This story was originally published July 8, 2014 on PennLive.com. It was the cover story for Central PA Magazine’s Arts and Entertainment issue, as well as a front-page story for The Patriot-News.
Screams surround you as you stand, rocking to the beat, drink in one hand and cell phone in the other. You’re snapping picture after picture as your favorite artist hits the Hersheypark Stadium stage.
You know your ears will be ringing for days after, but you don’t care. What matters is right now, this moment when the song you’ve had on loop on your iPod is finally played.
You’re lost in the music. That’s when Hershey Entertainment knows its done a good job.
It’s January and Amanda Haffly is thinking of June.
Summer is on her mind – but it isn’t thoughts of vacation that consume her. No, Haffly is thinking about work.
The first few months of the year are when Haffly, the director for events and entertainment programming for Hershey Entertainment and Resorts, is planning the summer concerts series at Hersheypark Stadium.
Haffly is the liaison for Hershey and Live Nation, the company that produces the shows at Hershey. Shows are pitched to Haffly, who then considers three things:
1. Does the act fit in with the Hershey brand of family friendly fun?
2. Do the proposed dates make sense? If there’s an event at the Giant Center or at Hersheypark on the same day, then the show is a no go.
3. Would this concert make money? For this, Haffly turns to Pollstar, a concert industry trade publication, to check out historical ticket sales for various acts.
While that first consideration may knock out a lot of acts, Haffly said Hershey doesn’t think small when it comes to concerts. “We shoot for the sky,” she said. “We want Madonna, U2, Gaga.”
The Bruno Mars show on July 12 at the Hersheypark Stadium was a no brainer for Haffly. “We’re always looking to provide our guests with the highest level of entertainment available,” she said. “Having Bruno Mars perform in Hershey after his successful Super Bowl performance is an exciting opportunity for us.”
Once the act is booked, Sarah Measley gets to work.
“[Haffly] books it and we cook it,” said Measley, senior manager of events for Hershey Entertainment. Measley runs Event Ops, or operations, and acts as the on-site producer for the show. It’s Measley’s job to make sure everyone is on task and has the info they need.
Measley reaches out to Livenation to find out what, exactly, the act requires both in the equipment and labor sense. It’s Measley who figuratively builds the show, putting everything in place.
“A show will show up in Hershey and chances are they’ve never been here before,” she explained. “Our job is to make it fit here.”
Along the way, Measley and her team are solving any problem that may come up. “We’re kind of like the firefighters,” she said.
Events Ops is the first team to arrive on the day of the concert, usually around 7 a.m. They’re also the last to leave, which, in some cases, can be after 2 a.m. the next day.
“It’s a long day,” Measley said with a grin.
One of the departments Measley works closely with is Safety and Security, which is headed up by complex director Jason White.
He’s involved in the process as soon as the act is booked.
For him, it’s about solving the giant puzzle of “How logistically do we make this all work?”
The puzzle solver
The acts all send White a security rider, essentially listing the requirements for the act, but White is often far ahead of them.
“We always go above and beyond that rider,” he said. “That’s because we know our venue better than anyone else.”
White looks at the prospective crowd. With One Direction in 2013, he knew there would be a lot of kids and thus a lot of drop-offs. Matchbox 20 and Goo Goo Dolls, however, was more of a date night show.
Bruno Mars, however, is bringing a predominantly younger, female crowd, according to White.
Next, White plays investigator – calling other venues who have hosted the act and law enforcement in those areas to see if there is anything he needs to know.
He then meets with the Derry Twp. police to compare notes and come up with a plan.
The amount of staff on site is determined by a staffing matrix. If half the stadium is full, he uses anywhere between 80 and 100 security workers. If it is sold out then more than 200 security personnel are working.
The evening is meticulously planned out, with contingency plans for practically every scenario, from severe weather to bomb threats to mass evacuations. There are emergency medical services on staff and Hershey Entertainment has its own ambulance, so if something goes down they are prepared.
Weather is what White is going to keep a close eye on for July 12’s concert, specifically the heat. “[We will take measures to try and provide some relief for the fans if we have hot temperatures,” he said.
