spectrum regional vice-president and Budweiser Gardens’ general manager, praised the new arrangement.
“An outdoor concert and festival venue provides a great complement to the region’s music market and is exactly what southwestern Ontario and the city’s music scene needs.”
There are few people in London who understand Ohl’s position like John Winston, general manager of Tourism London.
Winston praised WFD for making such a “significant enhancement” to its entertainment resources. He added it was a “shrewd strategic move” to not only utilize WFD’s existing infrastructure, but to also help establish London as a music culture destination.
“I think it is a very smart, strategic move, utilizing a part of the facility they wouldn’t use in the summertime anyway,” Winston said. “So bring two or three of these things every summer and it creates, in my view, a very vibrant, cultural activity for the city, brings in fresh money, and enhances the use of existing facilities.
As to just how great an impact the WFD/Live Nation partnership could have, Winston pointed to the 2013 concert by alternative rock superstars Pearl Jam.
That concert, Winston said, saw the city’s 4,000 hotel rooms booked solid both the night before and the night after band’s performance.
When top level artists like that are brought into the city, which Winston said will be WFD’s goal given the size of its facility, it fills a significant vacancy in London’s entertainment landscape.
“I don’t think 10,000 to 15,000 seats competes with the Bud Gardens, it doesn’t compete with Brad Jones’ activities. But what it does is bring another level of entertainment value,” Winston said. “The music tourist spends twice as many dollars as the non-music tourists. So what we are trying to do is work diligently at establishing London as a destination for commercial music.”
Attracting “upper-tier entertainment” is something Winston said London promoters have traditionally not been particularly successful in achieving.
Bud Gardens, Winston said, has tried to get some “really top acts,” but hasn’t been able to because the facility doesn’t warrant the kind of investment needed to bring in a top act. To do so, Winston said, would result in ticket prices in the $200-$300 range.
Winston said Tourism London officials have been part of WFD’s discussions “for quite a while,” and everyone loved the idea from the start.
In particular, he praised the partnership with Live Nation as a game changer for the district.
“The key to this is the partnering with Live Nation, which is the premier booking agency in North America, if not the world,” Winston said. “They have the leverage. Look at Van Halen; there are only two bookings in Ontario. One is in Toronto and one is in London.”
Actually, London and Toronto are the only two cities in Canada on the Van Halen schedule.
Tickets for the London show go on sale April 4 at 10 a.m. via www.ticketmaster.ca and www.livenation.com.