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January 3, 2013

Plan a concert getaway

Weird Al Yankovic, Kenny G, Johnny Mathis, Willie Nelson, the Zac Brown Band and “The Price Is Right Live” have one thing in common: They’re all out-of-town concerts and shows this winter.

Weird Al Yankovic, Kenny G, Johnny Mathis, Willie Nelson, the Zac Brown Band and “The Price Is Right Live” have one thing in common: They’re all out-of-town concerts and shows this winter.

Such tours, for which stops cannot be scheduled in Myrtle Beach because of conflicts with dates or a need for bigger halls, turn up in bigger cities across the Carolinas. Getting away for an overnighter to catch a show could be just the ticket for something special to do with family and friends, and still plan a trip that could end up a bargain compared with flying to a metropolis.

Florence’s reach

Willie Nelson and Luke Bryan will play the Florence Civic Center on Feb. 9 and March 21, respectively. Kendall Wall, general manager of the venue, said booking those two acts helps kick off 2013 in a big way to lead to the civic center’s 20th anniversary.

Wall, who worked at the Crown Center in Fayetteville, N.C., at its opening in 1997, said Marie Osmond opened the Florence Civic Center with a gala in August 1993, then Reba McEntire gave the first concert the next day.

For lining up artists, “a lot of this is just being persistent and everything happening to fall in place,” Wall said.

“Sometimes, you’re lucky and the stars line up for you, so to speak,” he said, calling the confirmation of Nelson’s night the reward from a “two-year process.”

Live Nation, “the largest producer of live shows,” Wall said, will bring the Bryan tour to Florence, with Thompson Square and Florida Georgia Line opening.

Wall said the civic center, with 10,000 seats, “draws really well from Myrtle Beach, especially “with our family shows” such as “Disney on Ice” and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Snagging a “Cirque du Soleil” show in summer 2011 also proved the luck of “routing in” something special.

“They played RBC Center in Raleigh and then were headed to South Beach in Miami,” Wall said. “Florence happened to fall in between those dates.”

Wall said often, tours might just commit one to three shows across North and South Carolina, but the civic center hit the jackpot in November with Lady Antebellum’s fall tour, its only stop in either state.

He gauged the civic center’s radius going northwest to Pageland, then east into North Carolina, crossing Laurinburg, Lumberton, Whiteville and Wilmington, then southwest through the Grand Strand to Georgetown and Manning, and back up to Florence through Bishopville.

Although “it’s not a true circle,” Hall said, the civic center sits in the center of hefty region, with an easy drive, and “easy to get in and out” of for commuters.

Columbia’s centrality

The Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, with 18,000 seats, marked its first decade in November. Abey Foster, director of sales and marketing, said how far people travel for an event there “really depends on the show.” Family attractions tend to keep a smaller radius because they often also stop in North Charleston and Greenville.

For big stars, such as Miranda Lambert, coming Jan. 17, Carrie Underwood April 17, and Justin Bieber Aug. 5, turnout extends from neighboring states, Foster said.

She remembered Columbia snagging Prince for his only Carolinas show in 2004, but when he returned in 2011, he scheduled other regional stops.

“Generally, people will go to whatever arena is closest to them,” Foster said, counting up to a two-hour drive as Colonial Life’s overall draw, based on ZIP-code data gathered after shows.

“The great thing about Columbia is we’re in the center of the state,” she said. We’re very lucky geographically.”

Foster also expressed another key factor in keeping up “a little bit of everything” in diversity of music artists and shows, coupled with University of South Carolina basketball games. Arena management stays in touch with major and regional promoters, whether scouting for bookings a year or two in advance or hooking up with a tour on short notice, which is still a bonus.

“In this industry,” Foster said, “it’s really all about relationships.”

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