White is also the man who comes up with the traffic plan, which includes getting permission to manually control traffic lights in the area to prevent concert traffic congestion. His goal is to get the parking lot cleared an hour and a half after the concert has ended.
The day of the show, White does a walk through and inspect the venue, before the grounds are even opened. Two to three hours before the concert begins is what he calls the “red zone.” That’s when the staff show up, get their positions and are briefed on what to expect.
Not all those staff members are in uniform either. The Hershey security team boasts some plainclothes officer as well.
The ticket master
April is when announcements begin and Cathy Lebo becomes glued to her computer.
“It’s crunch time,” said the event ticketing manager for Hershey. She gets the pricing, pre-sale info and VIP information and within two-days has to turn everything around so that Ticketmaster can start selling tickets.
“No matter what show it is, it is a quick turnaround,” she said, describing how she often has to track down confirmation information, send audits to artist management and make sure Ticketmaster has everything it needs to get up and running. If she doesn’t have to do any followups, the process can be done in a full day. That’s not the typical case.
After the tickets go on sale, she is in charge of sending daily reports to the promoters and working with the artist’s management to figure out how many seats need to be reserved for their guest list.
At 4 p.m. on the day of the show, Lebo is out checking out every single seat in the stadium, making sure every seat sold is there.
The sky walkers
The morning of the show, the stage belongs to the riggers.
Riggers are in charge of actually setting up the show’s stage, from fixing the lights to making sure that sweet screen is perfectly positioned. Everything that hangs from the ceiling, they put there.
It’s definitely not a job for those scared of heights.
“Rigging is all about weight and load distribution,” said Zack Purciful, the head rigger for the Matchbox 20/Goo Goo Dolls show last year.
Purciful and his crew spend hours hanging everything. If they do their job right, you don’t think twice about how that nifty light ended up where it did.
However, if they do it wrong then there are massive consequences. Just imagine hundreds of pounds of equipment crashing down on someone.
That’s why, when Purciful goes in he wants everything just so.
As head rigger, Purciful has three shows planned, an A show, B show and a C show. These are all based on stage sizes. That way he can take any show out on the road.
Once he figures out the show they’re working with, Purciful sets to work drawing circles, triangles, squares in liquid chalk on the stage floor. Each symbol means a different motor or item to the riggers, who will be up at least 60 feet trying to get the right light in the right place.
Everything the show uses is fairly standardized. It’s all loaded in a precise manner so that show set-up can be as formulaic and routine as possible.
As a rigger, routine is a good thing. All the thrills needed come from the heights they work from.
While Purciful is high in the rooftops, Ashley Zerbe’s realm is underneath the stands.
Zerbe is the merchandise coordinator. Her team brings in all the t-shirts, CDs, stickers and knickknacks into the stadium to be sold. It involves a lot of organization and counting. In fact, every single item must be counted three times before it’s available for sale, and then inventory is counted three times again at the end of the day.
While Zerbe’s counting begins the day of the show, Sophia Zulli has her numbers ready months before the artist ever steps onto the Hersheypark Stadium floor.
Zulli, director of food and beverage, sets her menus and prices for each show before the summer concert season even begins.
225 workers make up the stadium’s food and beverage staff, although in some cases less than that amount are actually used.
Hershey adapts to its audience in this department. Last year’s One Direction concert switched its beer tent in for a Pepsi cave. One can imagine that won’t be the case for the upcoming Jimmy Buffett show.
The greatest problem Hershey faces is misjudging the crowd or how much food is needed. That’s when it comes in handy having an amusement park, with its vast amount of food, nearby.
Zulli arrives at 8 a.m. and aims to have all the food and keg prep work finished by 9 a.m. The day ends for her and her staff around 2 a.m., long after the last concert-goer has left the stadium grounds.
It’s a cycle that’s due to repeat on July 12, when Bruno Mars comes to Chocolate Town as the second of the Hersheypark stadium concerts – and later still when Jimmy Buffett and Zac Brown Band bring their legions of fans to the stadium’s doors.
One man’s party is another man’s work day.