Tucson Convention Center
January 14, 2000
Elton John's TCC concert could make
way for more top rock acts in Tucson
By Jim Purdy and Sara Hammond
Elton John's appearance at the Tucson Convention Center next month could improve Tucson's
stature as a place for big-name rock stars to perform.
The TCC arena's seating capacity of 8,000 to 9,000, depending on the configuration, combined
with a perception that the city-owned facility was uninterested in attracting top acts in recent
years, has limited visits by rock's elite.
There's also a perception that the Tucson market balks at high ticket prices. Elton John tickets
will go for $50.50 and $60.50.
``I've lived here eight years, and this will be far and away the biggest-name act to appear in this
town'' in that time, said disk jockey Bobby Rich of Mix 94.9, who plays a lot of John's music
during the morning drive time.
Promoters, according to Rich, say Tucson's venues don't have enough seats to make it
economically feasible to bring in the big acts that demand hundreds of thousands of dollars to
Rich predicts that John's Feb. 15 concert will be a sellout within a couple of days. Tickets go on
sale tomorrow. See page 20E in Caliente for details on how to purchase tickets.
``If and when it does, I think that would be somewhat of a wake-up call for promoters,'' he said.
Danny Zelisko, president of Phoenix-based Evening Star Productions, figures John chose
Tucson because he needed a fresh venue to play.
``Elton John consistently tours, and after a while you run out of places to play. He can only play
so many cities,'' he said.
Zelisko said big acts skip Tucson because of a dearth of venues large enough to cover their
``If there's a town in need of a new arena, Tucson is the place,'' he said.
The UA's Centennial Hall is booked most of the year, McKale Center is rarely used for concerts,
and the Tucson Convention Center seems indifferent to working with Evening Star, he said.
``We'd like to bring a lot of big shows to Tucson, but unfortunately in recent years we've had very
little communication with the TCC.
``Apparently they're content with the business they do. They must be awfully busy. It's a real
shame. I like Tucson,'' Zelisko said.
Hymie Gonzales, who joined the TCC as its executive director in September, acknowledged that
the facility has ``stubbed its toes'' in the past in working with promoters to attract concerts.
Gonzales said the expected success of John's concert next month, coupled with a near sellout
by ZZ Top in December, will open the way to additional bookings.
``I can only think success continues to create success,'' he said.
Gonzales said he brings to Tucson relationships he has made with promoters and others in the
business from managing concert venues in San Antonio, Corpus Christi and Austin, Texas.
Tucson's challenge is competing with cities of similar size or cities nearby that already have
concert dates with the performers that Tucson seeks.
``My vision of the future is to give promoters what they need in our facility to encourage their
business and to work with them to develop new business,'' Gonzales said.
Gonzales said it only takes one bad experience and a promoter will spread the word among the
industry to blackball a location.
``One of the biggest keys is to make promoters and acts feel welcome and show them we want
their business,'' he said.
``Where we have fallen off is sitting back waiting for them to come to us. We should be at their
door asking what we can do for them,'' Gonzales said.
Economics also play a big part in the rock world.
``Tucson is a tough place to figure out. Shows that do well in Phoenix don't sell out in Tucson.
We end up losing money,'' Zelisko said.
Evening Star orchestrates Carlos Santana's annual concerts at the Pima County Fairgrounds,
which typically draw 15,000 to 20,000 people.
``The reason we do it is because we like to stand at the back of the stage and watch people
stream in for hours,'' Zelisko said.
``If we were to do that show indoors, I don't think people would come. They ought to level the
TCC and start over again.''
Tucson Electric Park may soon be competing with the TCC for rock 'n' roll and country concerts,
said George Hernandez, manager of the Kino Sports Park complex - home to TEP.
``We've had some small-scale concerts - The Beach Boys were in here after a Sidewinders
game, and a Norteno music festival was here. We're really looking to expand our horizons,'' he
``We'd like to get on the concert map. In the '70s everyone who played Phoenix passed through
Tucson, too. For some reason we dropped off the schedule,'' Hernandez said.
``We'd like to have concerts here, make a few bucks for the taxpayers and let the community use
the facility for more than just baseball,'' he said.
Concerts at Tucson Electric Park will be modeled after successful events at the Peoria Sports
Complex, a spring training ballpark west of Phoenix that can accommodate up to 20,000 people.
The availability of concerts at TEP will depend on how well the warm-weather Bermuda grass
infield holds up, he said.
Mark Oliver, entertainment director of the Southwestern Fair Commission that operates the
Pima County Fairgrounds, also said money is the key for attracting the top acts.
``Promoters who have promoted in this market generally don't feel a $40 ticket will fly with the
Tucson audience,'' he said.
``It depends on how hot somebody is and how much the market can bear,'' Oliver said.
``A lot of these names are expensive - the Eagles, Jackson Browne, Springsteen,'' he said.
Bruce Springsteen nearly booked Tucson but wanted $750,000 for the show.
Given that kind of demand by a performer, ticket prices could reach $80 to $100 if a promoter is
to cover expenses and make money on the deal.
Mark Rasdorf of UApresents, which sponsors a variety of cultural events at Centennial Hall on
the university campus, said Tucson as an arts market has matured over the past few years.
``A perceived price sensitivity no longer seems to be there for the right events,'' Rasdorf said.
Tucson has little trouble attracting country music superstars.
Garth Brooks filled McKale Center in June 1996. Alan Jackson and LeAnn Rimes played to
5,223 at the TCC in October 1996. Brooks and Dunn and Reba McEntire drew 6,500 to the TCC
arena in December 1997.
Tucson mostly attracts the up-and-coming rock bands such as Korn, who played here in 1997
and drew 7,571 fans, and older bands whose music glory has tarnished a bit.
The Tubes, for instance, play at the Rialto Theatre Thursday. The band, which hasn't had a big
hit since the early '80s, said local ties more than anything else brought them to town.
``We requested to do the Tucson show,'' said lead singer Fee Waybill. ``We were going to be in
Phoenix, and we hadn't been to Tucson for a couple of years, so we asked the Rialto if we could