Blake Shelton to headline Back Porch Revival concert at Kinnick Stadium

The Back Porch Revival

Kinnick Stadium — Saturday, Aug. 27 at 3 p.m.

Country star Blake Shelton will headline Kinnick’s first Back Porch Revival -- photo by Daniel Hughes
Country star Blake Shelton will headline Kinnick’s first Back Porch Revival — photo by Daniel Hughes

Can the University of Iowa’s 87-year-old Kinnick Stadium go beyond sporting events to become a concert venue? We’re about to find out on Aug. 27, when the Back Porch Revival will take over the arena for a seven-hour-long country music concert, starring Blake Shelton, Thomas Rhett and Big & Rich. Tucker Beathard, brother of Iowa Quarterback C.J. and son of country legend Casey Beathard, will also perform. Family connections aside, Beathard is hitting his stride as a relevant draw in his own right: At the time of this writing, his 2016 debut single “Rock On” is #22 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.

The concert was envisioned by former NFL and Iowa football player Dallas Clark as a fundraiser for the Native Fund, a nonprofit he set up to provide disaster relief and benefit military veterans and children with life-threatening illnesses. Clark’s connection to University of Iowa Athletics no doubt helped him convince the University and Athletic Department to try this out.

Are we Ready to Rock?

There’s a logistical challenge to building the large stage needed for a stadium concert. The temporary stage structure has towers as tall as 50 feet with cross-beams for lighting and sound. It has to be built in just a few days. There are companies that specialize in this, but Kinnick doesn’t have gates and ramps large enough to allow semi-trailer trucks to drive down to the field. Instead, everything needed for the event, from stages to Kybos, will be lifted into the stadium by giant cranes, adding another potentially entertaining element for neighborhood onlookers to enjoy.

The sound system for an event like this is the result of 50 years of experimentation and acoustic science. Line array speakers — the curved lines of speakers hung over the stage — are designed to beam their sound into the audience, each speaker in the array covering a small area of the audience. Line arrays require careful tuning, including a digital delay for each speakers so that their sound arrives at a listener’s ear at the same moment.

How’s the View?

For the “cheap seats” at the back and side of the stadium, the public address speakers can be used to fill in, using digital delays to keep the sound in sync with the main speaker arrays. Though computer modelling of the acoustics are essential to design such a system, concert sound is still an art, and involves careful listening by experienced engineers to get it right. The bowl shape of the stadium will reflect much of the echoes upwards, but there’s a trade-off between keeping the direct sound signal loud enough to overpower the echoes and deafening the audience.

Kinnick Stadium, which opened in 1929, can hold upwards of 70,000 people -- photo by Jordan Sellergren
Kinnick Stadium, which opened in 1929, can hold upwards of 70,000 people — photo by Jordan Sellergren

The size of the stadiums means that the performers are little more than dots to fans in the far reaches of the stands. The giant screens in the stadium will bring the stage closer. Shelton and other performers will be playing as much to cameras as the fans down front, making it as much a television show as a live concert.
Kinnick Stadium, which was constructed on the edge of town in the 1920s, is now surrounded by residential streets. As with football games, nearly everyone on the west side of Iowa City will be a member of the audience whether they like it or not.

Can We Drink?

Another Kinnick tradition will be in full effect for this event: tailgating. The parking lots open at 10 a.m., but the concert begins at 3 p.m., allowing time for snacking, socializing and adult beverages. A big difference between the concert and a football game will be that beer will be sold inside the stadium. It’s unknown whether country music fans will be rowdier than football fans, though the two groups probably overlap broadly. Local police departments’ experience in keeping order at football games will come in handy.

Who’s Getting Big & Rich?

Whether the concert actually makes money is an open question. With a capacity of roughly 70,000, and tickets ranging in price from $39 to $239, a sold out event could gross over three million dollars. The Back Porch Revival ticketing site shows most of the $39 and $79 tickets have already sold. Blake Shelton’s fee is between $250,000 and $400,000, though he may give the promoters a break since it is a charity event. Big & Rich normally charge around $100,000. Other overheads — the fee paid to the University for the use of the stadium, security, sound system rental — have not been publicized. One thing for certain is that 70,000 country music fans can drink a lot of $10 cups of beer on a hot August night.

Kinnick’s future as a concert venue will depend in large part on how well this event goes. But there are limiting factors that mean it will never be an every-weekend thing. The biggest is Iowa’s notoriously changeable and dramatic weather. The stage area will be roofed, but as with football games, if there’s significant rain — or worse, lightning and high winds — the concert-going experience could be miserable, even dangerous. And will the stadium’s neighbors appreciate seven hours of loud music rolling over their homes? Despite similar annoyance, football is somewhat grandfathered in to life on Iowa City’s west side. It will be interesting to see if the Back Porch Revival can make future music events just as welcome.

Kent Williams has been working & writing in Iowa City since the Carter Administration. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 204.

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