Riverbend Music Center has become the world’s first concert venue of its size to cover its lawn – all 2.75 acres – with artificial grass.
The facility’s elaborate $750,000 system of turf, rock and drains has been in the planning stages for five years.
Installed over the last 10 weeks, the lawn is ready for the 2012 season-opener: Brad Paisley with The Band Perry & Scotty McCreery, on May 20.
At that show, concertgoers will encounter a lawn consisting of five layers: 120,000 square feet of non-flammable plastic turf; 660,000 pounds of non-toxic, acrylic-coated, round-grained, bacteria-resistant sand; two layers of crushed limestone; and 1.04 miles of drainage pipe.
The reasons behind the groundbreaking move:
» Reduce Riverbend’s carbon footprint. It eliminates the need for fertilizers, pesticides, weed-killers and gas-powered lawn mowers.
» Save money. The lawn’s grass surface annually consumed 600,000 gallons of water for irrigation and $90,000 for replacement rolls of sod.
» Extend the amphitheater’s brand. Riverbend plans to market the system to outdoor concert venues around the world.
» Sell more tickets. Projections call for a 10 percent jump in lawn ticket sales.
If those projections hold, Riverbend could jump a notch in the annual international ranking of amphitheaters. For 2011, Pollstar, a concert-industry bible, listed Riverbend in fourth place with 329,979 tickets sold. Only first-place DTE Energy Music Theatre, outside Detroit, Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colo., and Filene Center at Wolf Trap in Vienna, Va., sold more tickets. A 10-percent increase would put Riverbend in third place.
“People are finally going to be able to enjoy a sold-out show on the lawn, without worrying about it turning to mud if it rains,” said Mike Smith, Riverbend’s longtime general manager and a vice president with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the amphitheater’s owner.
The improvements were paid for by an endowment from the late Patricia Corbett.
The top layer is made up of densely packed, 2-inch-tall blades of non-flammable plastic grass. The blades are shorter than lawn grass blades. They are close to the height of the frog-hair turf surrounding golf putting greens. Sections of the grass carpet are sewn together and held down by spikes.
Round, green, acrylic-coated grains of sand mined in Texas and called Envirofill are placed on the grass, as infill. There are 5.5 pounds of sand per square foot of synthetic turf. The sand’s coating is bacteria-, mildew- and mold-resistant. The grains’ round structure keeps the blades of turf standing at attention.
The roundness also acts as a cushion, preventing the sand from compacting. The base of the turf has millions of holes to let moisture drain, first through a 2-inch-thick layer of finely crushed Georgia limestone, then a 4-inch-thick layer of coarsely crushed limestone leading to a network of 10-inch drainpipes.
Unlike earlier generations of artificial turf, Riverbend’s synthetic grass is completely recyclable. Older turf used pellets, called crumb rubber, made from recycled car tires for its infill.
And foot traffic over the pellets creates static electricity, causing them to stick to shoes, pants and people. Riverbend’s sand infill, which USGreentech has installed on playing surfaces in stadiums in Europe and Australia, stays put.
Synthetic grass can get hot under broiling summer sun. Riverbend has installed a misting system to cool the turf.
“We can run the hoses 30 minutes before we open the gates,” Smith said. “That can drop the surface temperature 10 to 25 degrees and it will be dry in 10 minutes.”