Kinnick conversion: Hawkeye football stadium transformed for Back Porch Revival (WITH TIME-LAPSE VIDEO)
IOWA CITY — Conversions, blitzes, Hail Marys and roaring crowds on a Saturday are nothing new at Kinnick Stadium. But the University of Iowa’s hallowed Hawkeye football grounds have never seen a conversion like this week’s blitz.
Transforming the stadium into a concert venue for Saturday’s Back Porch Revival country music show — featuring the likes of Tucker Beathard, Big & Rich, Thomas Rhett and headliner Blake Shelton — is taking a Herculean effort that includes forklifts, unique sound checks, goal post removal and a 246,000-pound crane.
It’s all part of an effort to pack 58,000 fans into the stadium for the venue’s first-ever concert.
“There’s a thousand moving parts,” said Mark Jennings, UI associate athletics director and the university’s coordinator for the eight-hour event, which kicks off at 3 p.m. and is expected to wrap up around 11 p.m. “Never having done this before, everything’s new.”
The great transformation of the stadium began at 8 a.m. Sunday as forklifts began delivering interlocking blocks being placed on the field to cover and protect the turf.
“These are used at stadium concerts,” Jennings said. “It’s not like we’re creating the wheel.”
But unlike other concerts, special precautions are being taken to make sure it’s not too loud on Saturday.
In the same manner as the university monitors noise during football games, sound engineers came in to test concert decibels to make sure infants in the neonatal intensive care unit across the street from the stadium won’t be bothered. If it gets too loud on Saturday, engineers are to turn down the volume, so to speak, Jennings said.
“That was a hurdle that we had to clear before we could even say yes to the concert,” he noted.
Stadium tweaks include taking down the goal posts and cutting the guardrails between the stands and the field to create permanently hinged gates at the end of each aisle. Steps are also being added to provide field access for this show and any future concerts, which Jennings said could happen if Saturday’s show is a success. Security is to be tight at those gates, and only people with field-access tickets and wristbands are to be allowed entry.
MORE COVERAGE OF BACK PORCH REVIVAL:
Perhaps the biggest challenge in setting up for the show involves moving in all the parts that make up the 50-foot-tall stage. Kinnick was designed for football, not concerts, which means much of the equipment needed to set up the show doesn’t fit through the stadium’s narrow tunnels.
So, on Monday, a giant crane from Tri-State Crane & Rigging Services in Cedar Rapids arrived at Gate H, to begin hoisting those big pieces up and over the stadium’s north wall.
“I think they said the crane is 246,000 pounds, so we had to have our engineers decide if that (concrete just off the street) would hold that crane,” Jennings said.
Work to transform the stadium is expected to take all week, right up 1 p.m. Saturday when gates open.
ROLL OUT THE BARREL
For Saturday’s concert, Kinnick’s footprint is actually being expanded a bit to create an area where concertgoers can gather and — for the first time at the stadium — beer can be sold.
Evashevski Drive on Kinnick’s north side is to be closed and fenced off to create a concessions and comfort area with food and beverages, merchandise and portable toilets.
Aramark, which handles concessions at the stadium, has obtained a five-day liquor license to accommodate beer sales. Patrons with proper identification can purchase two beers at a time. Cost is $6.50 for domestics and $7.50 for Iowa craft beer.
TICKETS STILL AVAILABLE
When the Back Porch Revival show was announced in October, ticket sales got off to a blazing start, with 36,000 snapped up in the first two weeks.
“That’s unheard of 11 months in advance,” Jennings said.
As of Wednesday, about 14,000 tickets remained, with the best availability in the $79 and $114 bleacher seats in the stadium’s north end. Top prices are $169 and $239.
Tickets can be purchased at thebackporchrevival.com
ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL?
In typical concert fashion, stage teardown and equipment loadout is to begin immediately after Saturday’s show and continue all night and all day Sunday, Jennings said. The crane returns Monday and by Tuesday the flooring is to be gone.
Things need to move quickly since kickoff for the UI football season begins Sept. 3, when the Hawkeyes face Miami of Ohio at 2:30 p.m.
“If we do this again, which I hope we do if this goes well, I don’t think we would ever do it a week before football season, because that has really strained our staff,” Jennings said, adding concert setup came on the heels of the Hawkeyes Kids Day scrimmage and the incoming UI freshmen photo on the field.
“Our facility staff is unbelievable,” Jennings said. “They just say, ‘OK, we’ll get it done.’ ”