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McCartney to open Consol Energy Center

| Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Consol Energy Center will be christened by rock 'n' roll royalty.

Sir Paul McCartney, knighted by Queen Elizabeth of England in 1997, will be the opening act Aug. 18 at the new venue.

"He's obviously one of the world's greatest performers," said Ken Sawyer, CEO of the Pittsburgh Penguins, at a press conference Thursday. "We're happy to have him in what we consider perhaps one of the greatest arena's in the world coming on line.

"Everybody talks about this being a hockey arena," Sawyer said. "But one of the key ingredient to getting this arena was the fact it is a multi-purpose arena and will serve all kinds of events that everybody in the community can come and enjoy and experience here. So we're happy to demonstrate that element with Paul McCartney."

Tickets, ranging from $59 to $250, will go on sale at 10 a.m. June 14. Between 15,000 and 16.000 seats will be available.

Despite speculation that other acts -- notably Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones -- were targeted to open the Consol Energy Center, McCartney had been the No. 1 choice.

"It was a long road when we were trying to land Paul and there were times when we thought for sure he wasn't going to be the opening act," said Jay Roberts, manager of SMG, which will run and coordinate events at the new venue. "During those times we did go and try to focus on other artists. But he was the main focus we had for the past year. ... There was never another artist we had locked and loaded as Plan B."

Roberts said a lot of favors were used to enable the concert, including moving up the completion of construction by two weeks. Ten years ago, he tried to book McCartney into the Mellon Arena, but the ex-Beatle's stage was too heavy for the venue.

"I always think of it as the show that went away," Roberts said."So when we had the chance to open the new building with the one that went away, it made perfect sense."

There is no word on the performers who will appear at the last show at the Mellon Arena. Roberts confirmed that Christina Aguilera, who grew up in the Pittsburgh area, was pursued for that spot.

"When her tour cancelled, that really put a big dent in it," Roberts said, adding that other acts who were approached preferred to perform at the Consol Energy Center instead of being the last show at the old arena.

"There's been some other issues about whether we can even open the roof (of the Mellon Arena)," Roberts said. "That's really been stalling us."

McCartney, 67, made his last appearances in Pittsburgh Feb. 4 and 5, 1990, at what was then the Civic Arena. He had appeared with the Beatles at the same venue on Sept. 14, 1964.

Reaction to the news that McCartney -- who performed at the White House on Wednesday night as a recipient of the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, awarded by the Library of Congress -- will be the first act at the Consol was greeted with enthusiasm by members of the Pittsburgh music community

"I think it's fabulous," said Carl Grefenstette, a musician and producer who owns Pittsburgh Guitars in the South Side. "There is not a bigger band than the Beatles. There's the Beatles and everybody else.

"I'll admit Paul's not the Beatles, but he's the next best thing," he said.

"He's definitely rock 'n' roll royalty," said Pete Hewlett, a musician from South Fayette who sang "I Saw Her Standing There" and "Let it Be" with McCartney and Billy Joel at the final concert at Shea Stadium in New York in 2009. "I think it will a great show to open the place."

Pittsburgh connection

When Paul McCartney performs Aug. 18 at the Consol Energy Center, Carl Grefenstette hopes to be there for two reasons:

1. The owner of Pittsburgh Guitars in the South Side is a diehard Beatles fans.

2. The ex-Beatle will be playing a guitar Grefenstette once owned.

"It's a 1960 Les Paul, left-handed guitar, and it came from here," he says.

Grefenstette sold the guitar to Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick 25 years ago. The late Linda McCartney bought if from Nielsen a few years later for her husband.

Now, Grefenstette wants to hear it played again.

"I'm hoping I can get a ticket," he says.

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