When Paul McCartney takes the stage Friday night at Safeco Field, it’ll be the first concert there since the stadium opened in 1999. And Mariners officials have worked tirelessly and traveled the country to make sure they get it right.
“We’ve actually been thinking about concerts even before the ballpark was completed,” says Tony Pereira, Sr. Director of Ballpark Operations at Safeco Field.
The biggest impediments have been size and scheduling. With 81 home games a season and a smaller capacity than neighboring CenturyLink Field, most of the big summer shows like U2 and Kenny Chesney end up next door.
“They have about 20,000 more seats than we do and a schedule that’s more flexible than ours, so most of the big stuff has tended to go across the street. But it doesn’t mean we haven’t been trying for this for a long time,” Pereira says.
But McCartney was a perfect fit for Safeco’s first concert. Pereira says the former Beatle prefers baseball stadiums to bigger football stadiums.
“He likes the intimacy where he can still play to 45,000, but because of the shape of our building, people are close and it doesn’t feel as far away as a big stadium might. So in this particular case the fit was right.”
Once McCartney had agreed to play Safeco Field, the planning began in earnest. Pereira and head groundskeeper Bob Christofferson talked to people all over the industry to figure out what it would take to prepare the stadium for the concert.
Pereira traveled to Boston to see McCartney’s show at Fenway Park, which has done several dozen concerts in recent years. And Christofferson spent an entire week in Washington, D.C. at Nationals Park.
“Bob was there from the minute they hit the field for load-in until the very end and it was completely clear,” Pereira says.
Protecting the field is the first and foremost goal for the project. The first piece of the puzzle was laying down a protective surface on the entire warning track so that forklifts and all the heavy machinery could move around without causing ruts or divots.
The stage started going in Monday morning. First, crews put down multiple layers of a squishy material, then plywood before the actual footing of the stage. Then they started building the massive stage. In all, it takes 16 semi trucks to bring in everything needed.
While the stage is being built, the rest of the field is being covered with several layers to protect the grass from the 8,000 chairs. Only the infield will be left uncovered and cordoned off from concert goers.
Crews have been working from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. the last couple of days, and the preparations will reach a feverish pace Thursday.
“They might go overnight Thursday once they start loading in the actual production stuff, the lights, the sound, the other things that come with the tour.”
While Pereira and his team will get to enjoy the concert, there will be little time for anyone to rest on their laurels afterward. Returning Safeco Field to baseball shape begins immediately after the concert.
“They’ll start load-out as soon as we get the fans out of the stadium,” Pereira says. “That will go about 36 hours straight to get them completely off the field and out of the building, and give Bob a full day Sunday to do what he needs to do. The team gets home Monday.”
While no other concerts are planned right now, Pereira is hopeful a triumphant McCartney show is just the first of more to come in the next few years. “We’re feeling really good about it,” he says.