The British band Mumford & Sons has a history of using unorthodox outdoor venues in New Orleans. In 2011, they played a sold-out show at Woldenberg Riverfront Park. In 2013, they performed for 8,500 people on the Mississippi riverfront outside Mardi Gras World.
And on Saturday, Mumford & Sons will headline the first major concert in the 20-year history of Zephyr Field, the minor league baseball stadium on Airline Drive in Metairie.
The Zephyrs’ home has hosted pre- and post-game performances by local bands and other events with live music, including a free, radio station-sponsored concert in September 2014 that put country act the Eli Young Band on a modest stage near second base.
But the show on Saturday, April 9, will be something else entirely. Mumford & Sons routinely fills arenas and headlines major music festivals around the globe. As of midweek, about 15,000 general admission tickets already had been sold for the Zephyr Field show.
The stadium has 10,000 fixed seats; another 7,000 or so can stand on the field. That total concert capacity of 17,000 is twice Champions Square’s and several thousand more than theSmoothie King Center’s.
Zephyr Field’s entire playing surface will be covered in corrugated plastic flooring to protect the grass. Crews started transforming the stadium on Tuesday, even as several Zephyrs players were still on the field wrapping up Media Day interviews ahead of their April 15 home opener.
The Mumford & Sons stage will sit in center field. The mixing board and sound engineers will be stationed near second base.
“You won’t even recognize that it’s a baseball field,” said Augusto “Cookie” Rojas, the Zephyrs’ senior vice president and general manager.
Rojas is part of a new ownership group that acquired the Zephyrs late last year. Rojas, principal owner and President Lou Schwechheimer and COO Matt White previously operated the Pawtucket Red Sox, a Boston Red Sox-affiliated minor league team in Rhode Island.
They presented concerts at the Pawtucket Red Sox’s McCoy Stadium by the likes of Bob Dylan, Counting Crows, John Mellencamp, Soul Asylum and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
They have similar ambitions for Zephyr Field, with plans to host five major concerts annually. They want to utilize the stadium “beyond our 72 games of baseball,” Rojas said. “That’s our bread and butter. But to use the facility on nights we don’t have games is a way to maximize the space.”
Concerts can generate revenue and attract potential new baseball fans. “We learned in Pawtucket that we get folks for the concerts that are music folks,” Rojas said. “They get to experience the facility and maybe come back to enjoy a game.”
In Pawtucket, Schwechheimer and his team frequently worked with concert promoter Don Sullivan, of Madison House Presents. In 2004, Sullivan helped develop the concept of bands playing in minor league baseball stadiums with a Bob Dylan/Willie Nelson co-headlining tour. Minor and major league baseball stadiums now routinely host concerts.
Thanks to Sullivan’s longstanding working relationship with Schwechheimer, Zephyr Field is finally getting in on the action.
Looking for something unique
Madison House Presents is promoting Saturday’s Mumford & Sons show in conjunction with Winter Circle Productions, the locally based firm that stages the Buku Music + Art Project each spring at Mardi Gras World. Both Winter Circle and Madison House are part of concert giant AEG Live’s corporate family.
Sullivan “is very good at finding acts that are looking to do something unique, like in a baseball stadium,” Rojas said. For Mumford & Sons, “this is in their wheelhouse.”
Madison House specializes in staging unique concerts in non-traditional venues. Thus, the company has worked extensively with Mumford & Sons, whose members are drawn to fresh ideas.
“They love playing interesting and unique places whenever they can,” Madison House president Mike Luba said this week. “Our job is to put interesting and unique options in front of them all over the world.”
Willing to take a shot
The band and its management agree to “maybe one out of 10 ideas we present,” Luba said. “They gravitated to this one (at Zephyr Field). We walked them through why it could be cool. With the explorers’ mentality that the band embraces, they were willing to take a shot.”
Since the American release of the album “Sigh No More” and its omnipresent single “Little Lion Man” in early 2010, Mumford’s ascent has been steep. The band’s second full-length release, “Babel,” was among the best-selling albums of 2012 and won the Grammy for album of the year. On last year’s “Wilder Mind,” they largely set aside the acoustic arrangements of their first two albums for a fully amplified approach.
Outdoor gigs in New Orleans suit Mumford & Sons. Their Railroad Revival Tour with Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes and Old Crow Medicine Show — all three bands traveled aboard vintage rail cars — ended at Woldenberg Park. Two days later, Mumford & Sons performed at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
In September 2013, they played further up the Mississippi riverfront outside Mardi Gras World, the home of Buku. That show was originally scheduled for June 2013 but was postponed so bassist Ted Dwane could have surgery for a blood clot on his brain.
Tailgating starts early
Saturday’s gig is part of the band’s An Arrow Through the Heartland tour, which kicked off April 3 at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion outside Houston. They’ll cram 16 shows into 20 days. Several are sold out; some tickets are still available for Zephyr Field.
The stadium’s main parking lot will open for pre-concert tailgating at 1 p.m. Parking is $15 per vehicle. Attendees are encouraged to bring typical tailgating supplies — food, beverages, corn hole games, musical instruments, etc. — which won’t be allowed inside the stadium for the actual show. Cash bars will be set up; DJs will spin music.
The stadium itself opens at 6 p.m. with its full complement of concessions. Opening act Blake Mills goes on at 8 p.m., followed by Mumford & Sons at 9. The show is open to all ages; anyone over 2 years old needs a ticket.
On Saturday, Zephyr Field will host what is likely to be its largest crowd of the year. To break in a new, nonconventional concert venue like this “takes a special band and a special scenario,” Luba said. “From the train, to Mardi Gras World, to this one, Mumford & Sons like unique and vibe-y spots. And the band loves New Orleans.”