The Cubs entered the concert promotion business with a certain amount of trepidation in 2005. It took Jimmy Buffett a decade to persuade the team's front office that hosting a rock concert at Wrigley Field would be a good idea.
Buffett finally got his wish on Sept. 4-5, 2005, but in an interview with the Tribune a few weeks before the shows, team president Andy MacPhail acknowledged he still had some doubts: What'll all those partying Parrotheads do to our precious outfield turf? And what'll the neighbors think? It's not that Wrigleyville didn't already have a lot of traffic and noise associated with 81 Cubs home games, but a stadium-level rock concert presented a new level of challenges.
MacPhail also declare that no matter what happened, there wouldn't be another rock concert until 2007, if at all. "It's not our core business," he told the Tribune. "If we do it again, it will have to be the right performer under the right circumstances."
The shows proved to be a financial windfall for all involved: 78,000 tickets sold in advance at $90 and $130 a pop, which brought in $8 million in revenue that was divided among Buffett, promoter Elevated Concerts and the Cubs. Buffett contributed $150,000 to Lakeview neighborhood schools. And the singer-songwriter ended the first night's show sitting in the hallowed bleachers singing an anthem written by the late Cubs diehard Steve Goodman, "City of New Orleans."
After that night, even MacPhail was convinced that concerts at Wrigley weren't such a bad idea. Here are some highlights from the 17 major concerts that have played the historic ballpark since 2005.
Jimmy Buffett (Sept. 4-5, 2005): Fans outfitted in Buffett-approved "Parrothead" gear — grass skirts, straw hats, beads and coconut bras (and that was just the guys) — invaded Wrigleyville, while the headliner padded around barefoot on stage in lime-green shorts and a Cubs jersey. He covered three songs by Chicago folk legend Goodman, as well as such introspective odes to revelry as "Why Don't We Get Drunk" and "Cheeseburger in Paradise."
The Police (July 5-6, 2007): The reunion of Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland started slowly. The first three songs stretched to nearly 25 minutes, the leisurely jams in sync with the summer heat but sacrificing the trio's taut melodies. By the end, the pace had picked up and even the perpetually scowling Copeland flashed a grin during "Every Breath You Take." That had to qualify as a small victory, given that the drummer had described the band's performance on the tour's opening night a few weeks earlier as "unbelievably lame." This was more like "adequately tame."
Elton John and Billy Joel (July 16 and 21, 2009): Sir Elton and the Piano Man faced each other across from their grand pianos and replayed their glory years. The 35 tunes the two erstwhile AM radio giants performed are well-known to karaoke bar patrons. But it was clear the two artists have little affinity for each other's music, because there wasn't much chemistry when they swapped verses on each other's songs. Joel got extra points for honesty when he squinted toward the upper grandstand from his piano bench in center field and cracked, "Those are (lousy) seats and you actually bought 'em thank you very much."
Rascal Flatts (July 18, 2009): The first country act to headline Wrigley, Rascal Flatts — Gary LeVox, Joe Don Rooney and Jay DeMarcus — joined forces with opening acts Vince Gill and Darius Rucker on several songs. Rucker got the '90s wedding-song machine cranking when he joined the country trio to perform the biggest hit by his old band, Hootie and the Blowfish, "Hold My Hand."
Dave Matthews Band (Sept. 17-18, 2010): Matthews played a relatively succinct, jam-averse set, at least by his standards, including a cover of Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House." He also acknowledged that he couldn't resist over-indulging in some Wrigleyville entertainment the night before. "Last night I stumbled around the streets of Chicago," he told the audience. "If I saw you, I might not remember." Over-served Cubs bleacher bums could surely relate.
Paul McCartney (July 31 and Aug. 1, 2011): On a steamy night, McCartney didn't take a break. He just ripped through 37 mostly amazing songs in nearly three hours. His bandmates — particularly monster drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. — pushed their leader hard, but McCartney kept pace. Some of the best moments were his nods to friends he had lost along the way, including a string-bending guitar solo on Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady," and a tribute to John Lennon on "Here Today." For George Harrison's "Something," there was a Wrigley rock-concert first: a solo ukulele performance.
Roger Waters (June 8, 2012): Wrigley's ivy-covered brick wall is as iconic as it gets in Major League Baseball, but for Waters it wasn't enough. He erected another giant edifice as part of the multimedia extravaganza for his Pink Floyd epic "The Wall" and performed a good portion of his show inside, on top of, or simply dwarfed by the 35-foot-tall, 424-cardboard-brick monstrosity his roadies erected in center field. He also unleashed massive inflatables that likely gave unsuspecting high-rise dwellers near the ballpark the shock of their lives: "Oh, honey, look! There's a pig the size of a No. 22 bus outside our window."
Brad Paisley (June 9, 2012): The country singer, who's as indebted to classic rock guitar solos as Nashville twang, recast "Sweet Home Chicago" as a West Texas blues, and sang a duet with a Carrie Underwood hologram. Rumors flew that the real Carrie Underwood missed the first two innings because she was loitering in the beer garden at Murphy's Bleachers.
Bruce Springsteen (Sept. 7-8, 2012): Springsteen brought 28 songs and 18 musicians and singers with him as part of his first major tour since the death of his on-stage foil, saxophonist Clarence Clemons. "Are we missing anybody, tonight?" the singer shouted. He turned the night into a celebration, with Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello adding guitar and Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder contributing vocals to several songs, including a closing cover of the Isley Brothers' "Twist and Shout."
Pearl Jam (July 19, 2013): Normally, a thunderstorm such as the one that forced Pearl Jam and its fans to evacuate the field for more than two hours would cripple if not postpone most concerts. But the city powers-that-be granted the band an extension of the 11 a.m. curfew, and the Seattle quintet played on. Plus they had a secret weapon for reigniting the momentum lost by the rain delay. "Ernie Banks likes to say, 'Let's play two,'" singer and Cubs fan Vedder said after skies cleared. "I say, 'Let's play until two.'" He then brought Banks himself on stage and the duo led a singalong of Vedder's Cubs anthem, "All the Way." Banks tipped his cap to the faithful: "I appreciate all of you coming to my house tonight." Even if they didn't leave till 2 a.m.
Jason Aldean (July 20, 2013): Rain also pelted Aldean's concert, but he powered through without interruption, aided by turbo-charged guitars that rivaled Pearl Jam in the volume department. The singer augmented his country-rock (emphasis on "rock") with pyro, fireworks and even rap. The opener, Kelly Clarkson didn't offer much in the way of country either, sticking to her post-"American Idol" pop hits, though she did take a stab at Mumford & Sons' "I Will Wait."
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