Eden Park is one of those places that has its own palpable wairua. You can't stand on the field and not feel wowed.
I've had the honour of singing at Eden Park on numerous occasions. I've performed at rugby games, Jonah Lomu's memorial, the memorial for the victims of the Christchurch shootings and, most recently, at a daytime community Christmas concert late last year. Standing out on the field under the blazing lights, the stadium stretches up in front of you like an enormous tidal wave of people. It takes your breath away, which then makes your heart race, because you need your breath to sing!
I've been at my most nervous (and excited) while standing on the field waiting for my cue to start singing at Eden Park. Even performing in front of much larger crowds at Australian venues like the Melbourne Cricket Ground and Sydney's ANZ Stadium didn't compare. I think it's because Eden Park is our place. It's been the background to some of our most exhilarating national victories. It's our very own fortress. It's just special.
And as glittering and famous as the old ground is, what many people don't realise is that Eden Park is also a (rather huge) community gathering place. I've had the privilege of working with the Park as an ambassador for the better part of a year, and during that time I've seen its value to its local community. When a local school's assembly hall burned down, Eden Park offered to host school assemblies in one of its meeting spaces. One of the first projects I worked on was putting on a show offering talented local youngsters the opportunity to perform for the Eden Park members before the Bledisloe Cup. It hosts community groups, community fundraisers, markets and other local events; many free of charge and others at heavily discounted rates.
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That's just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. As a sports fan, I love going along to Eden Park to watch the various codes, and to be part of community events, but as a musician and a music-lover, I dream of the day when I can go to the Park to watch the world's best acts. Think about it: Adele, Ed Sheeran, Beyonce, Roger Waters, Taylor Swift, The Rolling Stones and, for us nostalgic millennials, The Spice Girls at Eden Park. And, what about our Kiwi favourites? Six60 can't seem to find venues big enough these days, and I'm sure multi-artist shows with classic acts like Dave Dobbyn, Crowded House, Fat Freddy's Drop, Bic Runga et al. would be popular in summer. What about a huge production of "Tosca" or "Carmen" using the field as the stage, complete with the Auckland Philharmonia or the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in the centre? The possibilities are endless.
The economic benefits of attracting more large-scale concerts to Auckland are obvious, but what gets missed in the noise is the impact such events would have upon workers and their families. From the people manning (and womanning) the gates to the people selling food and drink, to the local staff brought in to assist with the pack-in of the large-scale rigs big concerts bring with them, additional events at Eden Park would mean additional employment.
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There's been a lot of controversy swirling around the idea of concerts at Eden Park. Most locals support Eden Park being able to hold up to six concerts a year (which it is supposedly allowed to do, but due to the bureaucratic insanity of having to apply for resource consent for each individual concert, it has had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars wrangling with the consenting process to try to enforce this right), but a vocal minority of residents are opposed. The Park has recently lodged another bid for concerts, and submissions are now open.
Honestly, it's not like Eden Park was built 10 years ago. If you don't want to live next to a stadium that may conceivably host events that attract tens of thousands of people then… don't buy a house in Mt Eden. If you oppose concerts at Eden Park, yet you bought a house in Mt Eden after Eden Park was built (for the record, it's been around since 1903) then frankly, you shouldn't have a leg to stand on.
Every location has its drawbacks. The CBD has street noise, the bays have the traffic nightmares around Tamaki Drive, Onehunga has the headquarters of the police helicopter, Grey Lynn has Western Springs. If you choose to live in Auckland, there are very few suburbs that will be without their inconveniences. If being disrupted for six concerts a year is too much for you, then it might be time to relocate.
I've seen scaremongering about concerts taking weeks of pack-in and pack-out time, but having travelled the world with a large-scale indoor stadium show complete with an orchestra that packed in, performed the show, and packed out again in a 24-hour period, I call that balderdash. While there may be a tiny minority of shows that require a week to pack in and a few days to pack out, promoters know that time is money, and weeks of packing-in time means weeks of expenses. I've yet to find a promoter who willingly spends more than is absolutely necessary.
Eden Park is a bigger venue than Mt Smart and Western Springs, with arguably better facilities and easy access to public transport through the Kingsland train station. The protocols for large events are already in place and well-honed after many decades of rugby and cricket matches. One interesting point to note is that the council owns Mt Smart and Western Springs, while Eden Park is owned by a trust. So Eden Park effectively has to apply to the owner of its competitors for consent to hold concerts. Make of that what you will.
It's time for the bureaucrats and the vocal minority to stop standing in the way. In the words of Rihanna, please don't stop the music.