Sovereign Arena

Tweeter Center

PNC Arts Center

Corrections or additions?

This article by Diana Wolf was prepared for the June 27, 2001

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Summer Spells Rock ‘n’

Summertime is here, and the action is not just jammin’

at the beaches. Summer concert tours are in full swing. Young or old,

your favorite band probably plays at one of New Jersey’s premier

concert

venues in the upcoming months. You know the music, but what should

you expect of the location?

Most likely that’s a lot more than a $64 question. Ticket prices for

the summer concerts run up to $80 apiece or so (assuming you’re not

paying bigtime for a scalper or agency to do you legwork for you).

On top of that is parking, refreshments (how about $6.50 for a wine

cooler?), lawn chair rental, blanket rental ($15), or — if things

really go bad — purchase of a poncho ($5) to get you through a

rainstorm and back to your car, which may well be parked a mile or

so away at some venues.

Like the big-name bands that they host, summer concert facilities

have their own personalities. And the experience of going is often

far greater than the hour or so that your beloved group is on stage.

Tailgating, parking lot partying, and standing in line at the

bathrooms

are all part of the scene. U.S. 1 sent Diana Wolf to survey three

area venues — all hosting fairly big name acts and all within

an hour or so of central New Jersey. Her report begins close to home.

Top Of Page
Sovereign Arena

The hunt for Steppenwolf tickets led me to a VIP

experience

at the Classic Rock Concert spotlighting Foghat, Blue Oyster Cult,

and Steppenwolf. With tickets priced from $19.50 to $49.50, this gift

was too good to pass up.

I didn’t expect the close proximity of everything to the Sovereign

Bank Arena — highways, $5 parking lot, McDonald’s, trendy Urban

Word Cafe. This 10,500-seat venue, by far the most convenient in

central

New Jersey, is completely enclosed. Unable to sing to the stars, it’s

unlikely to attract the big crowd performers. The management’s

no-alcohol

policy discourages tailgating, so while I had expected a teeming

pre-show

celebration, an hour before the show I encountered just one pickup

truck with three drunk occupants oblivious to the alcohol policy and

everything else.

At the turnstile, a ticket rip ushers us in. No scanners beeping,

no one checking my purse (which contained my camera from earlier that

day), nothing. Once inside, creatures of comfort celebrate the wide

corridors of the arena’s smoke-free and air conditioned atmosphere,

with an outdoor gated smoking area for those in need of a nicotine

fix. Autographed "stars" of past entertainers — John

Mellencamp,

KISS, WWF, and Shania Twain among them — look down from the walls.

Food prices cater to a small-town wallet, the most affordable prices

of any New Jersey venue. Snacks include popcorn, cracker jacks,

peanuts,

soft pretzels, all costing about $2.75. The $5 chicken tenders meal

is most plentiful for your cash, while the coolest offering is the

Carvel rootbeer float for $3.50. An M&M vending machine provides a

$1.25 sugar fix. With a keen eye towards Mother Nature, the arena

provides convenient trash and recycling containers throughout. A video

arcade is an entertaining diversion. If you run low on cash, there

are ATMs for your convenience, Sovereign Bank, of course. You’ll be

reminded again who sponsors this arena when you view the tacky

Sovereign

Bank advertisements plastered on every restroom toilet paper holder,

paper towel dispenser, and liquid soap dispenser.

My 30-something date and I are among the youngest in attendance, out

of our element among towering mountains of leather jackets, beer

bellies,

and scraggly beards (including the ones on women). We travel first

class tonight in a second floor luxury suite, tucked away in a world

all our own (with 12 other guests).

Each of the arena’s private, carpeted box comes complete with two

couches around a wooden coffee table. A kitchenette along one wall

includes a sink and a small refrigerator of cold beverages. A bar

area large enough to hold our two bottles of wine, ice bucket, and

real glass glasses completes the entertainment package with a remote

color TV. Each suite includes 14 comfortable theater-style seats

overlooking

the stage in a semi-private balcony.

As we feasted on an elegant catered Italian meal provided through

the arena, we were grateful to avoid those typical stadium hot dogs.

