At Houston Rodeo Concerts, It Pays to Sit in the Cheap Seats

By Mark Yost
The Houston Business Journal

As the money reporter at Houston Business Journal, I am fortunate enough to cover some pretty exclusive events.
Dinner with Diane Keaton. Black-tie fundraisers. And some of the best corporate hospitality at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo.
I don’t go simply to see and be seen, but to pick up some news and let readers know what decision-makers are thinking.

The house mixing board at Reliant Stadium.

The house mixing board at Reliant Stadium.

So I was a little surprised when I sat in some of the most expensive seats in the house at Reliant Stadium — front row and the 800-level suites — for a few concerts and the sound wasn’t all that great. The rodeo’s concerts are its No. 1 revenue generator.
That wasn’t just my opinion, but a common complaint I’d heard from the bankers, accountants and financial planners who were my hosts.
So I called outgoing COO Leroy Shafer, who had told me in an interview that the sound system was one of his proudest legacies. He agreed to show me around Friday’s Keith Urban concert and prove me wrong.
He did, and I was.
Turns out, the most expensive seats aren’t the best seats when it comes to rodeo concerts. The area in-between is.
Standing at the mixing board at the south end of the stadium just before the concert started, Shafer pointed to the individual stacks of speakers that are shaped like a banana and hung in an array in the center of the arena.
“That’s a shaped system,” he explained. “Those speakers are aimed at a specific section” and the sound is designed to go a certain distance “and then die,” so that listeners don’t get the reverberations and echoes common at other arenas.
More importantly, Reliant’s sound system is designed to give the best sound to the largest section of Reliant Stadium.
To prove it to me, Shafer ran me around Reliant Stadium — up stairwells, through back passageways, to hear the sound that general admission patrons hear on a number of different levels.
Keith Urban's sound guy at his mixing board.

Keith Urban’s sound guy at his mixing board.

So what about the expensive seats?
Because the main speakers are hung in mid-air, the rodeo’s sound technicians can’t get the best sound down to the front-row seats or up to the highest suites.
“Getting sound to project into the dirt does present a bit of a challenge,” Shafer said in his humble West Texas way. “That is why we allow the Chute Seat patrons to return to their normal seats if they so desire.”
As for the folks way up high, in the 800-level suites, with the catered food and drinks, they’re better off watching the concert on their in-suite TV because there are structural impediments in Reliant that don’t allow the best sound to get up there.
“We’re working on it,” Shafer said.
The one exception with the corporate seats is the Director’s and Chairman’s Clubs. They hang out over the mid-level seats, giving most of those listeners the good sound. But for those that choose to sit back in the club and sip their drinks and talk, “The concourses and suites only have a distributed PA system — the same system used for football and tractor pulls,” Shafer said.
In short, sit in the cheap seats for rodeo concerts. In terms of sound, they really are the better seats.

About Mark Yost
Mark Yost is the author of the Rick Crane Noir series, published by Stay Thirsty Press. Rick Crane is the classic, anti-hero private eye in the spirit of Sam Spade and Jim Rockford. He works in the unmistakably noirish underworld of Upstate New York, running errands and fixing problems for Jimmy Ricchiati Sr., one of Upstate New York's most notorious crime bosses. But readers quickly learn that deep down, Rick Crane is one of the good guys. "Cooper's Daughter," the first book in the widely acclaimed series, is a fast-moving tale in which a heartbroken father comes to Rick and asks him to find out what really happened to his daughter, who was murdered and the details buried in the Unsolved Crimes File of the local police department. The second book in the series is "Jimmy's Nephew," which begins with the death of Joey "Boom Boom" Bonadeo, an up-and-coming boxer and the nephew of Rick's underworld boss. What starts out as a routine investigation turns into a case that will test Rick's faith -- in the Catholic Church and his fellow man. Book No. 3 in the series, "Mary's Fate" is due out in August 2015. Mark Yost also writes for The Wall Street Journal Arts in Review page, as well as the Book Review section. He is a member of the Mystery Writers of America -- Midwest Chapter, International Thriller Writers, and a number of other author groups. He is also a member of the Amazon Author's Program. Mark lives in the Loyola neighborhood of Chicago, but he and his son, George, call the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn "home."

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