June 19, 2015
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
In a day-to-day context, the words “zip code” are back to simply meaning 30332 around Georgia Tech’s campus.
But in Bobby Dodd Stadium’s already legendary lore, “Zip Code” will forever hold a much greater meaning in the wake of the June 9 hosting of the Rolling Stones, one of only 15 shows in the band’s Zip Code Tour.
If the excitement of the concert and the teamwork showed by the entire campus in putting the show on is any indication of what’s to come at Bobby Dodd, the Yellow Jackets’ 2015 football season will live up to its enormous promise (The Good Word already talked about the positives of the Stones playing at Bobby Dodd in its story leading up to the concert).
“There were a lot of different entities that came together to form a team to put this show on. It wasn’t just us in Athletics. The greater campus got involved,” said Deputy Director of Athletics Brett Daniels. “To see that work smoothly, to see the development of communication and the ability to work together from a public safety and security standpoint, parking, building usage, traffic flow, things like that, it’s just great to see when it all comes together.”
“[Assistant A.D./Facilities, Operations & Events] John [Portland] and his team did a great job. They put a lot of time and energy into that making sure it was a success,” Daniels added. “Kudos to John and [Director of Event Operations] Cheryl [LaFoy] and their group. We couldn’t have done it without them.”
While the band made its 19-song set look easy, getting things set up and organizing to get people into the stadium to see it was anything but.
“I think the most challenging thing that we don’t usually do that seemed to go very well was seating over 6,000 people on the field, on the floor there,” said Daniels. “We don’t normally put anybody down there on a game day except the teams that are participating. So to be able to move that many people onto the field, through the tunnel and into the stands and get everybody seated, get them in there in plenty of time to see the show and then we cleared the stadium out rather quickly. We had everybody out of the stadium and off the field within a few minutes after the show ended. Just to see that work as smoothly as it did. I think that was an important thing.”
Keeping things running smoothly required a lot of legwork.
“I ended up walking right around 20 miles just that day,” said Portland, whose Tuesday ended at around 4:45 a.m. Wednesday. “So just from a physical standpoint it was a lot but that’s what we planned for, what we expected. It was going to be a long day. It was roughly a 24-hour shift there from when I arrived to when I left. It was fun. I had a great time.”
All the fears of bringing so many — at least 40,000 packed the field and stadium — many who had never been to Bobby Dodd Stadium, were alleviated by strategic planning and the teamwork putting all the planning into action.
“We anticipated a lot of folks parking across campus and not on campus. I think that worked out well for us,” said Portland. “Using that tunnel at Third Street to where people flowed out right there at the corner of Techwood and Bobby Dodd. Then we took all our tennis umpire chairs and we strategically placed eight of them on Techwood and on Bobby Dodd. So in anticipation of that intersection being very crowded and popular, we had folks with lime green `Ask Me’ shirts on that could try to assist any fans with any questions they might have. That worked out really well for us.”
Daniels was more proud than surprised at how smoothly things went.
“I knew we had the people and the capabilities and experience to do something like that. It’s satisfying to know that it all went off so smoothly,” he said. “There are so many question marks. You can plan and plan and prepare and talk about things in meetings but until you actually open the gates and start letting people in you don’t know for sure if all that planning is going to work. I think for the most part everything went smoothly.”
Even the weather cooperated. A mid-afternoon shower pushed a scheduled walkthrough back, and a small shower as the gates opened proved slightly inconvenient, primarily because of the threat of a bigger cell right behind it. But when the bigger cell dissipated the fans were able to take their seats, enjoy the show, with the only electricity being provided by the still amazingly athletic Jagger and incredibly skilled Richards, Wood, Watts and co.
“It’s amazing the amount of energy those guys brought to the stage,” said Daniels, who called their encore of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” with the accompaniment of the Emory University Concert Choir, his personal highlight. “You can still see the passion for their music and what they were doing. It was a fun night.”
About the only worry for AEG Live, the Stones’ promoters, was the purely Atlanta propensity to arrive right at show time.
“It was a little bit of a late-arriving crowd,” said Portland, with a laugh. “It was funny to talk to the folks at AEG, they’re like, “Hey, John, where are they? Where are they?’ I’m like, `Be patient. They’re coming. This is Atlanta.’ They showed up.”
After rocking out for about two hours, the fans left in an orderly fashion and a little more than an hour of the final note of the final encore `(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,’ the first trucks were moving out of Bobby Dodd, headed toward LP Field in Nashville, Tenn., where the Stones played Wednesday night.
Tech’s support staff played a key role in the quick breakdown.
“The concert ended 11:45. Around 12:15 we had three-quarters of the chairs off the floor,” said Portland. “That was a very strategic operation, moving from the west side to the east side. The west side was where the drivable flooring surface was so they could start bringing the forklifts in and start forking stuff out. I would say that first truck probably left right around 12:45, no later than 1:00.
“Really, during the show we turned our focus on getting people out of the stadium real quick after the concert was over, breaking down the chairs and starting to sweep up the floor and getting that clean because AEG and StageCo, the stage company, they start taking stuff down immediately,” he added. “So once everyone was through the tunnel they were already packing the speakers, packing the video boards. Once that tunnel was clear and traffic was clear from Bobby Dodd we were bringing trucks in and starting to load and they were off to the next location.”
There will be a strategic meeting in the coming weeks to discuss the experience and how to adapt it for future concerts and events at Bobby Dodd.
“We’re going to have our after-action review, where we bring everybody together, we put everything on the table,” Portland said. “The meeting will have GTPD in it, obviously, our staff, concessions, emergency personnel, fire marshall, we’ll all just sit down and have a conversation and talk about the good, the bad and the ugly. The goal is to sit there and talk about everything and throw ideas around of what we can do to improve it for next time.”
Next for Bobby Dodd Stadium is the resodding of Grant Field.
“We budgeted for that, prepared for that, knowing that there was definitely going to be some damage to it,” Daniels said. “But we’re in the process of repairing that now and having it ready for the fall. We have time to make those repairs.”
Daniels has no doubt the reparable damage to the stadium grass was worth the invaluable enhancement of Georgia Tech’s reputation as an entertainment venue.
“It was great for the Georgia Tech community. To be able to have an event like that on campus was pretty exciting,” he said. “I tend to believe that business over in midtown had a great night because it seemed like a lot of people were coming from restaurants and bars, were walking over to the show. I believe beyond our campus, it had a great impact on the greater community around us as well.
“I certainly think people will take notice of the job that we did, the way the building performed and what a wonderful night everybody had,” he added. “I think word will get out from AEG and from others in the industry that if they’re coming to Atlanta, Bobby Dodd Stadium is one of the places to take a look at for a great night and a great crowd.”