BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
HOUSTON – We knew something seemed off when we arrived at almost 10 p.m. and paid $20 to turn into a near-empty parking lot.
Sure, we figured, even though doors opened at 8 p.m. for this “ATL Invasion” concert with Ludacris and Big Boi, nothing would really get rolling for another 30 minutes or so.
But even with the sparse showing of cars, we definitely expected more people than we could count when we walked into FunPlex, the suburban “family entertainment” center that was apparently a favorite haunt of Beyonce’s as a kid.
Ryon Horne, AJC’s video producer and my faithful partner in Waiting Around for Something to Happen, gave me that skeptical, “This ain’t right,” look as we wandered through an arcade (Frogger! Batman!), glanced at the stage erected in the middle of a fake street with fake lighted trees where a DJ was dutifully pumping out hip-hop hits for the assembled handful of fans, and eventually wandered back to a sports bar, where two friendly barkeeps – one a former Atlantan – told us that this was the first concert being staged at FunPlex since changing to new management a few weeks ago.
Around 11:30 p.m., a couple of local rappers grabbed microphones and shared a few rhymes, while trying to keep the perhaps two dozen attendees awake.
Just past midnight, Atlanta-based singer Kierra Shunte delivered a perfectly fine set of rock-tinged R&B with a live band.
And then we waited some more.
We asked FunPlex management what was going on and were told that Big Boi’s people “were on site” and that he could still perform until their 2 a.m. closing time. As for Luda? A shrug for an answer.
According to management, FunPlex was booked last week for the “ATL Invasion” show by a promoter out of Minnesota (shockingly, there is very little online about the company).
I mean, when you’re playing at a place called FunPlex and it’s not for a scene in a 1980s Chevy Chase movie, how much can you really expect with Skee-Ball and bumper cars a few feet from the stage?
Of course, this paltry turnout wasn’t the fault of the venue. It was advertised online and on site and Ludacris even posted a YouTube video earlier in the week to hype the appearance.
But when it’s Super Bowl weekend and most events are corralled to a 5-mile radius of downtown, do you REALLY think that many people are going to schlep out to FunPlex 20 miles and 40 minutes away?
Clearly not, as we – who paid $40 each to get in, plus the $20 to park in an empty lot - and the few others who paid the same or more (VIP tickets started at $100 and went up to a couple grand for 10 people and several bottles) learned.
Finally, at 1:15 a.m., a security manager came on stage and put us out of our misery.
The artists, she said, “had other obligations.” But then said that both Big Boi and Luda had shown up, “but the crowd did not” (colleagues at one of the NFL-sponsored events Friday night said Ludacris was in attendance there until at least 10 p.m. We tried to get in touch with his management, but have not received a response).
Refunds were granted - at least we think they will be, eventually, via Eventbrite - and it was made clear that, “This complex had nothing to do with” the way the night turned out.
Fellow Atlanta rapper 2 Chainz is booked at FunPlex on Sunday to perform at a “Champion’s Celebration” starting a midnight.
Hope you have your tokens ready to play Frogger.
FunPlex pulls the plug on the show (video by Ryon Horne):