Our dessert was a chocoholics delight — chocolate chip cookies,

chocolate brownies, and plump, fresh strawberry garnishes which

disappeared

first off the tray. This service was typical of an arena staff that

is extremely friendly and accommodating, no matter where you

sit. Any problem is no problem to this staff.

The oval arena has long rows of floor seats split by two aisles,

making

access to and from the rows as convenient as possible. Whether your

seats are directly opposite the stage at the back of the arena or

up on the second level in a luxury box, you’ll see the lead singer’s

glean of sweat or the reflective shine on a bass guitar.

The suite lights automatically turn off when the show begins, but

we left the television on mute in the background to keep everyone

posted on the latest sports scores.

Intermission creates a feeding frenzy, lining up even for the men’s

room. This crowd is now looser for the alcohol consumed, becoming

less polite. I walked by a loitering group when a female bumped a

sign off a pole. The sign hit my leg. I exclaimed "ouch" in

surprise. Her date, beer in hand, mocked me with a sing-song

"owey-owey-owey."

The sign-knocking female apologized, and my knowledge that she had

to go home with the gorilla satisfied my momentary urge for revenge.

One random event does not make a poor experience, and the show more

than redeemed our evening. That older front row crowd entertained

those in the back, exhibiting no shame in shaking their groove thang

(and everything else that jiggled) to a booming loudness that balanced

volume-control enough to talk with my suite mates. Foghat opened the

trio and rocked the house down with "Slow Ride," walking the

length of the stage, baiting the crowd like bears in a pit. It was

a tough act to follow, until Blue Oyster Cult roared onstage with

"Godzilla," the loudest cheering raising the dead over

"Don’t

Fear The Reaper." Half-hour intermissions between each band made

the late-night crowd a bit sluggish by the time Steppenwolf wandered

on. Undaunted by the late hour, Steppenwolf swooned everyone with

their "Magic Carpet Ride," with the crowd predictably howling

as one to the strains of "Born To Be Wild."

After the show, we waited for the crowd to disperse, and within 15

minutes, our voices echoed in the chamber. It was a short stroll to

the car, and a convenient zip onto the highway home.

Sovereign Bank Arena 550 South Broad Street, Trenton,

609-656-3200.

Top Of Page
Tweeter Center

I can’t imagine any Black Crowes fans reckless or

brawling

enough to merit the police presence, conspicuous two miles from the

Tweeter Center, so this must be standard show policy. Police on foot,

in cars, and on bikes detain and direct traffic to the parking lots

as the road signs point only to the general direction of the complex.

There is little order to keep with this crawling line of cars

searching

for parking spaces. Parking cost is $10, whether you park close in

VIP or far away in one of the public lots. Tweeter staff with

flashlights

carefully guides the trail between traffic cones. I’m ushered into

Lot 3 and can’t even see Tweeter Center from here. Before my car is

in park, I am accosted with shouts of "Anyone need a ticket?"

Welcome to Camden.

After a half-mile hike to the beat of the rowdy radios pulsing through

open car doors and trunks, passing patrons reclining in lawn chairs

or tossing footballs, lot after lot, I trip onto the entrance of the

7,000-seat venue. With no visible signage, I mistake the VIP lounge

for the entrance, two beer-bellied brutes barring my passage, pointing

to the proper entrance.

Approaching the turnstiles, I reach for my ticket when suddenly hands

stiffly grab my waist and pat my thighs. Reeling from this invasion,

each compartment of my purse and every coat pocket is thoroughly

frisked

before I even surrender my ticket to the ticket taker. My water bottle

is granted entrance. For the ticket price of $24.50 to $39.50, you,

too, can be so accosted. The venue’s "No Reentry" policy

prevents

enduring that search twice.

Inside the amusement park atmosphere of blaring music and smiling

ad banners, a woman welcomes me with a free lawn chair rental coupon

for the first 500 lawn patrons. Shouts of "free condoms"

attract

me to one of the over half dozen stations promoting safe sex.

"Only

one per customer," a distributor tells a girl asking for two

samples.

This promotion coincides with "select concerts" this year,

and I wonder what crowd composition makes tonight’s event worthy.

