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Are corporations ruining popular concert venues?

Are corporations ruining popular concert venues? David Browne (and James Taylor) wonder why big business needs to plaster its name on every music hall in the land

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Alicia Keys
Alicia Keys: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com

Are corporations ruining popular concert venues?

As if we in the New York area didn’t need enough challenges this summer, those of us who want to see a concert at the Jones Beach Theater on Long Island will need to correct ourselves. Instead of saying to a friend, ”Hey, you want to see Alicia Keys, Usher, Poison or Moby’s Area Two tour at Jones Beach?” we’ll have to say, ”Hey, you want to see Alicia Keys, Usher, Poison or Area Two at the Tommy Hilfiger at Jones Beach Theater?”

Gag me with a $50 concert T-shirt.

Everywhere you turn, halls and amphitheaters are being renamed in honor of the corporations that are snapping them up (or are shelling over big bucks to have their logo prominently displayed). I began noticing this trend a few years ago, when an old haunt of my teen concertgoing years, the Garden State Arts Center in New Jersey, suddenly became the PNC Bank Arts Center. Around the same time, Jersey’s Meadowlands Arena was unmagically transformed into the Continental Airlines Arena. U2 opened its 2001 tour at Florida’s National Car Rental Center. When using the bathroom there, I half expected to walk into an Ivory Soap Sanitation Center.

In the context of our times, I realize this changeover is hardly cause for great concern. So what if the San Jose Arena has been redubbed the Compaq Center? (Sad but true.) It doesn’t spoil the show, right? But these aren’t simply dreadful, clunky names. Concert halls once had quaint names that reflected their parts of the country; some of them still do. But that appears to be vanishing too, replaced by further reminders of never-ending corporate mergers and the muzzling of regional distinctions.

I’ll leave the last word to James Taylor. During an interview last year, we were discussing this very topic, and he remarked, ”Increasingly the places you play are being bought up and consolidated. They can now sell their names. If you owned Pine Knob outside of Detroit, which I first played in the ’70s, you wouldn’t THINK of changing it to the DTE Energy Music Theatre.

”You can understand why a company would consider that a good thing — name recognition in the marketplace.” Then he added, with a subtle jab, ”The Boston Garden is [now] the FleetCenter. The Boston Garden is a LOVELY name for the Boston Garden. It’s a GREAT name for the Boston Garden.” Sing it, sweet baby James — even if it’s in the FleetCenter.