Betting On The Stones

The most unlikely band / venue combo of the season has become the most publicized. On September 29th, the audacious, vulgar Rolling Stones will play the 132-year-old bastion of the civilized sporting world.

Fortunately, SMG Senior VP Mike Evans knows a lot about the Stones and the world of thoroughbred horse racing. Evans negotiated the deal to bring the band to Churchill Downs, the home of the Kentucky Derby, at the behest of longtime Stones promoter Michael Cohl.

Last year, SMG did the Stones at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Evans was at the venue when he got a call from Cohl.

“TNG wanted to get the Stones in a stadium in the region and [Cohl] said the band was looking to play some unusual places and ‘What do you think about Churchill Downs?'”

Actually, no one in the concert biz spent a lot of time thinking about Churchill Downs, at least not in regard to music.

“It was a long process,” Evans said of the negotiations with the Louisville racing organization. “There were some raised eyebrows but we are working with a group of forward-thinking people. They’d like to be able to do this sort of thing. Churchill Downs was receptive and, fortunately, Cohl understands horse racing. So he knew there would be unusual logistics and very real concerns that would have to be addressed.”

For instance, Churchill Downs doesn’t have a training track and the Breeders Cup will be held at the facility November 4th. So not only will grounds have to be left in pristine shape, the horses will need a place to train.

But Evans loves horse racing as a sport and an institution, so even though Live Nation is the promoter of the historic date (and the whole Stones tour, of course), Evans and SMG’s role as the event producer / coordinator is instrumental.

“We have one foot in the venue’s world and one foot in the Stones’ world,” he said. “SMG did not have a relationship with Churchill Downs before this but it was an opportunity and I felt we could negotiate this deal. Now we get to help bring together one of the most famous bands in history and the greatest racing operation in the world.”

Getting the massive A Bigger Bang stage situated on the track is a major undertaking. The stage takes over the track and faces the grandstand. Most of the seating will be in the grandstand and clubhouse areas as well as limited seating around the concert stage, which will be positioned in the infield, facing the grandstand.

About 50,000 tickets will be available with prices between $60 and $300.

In 2005, Churchill Downs concluded a three-and-a-half year, $121 million renovation and the results will likely make the top tier ticket-holders feel right at home.

The clubhouse was replaced and 79 luxury suites were added. In spite of the well-heeled surroundings, odds are that beer will replace the mint julep as the libation of choice.