My eyes do a double take as I behold mobile money, a First National

Bank of Chester County ATM van. Spacious bathrooms off to the side,

color-coordinated pink or blue depending on your gender, are the

tidiest

public bathrooms I’ve seen.

At each of the two outdoor plazas, one on each side of the venue,

refreshments will feed your appetite but starve your wallet. The

freshly

blended strawberry daiquiris or margaritas for $6.50 look appetizing.

Since I am driving, the $5 non-alcoholic frozen lemonade piques my

interest, but a concession worker warns me it’s a small cup and hardly

worth it. For value, he recommends both the $7 chicken fingers with

fries because the chicken strips are larger this year, and the

Domino’s

pizza for $6 because it’s a whole personal pizza delivered fresh,

not frozen, and cooked on premises. The most popular item seemed to

be the large soft pretzel, its size almost justifying the $4.50 price

tag.

The two indoor plazas, named Ben Franklin and Walt Whitman for the

two neighboring bridges, offer food and drink with the politically

correct addition of an exclusive wheelchair-accessible counter. The

Walt Whitman Plaza has a Commerce Bank ATM, and both display

memorabilia

from past Electric Factory events. The comprehensive Live Aid exhibit

is worth a stroll through, especially for those who remember Live

Aid when it was live.

New is the theme of Tweeter’s lawn area. After a rewarding climb of

63 or 34 stairs (the front entrance is shorter), brand new chairs

wait to rest those overworked muscles. Last year’s chair legs had

pointy tips to hold secure in the sloping ground, but lawsuits of

injured stupid or drunk patrons at other venues caused a rethinking

of the design. These smooth-edge frames will keep you bug-free with

nary a point to maim oneself or another.

Also new is the projector broadcasting larger-than-life stage action

onto several roof screens, a much-needed addition because you can’t

see squat from any lawn seat. Daylight sunglare combined with

sunglasses

makes those megastars onstage impossible to distinguish from fleas.

At night, stage lights aid in locating the action, the performers

now more like moths around strobe lights. Bring binoculars.

Despite the stage’s distance, the lawn area block party coma is

"The

Experience." A warm, romantic breeze blows across the Delaware

River, the city of Philadelphia glitters in the background, the Ben

Franklin Bridge tall and regal, a perfectly dark setting for dancing

or the ensuing whatnot activity. It’s not smoke free, but a strong

cool breeze across the river keeps the air fresh.

Sitting under roof cover is the only way to actually see the stage,

but the small, cramped stage is recessed, closed in on three sides

with the walls giving the impression of watching a TV screen. Lawn

breezes cannot squeeze under the low, narrow roof, making the air

hot and stuffy and smelly. The cement floor slopes downward, so if

you stand (and be prepared to), your calves will wail by night’s end.

The VIP seats sardine in the first rows of the 200 level, the

beginning

of that nose-bleed-distant feeling. These padded movie theater seats

with cupholders — the big selling point — have waitress

service

and VIP lounge admission, but mingled in with the noisy commoners

doesn’t say VIP to me.

A big thumbs up to wardrobe for designing staff Tweeterwear in Big

Bird yellow jackets. They practically glow in the night, making them

easy targets to spot to prepare for their ticket assaults. These

gatekeepers

stand in pairs for both protection and the appearance of threatening

numbers to oppose those who would tempt fate and sneak down to a

(gasp!)

lower level than their ticket allows. Moving from lawn area to my

stage seat, my ticket was checked by both staff at each junction.

Pushing through the security checkpoints, I find my seat just as the

Black Crowes slouch onto stage in dirty ripped jeans like some high

school grunge band. I sit down as everyone stands, remaining upright

for the entire show. (Remember those sore calves?) Several cell phones

are held up at the start of the show — who did those people call?

And how could anyone hear anything over the reverb? Interacting

minimally

with the crowd, their highlight was not a hit like "Hard to

Handle,"

but the final song they played, a cover of Beatles’ "I Am The

Walrus." Precisely one hour later, with the crowd’s roar and

cheers

in their ears, the Black Crowes shuffled off stage without an encore.

