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Concerts making a return to Ralph Wilson Stadium

Longtime Western New York music fans and concert veterans have been clamoring for big-ticket shows to return to Ralph Wilson Stadium for the entirety of the nearly decade and a half since the Dave Matthews Band played the last show on the Bills’ home turf in 2001.

On Thursday, they got their wish … sort of.

One Direction, the British boy band, subject of screaming idolatry from tweens and teens everywhere and arguably the biggest musical act in the world, will play the stadium Sept. 3, 2015.

How big are these boys in the music world? A BBC News piece published Thursday revealed that the band, whose oldest member is 22, took in 49 million British pounds sterling during 2013, or the equivalent of more than 78 million U.S. dollars. “The documents show Harry Styles, 20, Liam Payne, Niall Horan and Zayn Malik, all 21, and 22-year-old Louis Tomlinson each paid themselves a salary of 5.6 million pounds,” read the BBC story. “However, the figure doesn’t include the band’s US income.”

Not too shabby for a group that finished third on “The X Factor” in 2010.

But also probably not what people who remember seeing the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead and the Who had in mind for the return of stadium rock to The Ralph.

This will be the first concert at The Ralph in more than 14 years – and the first since the Bills came under the purview of new owners Terry and Kim Pegula. Bills President Russ Brandon said in a news release that bringing concerts and other events to the stadium was part of the goal of spending millions of dollars to renovate the facility.

“We’re thrilled to bring concerts back to The Ralph, and we know our region will bring the same excitement they bring to the stadium on game days,” he said.

Whether it was Rich Stadium or Ralph Wilson Stadium, the facility has a long and storied history as a concert venue, including:

• The Rolling Stones played there in 1975, ’78, ’81 and ’97.

• The Grateful Dead frequented the stadium during the band’s commercial peak in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and documented its July 4, 1989 show at the venue with the “Truckin’ Up to Buffalo” CD/DVD release.

• The Monsters of Rock Tour (with Van Halen, Scorpions, Metallica and others) stopped at One Bills Drive in 1988.

• Metallica and Guns N’ Roses packed Rich in 1992.

• It wasn’t just major rock acts: Michael Jackson and his brothers (1984), and ’N Sync (2001) all played Orchard Park, as well.

Find a photo gallery of some of those concerts here.

That’s now ancient history. Before anyone gets it into their head that within the next year or two, we’re all going to be partying like it’s 1979, understand that both the music industry and the concert industry in the present day bear no resemblance to what they were like in the golden era of stadium shows.

One Direction aside, there are very few acts capable of coming close to selling out the 70,000 or so tickets that will constitute a full Ralph Wilson Stadium. U2 is one such act, but the band’s recent public relations nightmare concerning its deal with Apple to deposit its new album into the iTunes account of every subscriber might put a dent in its drawing power when it hits the road behind its marginal “Songs of Innocence.” Paul McCartney could quite fill every stadium seat and then some – he has filled venues of a similar size repeatedly during his ongoing “Out There” tour.

But who else? Even Bruce Springsteen had to move a show scheduled for The Ralph in 2003 to Darien Lake because of low ticket sales.

Consider the highest-grossing concert tours of 2013, a list that includes Jason Aldean, Beyoncé, Jay Z & Justin Timberlake, Madonna, Justin Bieber, Kenny Chesney, Roger Waters and Taylor Swift, among others. In order to sell out The Ralph, a promoter would likely have to package a few of these artists together on a single ticket – none, with the exception of the Rolling Stones, would likely sell out the place on their own. And then there’s Bon Jovi, who presided over the highest-grossing tour of 2013. But let’s just say he might not be as popular here as he once was. (See run-up to Bills sale, potential owners, Toronto.)

Still, it’s hard to view the return of concerts to The Ralph in a negative light. Surely, this development is closely tied to the air of economic optimism and new growth in the region.

But the truth is, the landscape has changed radically during the time the stadium has been dark concertwise. It may be too late. You can always go home again, no matter what they say … as long as you understand that home might not look the same when you get there.


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