Music mogul Irving Azoff envisions an epic return of live entertainment after the coronavirus pandemic canceled festivals and left concert venues empty this past year.
“I think it’s going to be the Roaring Twenties,” Azoff said referring to the lively period known for a good time following the devastation and distress of World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic. “I think there’s going to be a lot of pent-up demand and excitement. I think people, especially if they haven’t been able to travel, take a vacation, what a wonderful way to get away for a night even.”
Azoff, who Billboard Magazine named in 2012 the most powerful man in the music industry, was hesitant to speculate about when a return to live music might come in the United States.
But when it does he has his eyes trained on an area he knows well — the California desert, he told The Desert Sun in an exclusive interview.
The desert is, of course, already known around the globe as a live music mecca because of the Coachella and Stagecoach festivals that draw hundreds of thousands annually with headliners from Beyoncé to Kanye West, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and others.
Azoff is now in the process of augmenting the area’s live music offerings with a privately funded $250 million arena 15.6 miles from downtown Palm Springs that he says will host at least 40 major concerts per year.
He expects the Eagles (he once managed the legendary group and maintains a close relationship with its members) to be among the first acts.
Azoff, who has built relationships in the music industry for decades as the CEO of Ticketmaster and Front Line Management and executive chairman of Live Nation, owns a home in the neighborhood nestled across the street from Empire Polo Club, the site of Coachella and Stagecoach. The festivals are put on by promoter Goldenvoice, which is an AEG Live subsidiary. It is also Azoff’s main competitor for artists.
Azoff said that he welcomes Goldenvoice CEO Paul Tollett and every other major promoter to bring their artists to the arena.
“They’re playing all our other buildings, there’s no reason they’re not going to come to the Coachella Valley arena,” Azoff said, referring to the dozens of arenas his Oak View Group manages across the country.
Builders will break ground on the Southern California arena in early May and expect to complete the project in 18 months, presumably not long after the return of live music.
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The arena will be built for an AHL hockey team affiliated with the NHL’s Seattle Kraken. Other sporting events, including NBA and NHL preseason games, college basketball tournaments, UFC and boxing, also are being pursued.
Azoff, 73, and business partner Tim Leiweke, who together formed Oak View Group, believe the arena that will seat 11,679 for concerts will provide the Coachella Valley with a large, year-round live music venue, as opposed to just three weekends a year for the enormous festivals.
“There’s going to be big demand,” said Azoff, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2020. “The valley has developed, both from its residents and the people who visit there, this thirst for music and art. We’re going to provide that opportunity for artists to come play. I believe we’re just big enough that we can be competitive with all the other major arenas in the country, and I believe that we’re going to see a lot of music.”
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Azoff said that the arena will provide artists with a space to rehearse and test out equipment before heading out on tour up the West Coast and across the country. He also sees it as a place artists will want to come, maybe even multiple times a year, because of the year-round sunshine and resort lifestyle.
“Residency accommodations” for artists are planned inside the arena, which will include a full kitchen and ample space for them to bring their personal chefs and other members of their touring team for more than just one or two days.
Because of the ongoing pandemic, Azoff said that artists aren’t currently in a rush to book venues 18 months in advance. OVG booking director Eric Gardner said that it could be later this year or early next year before any announcement is made about which artists will be booked that first month after the arena opens, during the fourth quarter of 2022.
Azoff said he isn’t looking for a big opening night. He instead wants a big opening month, with major artists from almost every genre and mixed with hockey games. He envisions the Eagles, together since 1971, perhaps playing three consecutive nights that first month.
“We want to get it all,” he said.
The completion of the arena is still more than a year away but the timing, Azoff says, is perfect. Entering the Roaring Twenties, President Warren G. Harding’s campaign slogan was “Return to normalcy” following the war and pandemic.
Azoff sees live music as opportunity to usher in a return to normalcy a hundred years later, and the arena in the California desert playing a big role in that.
“The good news for us in building it down there,” Azoff said, “is that it appears that by our opening, I can’t imagine the business isn’t back at full speed.”
Andrew John is a reporter for The Desert Sun and the USA TODAY Network. Find him on Twitter: @Andrew_L_John. Email him at [email protected]