June 24, 2011 in City

‘Backyard’ bash

Judds help Northern Quest Hotel and Casino debut its 4,250-seat outdoor concert venue
Jim Kershner I Jimk@Spokesman.Com, (509) 459-5493
 

Naomi Judd, left, was in Spokane last month as keynote speaker for the Women Helping Women fund’s annual luncheon. You can read staff writer Rebecca Nappi’s interview with her then at www.spokesman.com/juddinterview.

On the eve of the first big show at the Northern Quest Resort and Casino’s outdoor concert space – The Judds – the big question is: What, exactly, is this new venue like?

We attended the “tune-up” concert held there on June 11 and then did a walk-through of the site last week.

Here are a few answers:

• It’s not an “amphitheater” in the strict definition of the word – it’s set on a flat expanse of lawn between the resort’s hotel and its parking garage. Jeff Duke of Northern Quest calls it “our backyard.”

• The flooring consists of thousands of white, molded plastic “event-deck” blocks, which should keep people’s feet out of the mud.

• The seats are of the stadium variety, bolted to the deck and to each other. They pop up when no one is sitting in them. The seats will stay in place through the entire summer series and be stored during the winter.

• The stage is covered, with the standard sound and lighting capacity.

• The acoustics are decent – although at the soft-opening concert (featuring local bands Soul Proprietor and the Ryan Larsen Band) the music had to compete with the roar of the monster trucks from nearby Spokane County Raceway.

• The venue is lined with white tents selling food, drinks (yes, including alcohol) and merchandise.

• All seats will be reserved.

• This is not a Festival at Sandpoint-style venue, where people bring blankets and picnics. Coolers and outside food and beverage of any kind are prohibited.

• Other rules: No smoking outside designated areas, no drugs, no moshing, no crowd-surfing, no Frisbees and no kids under 14 unless accompanied by an adult.

• Parking is free and cars will be directed to a special event-parking site near the venue (you can also park in the regular casino lots, too).

• You might want to pack a poncho (but no umbrellas, which also are prohibited). All performances are scheduled rain or shine.

• The normal configuration will be 4,250 seats. But if demand is high enough they can push capacity to 5,000 seats or so.

“We could have done a 10,000-seat venue,” said Duke, who came here from a Michigan casino which had an outdoor venue of that size. “But we wanted every seat to be a good seat.”

This new Northern Quest venue joins a lengthy list of outdoor concert sites in the region: The Gorge, with 20,000-plus capacity; the Festival at Sandpoint, with a 3,500-person capacity; Maryhill Winery Amphitheater, with a 4,000-seat capacity; and various county and state fair venues.

So why did Northern Quest jump into the summer outdoor market?

“We already had an indoor venue, but we were looking to bring something new and help boost the economy … and we had this very large backyard available,” said Duke.

And, of course, they hope that concert-goers will arrive early, stay late, gamble, eat at one of Northern Quest’s many restaurants and maybe even stay in the resort’s new hotel.

Speaking of gambling, the outdoor series is somewhat of a risk. The ticket prices are on the high side – many are priced in the triple digits – and it’s still too early to gauge the demand.

So far, Duke said, they have been pleased with the response. The Santana-Michael Franti concert has been the hottest seller so far, along with Toby Keith.

Duke is also pleased with the lineup, which includes a few bona fide American musical legends.

“They can play anywhere, and for them to choose us, we consider that an honor,” he said.

The Judds concert on Saturday is billed as the “Last Encore Tour.” This famous mother-daughter duo reunited in 2009 and then launched this tour last year (as chronicled in the reality series “The Judds” on the Oprah Winfrey Network).

Fans have responded enthusiastically. Naomi Judd has been quoted as saying it’s a chance to celebrate their relationship with their fans one last time.

By the way, the summer series lineup will eventually include eight concerts. A series-ending concert in September will be announced soon.


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