Two thumbs down for that. The roadies packed up the microphone and

drums under house lights, and yet the crowd remained transfixed,

optimistically

expecting a surprise encore that never came.

I seized this opportunity for a traffic-free exit. Based on the

earlier

police presence, I expected crowd control officers every 50 feet,

but I saw only a hotdog vendor. No flowing net of safety streaming

to their cars, just three loud males behind me, and no one but them

would have heard me scream. One police van was parked deep in my Lot

3, the officer pointing me to the exit. Good to know they’re useful

for something.

Tweeter Center, 1 Harbour Boulevard, Camden Waterfront,

Camden, 856-365-1300. Ticket line: 856-338-9000.

Top Of Page
PNC Arts Center

Aerosmith, the concert I’ve waited for. The New York

Times says this band is entering its "Third Incarnation,"

so would we, the first of two sold out Holmdel crowds, see another

band gasping through a mid-life crisis performance, or would we be

rocked off our you know whats. Ask and I’ll tell.

The 17,500 tailgaters (7,000 lawn and 10,500 seats) in the free

commuter

parking lots were expecting a hard show for their ticket — priced

from $37 to $82 — and they prepared properly for it. First step

is transforming the parking spaces next to their cars into

6-by-12-foot

VIP lounges. Radios crank, beer flows, hibachis grill, and patrons

stretch out in lounge chairs on the warm cement. The partying group

in front of my car jokes with me that they’ll watch my car if I let

them sit on it. Even though their house is "just over there,"

pointing to a clump of trees, they’ve been here for two hours now,

resting, eating, and gaining strength for the 10-minute uphill trudge

to the PNC Bank Arts Center. Good thing I wore those sensible shoes.

The path is well marked with the "Walkway to Show" sign,

located

just beyond the "No food-beverage container-pets-recording

devices-cameras-barefeet

in theater. Patrons & packages subject to inspection" sign.

Everyone

makes the best of this lemming pilgrimage, chatting and drinking the

last drops of their energy-inspiring brewskis. Shuttle buses are

available,

but any makeshift bus stop is not clearly marked. Besides, why wimp

out when the thrill of getting there is walking beside the Garden

State Parkway on-ramp with relative safety from becoming another

hit-and-run

statistic. "I see it!" a woman beside me gasps upon her first

glimpse of the arena, still a pinprick distance away.

No strip search here to gain entrance. The Arts Center staff searched

only the main compartment of my purse, forcing me to drain the water

from my water bottle to bring it in. A woman behind me had to throw

away her bottle of perfume. "No aerosols," said the staff,

and they mean it.

A cacophony of sounds and smells bombards my senses as I set foot

in the crowded First Stage open air plaza. This is a small stage for

up and coming local performers, next to a fountain that’s not

operating

tonight. This could be lovely if not crowded by food carts, souvenir

booths, and stuffy bathrooms with lines winding deep into the

loitering

crowd. The only thing of note about this area is if you plan to drink

alcohol, you must first obtain a free plastic wristband at a separate

booth here. Once you get that, pass this area by, and go inside to

the real plazas.

On either side of the stage are mirror-image outdoor plazas with

freestanding

food buildings to purchase grilled entrees or cups of refreshment,

along with umbrella-covered square tables to partake of the food.

The food is the same standard food offerings, but prices are the most

expensive for the little you’ll receive. The $4.50 Domino’s pizza,

for example, is only a slice of cheese or pepperoni. Of the food worth

its inflated price, the large Minute Maid frozen slushie for $4 is

a good compliment to a hot evening. I sampled the chicken fingers

and fries meal. My three large breaded chicken fingers on a bed of

fries arrived hot and not dripping in grease. At $6.50, it was tasty

and filling.

A peculiar design at the Arts Center utilizes an underground space

like some large basement. This is where you’ll find the least crowded

restrooms, so if you gotta go, these pea green interiors are worth

the novelty of walking downstairs. But if you’ve been drinking, watch

your step.

Stumbling drunk may not be a concern of yours as it is a concern

addressed

by the Arts Center. Beverage stands have an alcohol cutoff time, shown

by a plastic clock with moveable hands. Tonight’s last call is 10

p.m. This is the only venue of the three to offer a Designated Driver

program. To sign up, visit the South Main food stand and giving your

name. The manager will snap a special wristband onto your wrist which

entitles you to free fountain drinks.

