I have bragged to my friends back home in Colorado that when it comes to sports facilities, the University of Arkansas is among the elite in American college campuses.
Reynolds Razorback Stadium is THE best part-time football stadium in America (that’s a whole other column, in like, September.) Our Diamond Hogs play in Baum Stadium, easily one of the finest college baseball stadiums in the country, with a tremendous and very involved crowd every game.
Down the line, our facilities are top-notch: Bogle Park, McDonnell Field, Walton Arena, Tyson Track Center, the weight training facilities for the football team, even old Barnhill Arena serves the school well for gymnastics. Razorback athletics are in good shape facility-wise in Fayetteville.
So why is it when I wanna see a big-time stadium or arena show, I have to drive to Tulsa, Dallas, Kansas City or Memphis? Or Little Rock?
My wife and I saw U2 in a big-time college football stadium last fall. Why was it in Norman, Okla. and not Fayetteville? Razorback Stadium could have facilitated that stage, and filled those seats. I saw Metallica in a big-time arena show last year. Why was it (then) at Alltel Arena and not Bud Walton Arena? Paul McCartney, Carrie Underwood, American Idols Live, AC/DC, the list goes on and on and on with shows that are big-time arena acts that could sell out Walton Arena that we are forced to drive to Tulsa or Little Rock to see. Why?
Is it a matter of it can’t happen, or it won’t? Because the week to really drive home the frustrating aspect of this is this past week. That’s right. The Walmartians Have Landed!
Every first week in June, Northwest Arkansans welcomes thousands of Walmart associates from all over the world to our hometown Walmarts, hotels, restaurants, streets, clubs and….big basketball arena. Tuesday night, the shareholders were treated to a performance by the Zac Brown Band and Tim McGraw. The very next night, Walton Arena was rocking back to the 90s with Barenaked Ladies playing their hit, followed by 70s and 80s rock giants REO Speedwagon.
Now, I get it. Walmart imports thousands of people to our area to put hineys in the seats for those free shows during their “meetings.” Yeah, I know, we can’t have Walmart bring in tens of thousands of people every time we want to have a big time show at either Walton Arena or, dare I say it, Razorback Stadium. But do we need to?
Razorback football games put anywhere between 60-75,000 people in Razorback Stadium for games. Before the expansion to its current capacity of around 76,000 people, Razorback Stadium was similar in size to God-forsaken War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. (OK, I promised to do that column later, sorry.) The expansion happened, not coincidentally, in line with the population expansion of Northwest Arkansas as a whole. Most of that expansion, also not coincidentally, happened in Walmart-headquartered Benton County, where all the Walmart-focused vendors moved closer to the Blue Smocked Mecca.
From Eureka Springs west through Siloam Springs, Winslow north on 540 to Southwest Missouri, our area isn’t far from half a million people now. We have the population base similar to – if not equal to – that of Little Rock, as hard as that is to believe for some. But we don’t have major acts playing either Walton Arena* or Razorback Stadium. Ever. Well, outside of the first week of June.
The Arkansas Music Pavilion, near the Northwest Arkansas Mall, is the venue that hosts the most live music acts to a large audience. Owned and operated by Brian Crowne, who also owns George’s Majestic Lounge on Dickson Street, the AMP is bringing the Goo Goo Dolls here next week, Ted Nugent here the Friday of July 4th weekend, and has also brought such acts here as the Black Crowes, Rick Springfield, Loverboy and Levon Helm.
If anyone could find, book, and sell the acts to those venues, I’ll bet it would be Brian. He’s nationally-renowned for his management of George’s, and has done an excellent job with booking acts for not just the AMP, but also for the bike rallies that have had live music. The only thing is, Brian only runs George’s and the AMP.
* Editor’s note: As the story goes, when donating the money for the construction of Bud Walton Arena, Mr. Walton issued a stipulation that only Razorback men’s and women’s basketball could use it. The only exception to the mysterious rule was the annual Walmart shareholder’s meeting. This report is echoed in Rus Bradburd’s book Forty Minutes of Hell: The Extraordinary Life of Nolan Richardson.
Jon Williams is a contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. He also hosts “The Jon Williams Show” mornings on Clear Channel’s 93.3 The Eagle and has lived in Northwest Arkansas for 20 years. Jon’s world revolves around his son Jack and wife Judy, and invites you to join the Loyal and Royal Army of his listeners on Facebook. For more of Jon’s contributions, visit his author page.