BRISTOL, TN—Football season may be over, but it all got off to a memorable start for 156,990 fans back in September. That’s the attendance number for what was the largest college football game ever—the Tennessee Volunteers versus the Virginia Tech Hokies at Bristol Motor Speedway. Dubbed the Pilot Flying J Battle at Bristol, the event had been in the works for more than 12 years. Somewhere along the line, someone realized that the world’s biggest game required the world’s biggest tailgate party, so Kenny Chesney, Old Dominion and The Band Perry were brought in the night before to perform inside the Speedway for 50,000-plus fans.
If that sounds like a matter of simply showing up and playing, it was anything but. While few productions dwarf a summer stadium tour—typically Chesney’s natural habitat—in this case, his show was a cog in a far larger, constantly moving machine. The concert took place hot on the heels of construction crews having worked 19 days straight to install additional stands, seating, team facilities and more at the Speedway—in addition to creating a level AstroTurf football field built atop gravel and sand brought in by 450 dump trucks.
Then, when the Speedway was finally ready to host a football game, it was time to build a stadium concert on top of it all. GoLive (Nashville, TN), a turnkey concert and event company, oversaw a production that found Premier Global Production (Nashville, TN) bringing in the staging, and Chesney’s longtime audio vendor, Morris (Nashville, TN), providing sound.
“It was somewhat business as usual for a Kenny show, because we’re very accustomed to playing venues of that size with him,” said David Haskell, president of Morris. “Ed Wannebo, Kenny’s production manager, gave us the word and said, ‘Hey, check this out—they’re turning the Bristol Speedway into a concert facility and they’re gonna put a little football field in the middle of it, too.’”
The stage was built along the backstretch of the speedway, so it was close to the audience, but there was a catch: The stage’s width was a whopping 140 feet.
“It was really a bit of a chip shot as far as how far we had to throw,” said Haskell, “but how wide we had to throw? That caused a few new interesting wrinkles. It meant a redeploy and a remodel. Chris ‘Sully’ Sullivan, our system engineer on Kenny’s tour, he’s phenomenal. We started running models, said this is what we need to do, went to Ed Wannebo and said we’re gonna need a bunch of forklifts and cranes.”
While the concert was a proper, full-blown stadium show for 50,000 fans, the entire production—sound, lights, staging—had to be disassembled and removed by 9AM the next day.
Photos By Morris/Danny Rosenbalm
To cover that broad distance, Morris fielded a massive Nexo STMline array concert system, with main hangs each bearing 24 M46s, 24 B112s and two M28s; mountains of sub bass created by two sets of 24 S118s flown, plus 24 ground-stacked across the center; aux hangs with two sets of 15 M46s, 15 B112s and three M28s in 270° hangs along with two sets of a dozen M28s; and Nexo NUARs featuring NXAmps. Everything was run on fiber via Dante.
“We were able to get the first three layers of the hang all accomplished inside the stage house,” said Haskell. “Then we picked up the outside delays—we used the d&b J series for because it was 500 feet away from the PA. We lifted up stacks of 16 d&bs on a crane, 83 feet in the air, and they did a fantastic job. We had no issues with coverage at all.”
When it came to the rest of Chesney’s audio production, it was essentially same old same old. “It was pretty much our normal touring package, just augmented a little bit,” said Haskell. “We had Tim Holder out there at FOH on the SSL L500 Plus with his little bit of outboard rack. Then the two monitor desks were, as usual, Midas ProXs. We came in the day before, did our thing, got everything up in the air. It was really not that big of a deal.”
Ironically, the big deal was the load-out, as there was scant time to remove all traces of a concert for 50,000 people and turn the Speedway back into a football stadium. “They wanted us out of there!” laughed Haskell. “That was a big challenge. They needed everything out by 9 the next morning—staging, audio, everything.”
So naturally that meant Chesney played an abbreviated set? “Oh no—he had fun!” said Haskell. “It was basically his last show of the year since the tour was over.”
Not only did Chesney have a great Friday night, but as a fan of the Tennessee Volunteers, he probably had a good Saturday, too, as his team came back from a 0-14 deficit to beat the Hokies 45-24 at a game that was unquestionably one for the record books.