The best time to break for whatever refreshment required is during

the opening act. All lines are jammed before the show. If you have

lawn seats, break once at the beginning and then guard your lawn space

fiercely. It’s a thigh-busting 66 steps to the cement walkway at the

top of the lawn area from the main First Stage entrance. A half hour

before this sold out show, the grass area is shoulder to shoulder.

Whoever said length doesn’t matter never came here because this design

is more open and not as distant from the stage. Several large

projector

screens are spaced along the roof to show the concert action during

showtime, which helps if you have a patch of grass near that top.

The sides of the lawn — the left and right "wings" —

offer the best views, if you can get a flat patch. The wings follow

the stairs down a hill which is quite steep to place a chair or your

butt on for several hours. The only guaranteed flat area is the cement

"special needs" section for those requiring wheelchair access.

For those of you grassbound, the lawn chairs are brand new this year,

and this venue offers blankets for rent for $15; you can buy rain

ponchos or glow lights for $5.

All lawn marketing aside, the best seats are found under

the roof, made better after your successful navigation through the

maze of one-way entrances. You cannot enter the roof seats from the

lawn area — it’s exit only, and yellow-shirted brutes block your

wrong-way passage. The arena also designates certain stairwells as

"enter" and "exit" only, and woe be the patrons who

try to defy that order. The staff blends in with the crowd, with no

uniform color code, but the red shirts are surely found every place

you want to go but can’t. A rule of thumb: if you need to exit, walk

up. Otherwise, the red shirts will growl as they point "up"

and deny access to a more convenient wide walkway. "It doesn’t

seem worth it to go up and around," a woman grumbles as a red

shirt forces her away from the wide, closer walkway up to a more

narrow,

more crowded path through the crowd.

The seats angle stadium-style allowing a view both between and above

the row in front of you. A welcoming flat concrete step awaits your

feet, wide with expansive foot room to stretch out or place a food

carry tray on the ground. The long rows of seats present the only

downfall, but that wide step makes it possible to get to your seat

mid-aisle without stepping on toes. Some sections are labeled

nonsmoking,

as if that helps! You don’t need to sit in a VIP seat, which are

scattered

throughout the aisles, to have a closer view than you might expect

from such a large venue.

Designers of the stage kept the audience in mind when building the

white, flat walls next to the stage. This makes the space larger,

easily viewable from the lawn wings. The stage juts out a bit, giving

a wide open feel, accentuated by the high roof, which always has a

breeze flowing through.

Anticipation builds, as does the crowd’s rowdy behavior. Your buddies,

friendly on the outside, now inside transform into a pushy, rude lot,

possessive of the tiniest elbow room of space. This increased pushing

and spilling of beer illustrates the thoughtfulness behind that

Designated

Driver’s program. Try not to venture out during an intermission, or

you’ll be trampled by a flood of these folk.

The lights dim, and large beach balls materialize from the dark lawn

area, as Aerosmith explodes on stage. Someone turns the volume up

too loud and then walks away, so bring earplugs.

Steven Tyler makes good use of the long stage, strutting from end

to end to chat with, sing to, and touch the crowd. The band offers

some newer songs, but the crowd’s loudest roars are for classics such

as "Ragdoll" and "Walk This Way." Extending this

crowd-friendly

attitude, the band walks through the Arts Center surrounded by

elbow-locked

security guards to a smaller stage arranged at the front of the lawn

area. Here they play three songs to the screaming delight of the lawn

crowd, including "Dream On" which brings out those Zippo

lighters.

As the megastars walk back to the stage, I am close enough to see

Joe Perry almost trip and fall near me. (I’ve been known to have that

affect on men). And any of these under-roof seats are close enough

to see the spots in Tyler’s twirling leopard microphone stand scarf.

Aerosmith plays a lusty three-song encore as a finale to their

two-hour

show. Not one of us leaves disappointed.

PNC Bank Arts Center, Exit 116 Garden State Parkway,

Holmdel,

732-335-0400.

Diana Wolf


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