UPDATE, Thursday 4 p.m.: Jimmy Buffett, king of the Parrotheads, was quoted this afternoon on USAToday.com, after being told of the new tailgating rule at Jiffy Lube Live:
“Whose stupid idea was that?”
Buffett added: ”I’ll get right on that. I believe I can take care of that. It must be some city thing, but it's not me."
Buffett said the venue “is one of the biggest tailgating places ever...We got time, I can really get into that.… I'm going to fire a little shot to the Live Nation people."
ORIGINAL POST: Jiffy Lube Live: Is it The Worst Concert Venue in America? Now that the venue has banned people not only from tailgating but even from standing by their cars in the parking lot before a show, in addition to its ever-exasperating access problems, it’s certainly in the running. The “Boycott Jiffy Lube Live” Facebook page now has more than 7,300 fans. But let’s take a deeper look.
First, the venue formerly known as Nissan Pavilion is owned by Live Nation, not Jiffy Lube. The naming rights were bought by the co-op of local owners of individual Jiffy Lube stations in the D.C. area, not the Jiffy Lube corporation, through 2016. They have nothing to do with the traffic or the tailgating policies, and don’t want to comment on them or any backlash they may be feeling.
Live Nation is a giant corporation which runs more than 100 concert venues, manages hundreds of artists and promotes 20,000 shows annually. Last year, in a move that troubled music fans everywhere, Live Nation merged with Ticketmaster, giving it control over the tickets, the artists, the concerts and the venues. If they could merge with Comcast, they’d pretty much know where everyone is at all times.
Placing an amphitheater in the suburbs is always tricky. You don’t want to be too close to residential neighborhoods, or too far from highways. Back in the early 1990s, Cellar Door Inc. picked the largely undeveloped Bristow area and the Prince William Board of Supervisors approved it. The 25,000-person venue was erected on Wellington Road, which was two lanes then — and it’s two lanes now.
Even before its opening, traffic problems were predicted because I-66 didn’t have the ramps to handle the traffic. This has led to famous backups over the years, including the 2008 debacle for people who couldn’t reach a much-awaited Radiohead show. In 1995, Cellar Door ponied up $200,000 for half the cost of a new ramp, and over the years Prince William and VDOT have improved many of the roads and intersections leading to Wellington Road.
But Wellington Road is still just two lanes, and there are still just two entry points to the venue’s parking lot. The traffic getting into the WMZQ Fest Saturday wasn’t terrible — it was a weekend, and it was a six-hour long “fest” — but there was still a healthy line.
I asked Live Nation if they'd be willing to pay for an expansion of Wellington Road. A Live Nation spokesman said no. Officials with VDOT and Prince William said there was a plan to widen the road, but no money.
So even though I-66, Sudley Road, Balls Ford Road and University Drive have all been widened and improved, they all funnel fans to a two-lane rural road. That, apparently, isn’t going to change.
At the WMZQ Fest Saturday, I tried hard to find anyone who supported the new policy banning tailgating in the parking lots. But then I was ejected from the lot. A pen and paper are dangerous instruments.
“Media was not allowed in the parking lot to avoid impeding the process of implementing the new policy,” the spokesman wrote in an e-mail, and to encourage everyone to immediately enter the venue. The spokesman did not want to be named.
Before my removal, I did speak with dozens of Jason Aldean fans who denounced the new policy, mainly in unprintable fashion. Off-duty Prince William police officers made regular sweeps to urge everyone to move inside, even if they were just standing there. Aldean apparently also voiced his dissent from the stage Saturday night.
“Ridiculous,” said Kris Shannon of Gaithersburg. “The irresponsibility of a few punishes thousands.”
Though Live Nation said they banned tailgating beecause of drunk driving accidents, many fans noted that the venue still sold alcohol inside. “It shows that they don’t really care about people drinking and driving,” said Katie Aceto of Reston said.
The spokesman said Live Nation takes ”the responsible service of alcoholic beverages very seriously” and that the state alcoholic beverage control monitors the service onsite.
A number of fans said they’d bought a five-concert “Megaticket” package before the policy was announced, and wouldn’t have done that if they’d known. The spokesman said the initial policy change was posted on Jiffy Lube Live and Live Nation’s web pages on Feb. 16, in the Megaticket FAQs and on the print-at-home tickets. Local news media only recently began reporting the change.
Other fans simply voiced their frustration that, after dealing with NoVa traffic, they couldn’t have a relaxing time outside the venue before the show — and maybe sober up at the show itself. Many, as with those on the Facebook page, said they weren’t coming back.
J. Henry Hartshorn, a Dallas architect who has designed many large civic projects in Texas and elsewhere, said part of the planning for such a venue necessarily involves not only parking but access. He noted a new 20,000-seat soccer stadium in Frisco, Texas, also used for concerts, received infrastructure upgrades from local government and uses shuttle buses when the crowds exceed the parking capacity.
By coincidence, on the same night Jason Aldean was at Nissan-Jiffy Lube-Live Nation Disaster Hole, Jimmy Buffett was playing at Frisco’s Pizza Hut Park soccer stadium. The tailgaters began arriving on Thursday and put on their own magnificent show, park spokeswoman Leigh Anne Gullett said.
We’ll see what the Parrotheads say when they get to Live Nation Disaster Hole.