BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
The folks at Mercedes-Benz Stadium know that concert fans aren’t convinced that the venue can produce an optimal audio experience.
The first show at the sports palace — Garth Brooks in October — had many concertgoers using descriptors such as “sad” and “disappointed,” primarily because of muddled sound issues that plagued the show.
Today, Kenny Chesney and a country music lineup including Thomas Rhett, Old Dominion and Brandon Lay will perform at MBS for the first concert since Brooks.
Social media has remained a hotbed of comments and complaints from fans — some vowing not to make a return trip even though they’re fans of Chesney, and others willing to give the venue another chance to prove that its sound team has tried to mitigate the problems.
“The reverb inside the stadium absolutely ruined the Garth Brooks concert last year,” reads one Facebook post. “I wanted to see Kenny Chesney this year, but he is playing Mercedes-Benz and I am not confident they will remedy the issue,” says another.
But at least one Brooks attendee, Robbie Hudec, is confident that Chesney’s concert will bear a different outcome.
Hudec said that while she had “decent” sound at the Brooks show — “I won’t say it was perfect: We struggled with some of the words, but you could hear the music clearly” — she was willing to buy floor tickets and make the trip from Milton to witness Chesney live.
“My first thought was, do I want to spend all this money and go listen (there) again? But I know they’re going to tweak (the sound). It’s always that the first concert isn’t the best one. I work in technology, so I know what goes on. I was kind of hesitant, but I figured Kenny isn’t going to sell all these tickets if it isn’t going to be a good experience,” Hudec said.
RELATED>> Watch: Mercedes-Benz Stadium officials talk about how they've worked to fix sound problems
It’s a music industry fact that no stadium is going to provide ideal sound — the buildings are constructed for sports events and monster trucks — but MBS brass have worked since the Brooks mess to amend the fan experience.
Earlier this week, Jared Miller, chief digital officer and senior vice president of technology for AMB Sports and Entertainment, led a walk-through of certain parts of the stadium to show some of the improvements.
He and his team have worked to install speakers in nearly 100 suites, the Centennial Suites and Golden Club, adjusted the angle of some of the bowl speakers going around the halo board — that mega-screen ringing the inside of the MBS roof — and hired an acoustician to take acoustic measurements.
Speaking of the roof, it won’t be open today because of the weather forecast.
As well, during games, the stadium has equipped its audio team with iPads to roam throughout the building and adjust levels by section.
“We learned a lot since the Garth show,” he said. “We took a lot of lessons out of that. But we realize we’re not a Fox Theatre or Carnegie Hall. We’re a living, breathing stadium that has loud Atlanta United and Falcons games. But we need to be able to host concerts.”
Chesney’s sound team has worked closely with the MBS crew to understand the “unique dynamics of this building,” Miller said. The performer’s sound engineers will tie into the stadium’s house sound system, which should increase the clarity. MBS also built a “delay audio program” to ensure that audio will reach guests in every section of the building at the same time.
It will also likely help that, unlike Brooks’ in-the-round stage, Chesney’s is a traditional end-stage setup.
The “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems” singer will perform at about the 20-yard line of the field (Brooks’ stage was erected in the center, on the 50-yard line) with his back to what is referred to as the “window to the city,” the massive translucent wall providing a view of the Atlanta skyline.
With Brooks’ stage setup, Miller explained, “We were projecting audio all through the entire stadium. In this case, we’re projecting sound away from the window to the city. While we love the skyline, the ETFE material (the transparent film that allows the light to enter) will cause reverberation. (So) by not putting direct sound energy at this window, we will reduce some of that reverb and create a much better acoustic environment.”
He later added with a cautious smile, “We recognized very clearly that there was room for improvement. And we’re not done. This is the type of venue that will hold all types of events, and we need to be prepared for that.”