Sheryl Crow's comment that she was happy to "pop the cherry" on the new National City Pavilion at Riverbend was appropos for two reasons. The audience for her May 25 concert was filled with groups of women, the younger ones squealing for opening act Jason Mraz and the more "mature" set singing along and dancing to Crow's hit songs.
And the 4,100-seat venue got a thorough workout in its national act debut, with the sound system ably handling Mraz's Reggae-tinged California Pop as well as Crow's energetic nine-piece band.
When I toured the under-construction pavilion in April, Riverbend Director Mike Smith was especially excited about the venue's site lines and sound system. Every seat is under cover, and the back section rises more steeply than the front area, closing in the pavilion a bit and providing a nice view from the back rows.
The last row in National City is equivalent to about two thirds of the way back in Riverbend's covered pavilion, and video screens on either side of the stage bring the action even closer.
As at Riverbend, the sides are open, offering some interesting views into Coney Island next door. When it was still light May 25 I enjoyed watching the bumper car ride (I was tempted to leave my seat and get in line), and later the lit-up roller coaster loomed quietly in the night. When you're in the last rows you can look back across to the Riverbend lawn and the top of the steel towers over its covered pavilion.
The National City stage is the same size as Riverbend's, though not as deep. The new venue uses Riverbend's familiar exposed steel girder look for the roof structure, and special acoustic steel beams were utilized across the ceiling to improve the sound.
Entryways into National City are right off the existing Riverbend asphalt plaza, and concertgoers use the existing bathrooms and concession stands. Only a small VIP room, a merchandise area and some specialty drink stands were housed in bays under National City's upper seating deck.
Over the Rhine officially opened the new venue May 24 with a well-received start-to-finish playing of their double album Ohio. Attendance was around 1,800, Smith said, and 3,400-3,500 saw Crow and Mraz.
"With all the help we got from various concert business and construction consultants, we believed we'd covered everything heading into this opening weekend," Smith said. "It was a very enjoyable weekend. We got a lot of good feedback."
Fourteen more shows are scheduled at National City Pavilion: The Moody Blues June 6, The Raconteurs with The Black Lips June 10, Stevie Nicks June 26, Aly & AJ June 27, Steely Dan July 13, Weird Al Yankovic July 21, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra playing "The Music of Led Zeppelin" Aug. 1, Peter Frampton Aug. 6, Merle Haggard Aug. 7, Boys Like Girls and Good Charlotte Aug. 9, Huey Lewis & the News Aug. 11, O.A.R. Aug. 12, George Thorogood & the Destroyers with Buddy Guy Aug. 20 and the "Regeneration Tour" with Human League, Belinda Carlisle, ABC, Flock of Seagulls and Naked Eyes Aug. 25.
Smith says he still hopes to book several more shows at the venue this summer. Rumors are flying that Bob Dylan might be one of those acts to be announced, but Smith wouldn't confirm it.
He says a few more tweaks need to be done to the facility, mostly landscaping, painting and replacing a fence.
Smith says National City Pavilion will come in as budgeted at $6.8 million. It's the first "second stage" being built by any U.S. outdoor concert facility that he's aware of, but once other organizations see the economies of scale here -- using existing parking lots, bathrooms, concessions, ticketing system, usher staff, etc. -- Smith thinks the Riverbend Music Center "campus" likely will become a trend-setter.
"People in the concert business have told us that it might take one full season before National City Pavilion gets established in the minds of the promoters on the coasts," he says. "And it'll certainly take a little time for people in Cincinnati to find out about this place. But the word-of-mouth is already positive, so we're pleased." ©