Rock and country roll in Sioux Falls at the Arena, PREMIER Center

KELOLAND.com Original
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Back in the day, concert goers would line up by the venue’s front doors and when those doors would open, they’d run to the front of the stage to secure a spot in front of the band.

These days, with reserved tickets, a concert goer can slide into a seat minutes before the concert starts.

The Sioux Falls music scene has transitioned from the Arena to the Sanford PREMIER Center but one this is the same: There’s nothing like live music, said Brian Wheeler, the president of the South Dakota Rock and Roll Music Association.

“I think a dynamic is lost when you listen in a car…,” Wheeler said. “With a live band, everybody is moving and interacting…that’s part of the show element you don’t get (non-live:). You can’t get that level or depth listening to Spotify or the iPhone.”

With a live concert there is a shared experience and memories.

Sioux Falls gets a major venue

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The Sioux Falls Arena

Myron Wachendorf, more commonly known as Myron Lee of Myron Lee and the Caddies, grew up listening to performers at the former Coliseum at 6th and Main in downtown Sioux Falls.

“A lot of the big names, they were there,” Lee said. “Johnny Cash, George Jones, Faron Young, the Wilburn Brothers, Hank Snow, I could go on and on.”

“A lot of times, nobody would go with me but I was 14 and 15 years old. I’d go alone,” Lee said.

Over the years, he was waiting for Sioux Falls to build a larger venue. But Sioux Falls is a conservative town, Lee said. It hesitated to spend the money.

“Finally, they built the Arena,” Lee said.

The half-moon, arched structure off Russell Street was built in 1961. In the early days it could seat around 9,500 people for basketball and about 11,000 for meetings. It is now connected to the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center which was built in 2014. The Arena’s Facebook page says the facility seats about 6,000 now.

They built it and the big acts came.

Elvis, not once, but twice

“Sioux Falls was very well known for attracting national acts,” Wheeler said. “Elvis Presley played at the Arena twice. You can’t get much bigger than Elvis.”

“There’s nothing bigger than Elvis,” Lee said. “Elvis was always the king.”

Elvis played the Arena on Oct. 18, 1976, and June 22, 1977.

“I was there for one of them,” Lee said. “I got an idea he wasn’t very healthy. He died just a few months after his last concert.”

Elvis was very overweight, Lee said. He did not much resemble the young Elvis but his voice did.

“His voice still sounded good,” Lee said.

Wheeler and Lee remember attending other national acts at the Arena.

Wheeler grew up in Huron. “It was a big deal to come to the Arena and see any band,” Wheeler said.

“A couple of them from the 1960s were Paul Revere and the Raiders and Herman’s Hermits,” Wheeler said.

He added concerts with the James Gang which featured Joe Walsh who’d go on to join the Eagles, the Carpenters, Styx and Foghat.

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Metallica. KELOLAND News

“I saw a lot of concerts at the Arena. Clint Back, Conway Twitty, Barry Manilow, Johnny Cash. They were getting a lot of big acts out there. Rock and Country,” Lee said.

Metallica, Bon Jovi and John Mellencamp also performed at the Arena.

Free for all

The box office was the place to get concert tickets at the Arena. There were not any online ticket venues like there are today.

“I would contact the box office and they’d send me tickets,” Wheeler said. Sometimes, his friends in Sioux Falls would get the tickets.

“Back then it was general admission, so (seating) was kind of a free for all,” Wheeler said. “You had to get to the Arena early to be the first one at the door to get the seat. Most rushed in to get the stage”

The crowds and the national acts created a lot of energy but the Arena was not the best concert venue, Lee said.

“The Arena never did have good acoustics. It had kind of a tinny sound,” Lee said. The venue also had an echo.

Make way for the PREMIER Center

While Lee attended concerts at the Arena he also noted how Fargo and other cities in the upper Midwest were building improved venues for concerts and other events.

“In my opinion, Sioux Falls is such a great city , we could have had (PREMIER) years before we got it,” Lee said.

A larger venue that has proper acoustics, box suites and other amenities can attract the national acts.

The Arena was busy in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s. Elton John played the Arena in 2007 but the concerts became less frequent.

The venue drew some top line country artists but fewer rock and pop and country headliners were headed to Sioux Falls, based on concert histories from the Arena.

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The Denny Sanford PREMIER Center

Sioux Falls residents voted  Nov. 8, 2011, to build a new venue. Construction started on the PREMIER Center and it was completed in 2014. The venue holds 12,000 for concerts. The four level facility consists of the event level, main concourse level, suite level and upper concourse level. There are 22 suites and 18 loge boxes, according to the PREMIER Center website.

Elton, Paul, Blake, Dolly, Ed, Garth

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts played the first concert at the PREMIER Center in 2014.

From there, it’s been a bunch of big acts, some of whom only need their first names.

Elton John, Paul McCartney, Blake Shelton, Dolly Parton and Ed Sheeran have all played the PREMIER.

“Paul McCartney for crying out loud. He could play anywhere in the world,” Lee said.

He chose to play in Sioux Falls.

Lee was at that concert and shared the show with fans from around the world.

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Garth Brooks.

Wheeler recalled one concert he didn’t attend.

The Eagles played the PREMIER Center on June 4, 2015.

“I was on three different computers trying to get tickets,” Wheeler said of the day tickets when on sale online. “I never did get one. Ticketmaster (online seller) was so flooded. That was disappointing to me because I really wanted to see them.”

Although some performers have played in Sioux Falls twice, no one has done what Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood did in 2017. The husband and wife country music superstars performed in six shows in September of 2017.

“Garth Brooks. Tremendous show, just fantastic,” Lee said.

Find a PREMIER seat

The days of waiting at the front doors so you could rush in for a spot at the concert are over.

“I’ve been to a couple of shows at the PREMIER and after the show starts, there have been people coming in. Because they have reserved seats there is no need to get there early,” Wheeler said.

“The way they’ve got it set up with the seating and all those private boxes where you can look on the stage…,” Lee said makes the PREMIER Center a good venue. Other amenities include the big screens and the people who have seats on the venue’s floor.

The seating contributes to today’s higher ticket prices but Wheeler said it’s worth it. He’d rather get a reserved seat than make a mad dash to the front.

On Saturday, country performer Luke Combs will be at the PREMEIR Center, the first sold-out show since 2019.

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