Williams-Brice Stadium Gears Up for Its First Big Concert in Years

Aug 14, 2018

August 21 will bring the first concert in five years to Columbia’s Williams-Brice Stadium  when Beyoncé and Jay-Z make a stop on their On the Run II Tour.

For Columbia local and Beyoncé superfan Merrell Johnson, this is an especially big event.

“I’ve been a fan of hers since Day 1, way back when Destiny’s Child first formed. I remember hearing them…it was me and my sister, riding in the back of the car. I was like, ‘Who are these girls? They’re amazing.’ And I love what she has grown into, as an artist, as a singer.”

Johnson calls himself Beyoncé’s biggest fan, and while there’s no way to prove that, he may boast the most impressive credentials of anyone in South Carolina as a moderator of the massive Beyhive fan group on Facebook. Through the Beyhive, Johnson has become friends with a network of international fans, as well as fans from his own state.

“She has a huge fan base here in South Carolina and the Southeast region,” Johnson says.

He, like many other South Carolinians in the group, was disappointed not to initially see any South Carolina dates for the tour, and purchased tickets for a show in Atlanta. Later, however, Johnson heard that more dates had been added to the tour—including one in Columbia. At first, he couldn’t believe it.

Beyonce superfan Merrell Johnson in studio.
Credit Olivia Aldridge/SC Public Radio

“Lo and behold, it was true,” said Johnson, who thought he might pass out when he heard the news. “I did not pass out, but I quickly signed up to make sure I was gonna go get those tickets! And I did.”

It’s an opportunity for fans like Johnson to see a dream performance, but it’s also a significant economic opportunity for the city of Columbia, according to Tom Reagan, Graduate Director in the Dept. of Sport and Entertainment Management at the University of South Carolina.

“Many people within your community, your geographic area, if they spend money on this concert, it’s just a redistribution of money they could have spent elsewhere. What we’re looking for is money outside the area coming in,” Reagan says, “and it is a significant contribution, because you will have people well outside the area that will come and will spend a significant amount of money on that ticket.”

Reagan says stadium shows are rare for a few reasons, including the challenge of selling enough tickets to fill such a massive venue. For that reason, a city that’s located between Atlanta and Charlotte can be a hard sell for artists looking at prospective tour stops.  

“We are the middle child between those cities,” said Reagan. “When you have a metropolitan area of five million or two and a half million, it’s quite a bit different than 600 or 650,000.”

However, there are certainly benefits to seeing big name acts perform in smaller cities, according to Reagan’s colleague Armen Shaomian, an Associate Professor in the Department of Sport and Entertainment Management.

“I always tell my students, ‘if you’re really into an artist, are they coming to a city that’s maybe a couple hours away?’ And you might be surprised at how much the price difference might be.”

Ticket prices for On the Run II at Williams-Brice are certainly less expensive on average than tickets at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. As for Columbia having to duke it out with bigger cities to host major acts, tourism experts from Columbia have something to say about that.

“I think that the fact that we’re attracting people like Jay-Z and Beyoncé to a venue in Columbia speaks to the fact that Columbia is growing in the minds of people as a destination,” says Charlene Slaughter of Discover Columbia, SC.

Shaomien confirms that promotion from the city actually has a lot to do with whether acts choose to come here. With major music promoters like Live Nation located in the area, Shaomien says it’s unsurprising that Columbia is bringing more music acts to town. However, he says that what it really boils down to is whether the artist has a good experience here—and that USC’s venues (including both Williams-Brice and Colonial Life Arena) do a great job of treating performers well.

“If an artist comes here and has a really great experience, they always want to come back to the same city. And I think that’s what we’re really good at here at University of South Carolina. We’re definitely hitting home with the Southern Hospitality.”

If superfan Merrell Johnson is any indication, Beyoncé and her husband seem likely to receive a warm Carolina welcome. Shaomian, too, is excited about the show, and he says those lower prices he mentioned have translated into pretty good seats for him. He still wasn’t able to get that close to the stage, though.

“I might still need to bring my opera binoculars,” he says. “We’ll see.”