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Sphere in Square

Rita Benson LeBlanc Discusses Bold Sphere Music Series at Champions Square

Champions Square is already a huge success, but Rita Benson LeBlanc is ready to make another bold move.


After kicking off with a pair of shows from Lana Del Ray and Pretty Lights, Bold Sphere Music is set to bring live music to the space between the Mercedes Benz Superdome and Smoothie King Center year-round. 


Along with acts like Jake Owen and Boyz II Men, the series will introduce a redesigned performance space to New Orleans. The new ampitheatre at Champions Square features a permanent, outdoor stage and seating for 6,500-9,000 attendees.


To find out more about the remade venue, NoDef recently caught up with Bold Sphere Music's founder Rita Benson LeBlanc. (Additionally, she works a day job as New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans Owner-Vice Chairman of the Board.)


NOLA Defender: There have been concerts in Champions’ Square before. How is the new amphitheater different?

Rita Benson LeBlanc: The new stage is a state of the art, custom built facility capable of handling any of the largest touring acts. There is no other outdoor stage of its size immediately adjacent to an NFL and NBA team in the heart of a major metropolitan city in America. I wanted to help continue to make New Orleans different and iconic through Champions Square. With the grand staircase to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, we have the ability to offer music lovers a mix of elevated, VIP, stationary and general admission space.  The ideal show is never so congested that you cannot easily get to the bathrooms, concessions or your favorite band's gear at the merch stands. We were able to offer gourmet food trucks at the Lana Del Rey show. The space is finite but incredibly versatile and is an enormous complement to the stadiums as we pitch the city and the sports and entertainment district for future high profile economic impact events such as Super Bowl, NBA All-Star and the NCAA final four tournaments.


ND: How did the project come about?

RBL: The master plan for Champions Square included a stage.  When I asked why we weren't booking acts, I learned we didn't have a stage large enough to accommodate speakers and equipment for the larger acts and their show apparatus. To rent a temporary stage was cost-prohibitive and overly complicated for promoters to consider when bookings shows in New Orleans at Champions Square.


In New Orleans, everything we do is different. It's a part of our cultural DNA. New Orleans is a European-influenced city, with public squares, but we didn't have a piazza with scale. Years ago, I was in Rome walking through the Piazza del Popolo where they were constructing a massive stage. Some of those Roman and later Greek memories inspired the new scrims dressing the scaffolding around Champions Square. The Bold Sphere Stage cost over $1 million for the concrete base, supports, stage and roof systems. I invested more for stainless steel fittings because I wanted something that would last and wouldn't look rusty after time. The entire development is evolving based upon the needs, experience, trends in live music and the desire to create an experience for bands wanting to get closer to their fans. Eventually, we can incorporate food. I've heard great things about how Zach Brown Band will play to an intimate number of fans while feeding them gourmet meals, yet they still play regular big shows. The key to the vision is versatility and adaptability. This venue is a toy box for creativity and imaginative performers.



ND: Do you have an “insider’s tip” to the venue? For example, is there a secret bathroom with no lines, or a distant corner with amazing acoustics?


RBL: The magic of Champions Square is the parking. The convenience of getting in and out with the ability to have dinner before or after makes it a full night in New Orleans.


All vantage points are impressive and the beauty is you can get to them all during a show. The staircase is fantastic, but it isn't hard to squeeze to the front of the stage. Lana Del Rey took time in the middle of a song to hang out with fans, take selfies, sign autographs; she was blown away.  The power of the space is derived from the people of New Orleans, the magnificence of the buildings and the proximity to the stadiums. During Pretty Lights' electronic lights show, the images bounced all over these elements and reflected back. Pixomondo was there. They are an epic visual arts company with offices in Louisiana, and a legendary reputation for their work on Game of Thrones. They have been doing work with simulators and projections on special screens which we hope to try with future acts.


ND: What is the inspiration behind the name "Bold Sphere”?

RBL: It's a company vehicle for my plans to encourage and create social entrepreneurship. The music, culture and cuisine of New Orleans are our most vibrant and powerful exports. There are green business and building initiatives to showcase in the coming months as New Orleans hosts the Green Design Build Conference this fall. This planet is a sphere and efficient ideas related to resource management and human capital are bold opportunities for the future.


ND: What type of music and events can we look forward to in the future?

RBL: Keep a look out for our Save The Dates!  Follow on Twitter (@boldspheremusic), Instagram, and Facebook. The mix of music will be something for everyone, across the board.  Classic rock acts, to up and comers, as well as legends of country. We have as many big acts coming to the Smoothie King Center and Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The key difference for Bold Sphere Music is intimacy.  No mud, just music under the stars in the heart of New Orleans. Major acts have started playing a variety of different sized venues based upon the crowd experience. They are making an effort to get closer to their fans. You know where you are when you play Bold Sphere Music; it's as memorable for the artists as it is for the music lovers.


ND: What music are you listening to currently? Will they be coming to NOLA?

RBL: I love Pandora and Songza because I can create moods or discover new music through their genres. These apps give listeners the ability to curate their own lifestyle music. "I Can't Hear You" station (the song used in Crazy, Stupid, Love when she walks into the bar and kisses the guy) plays a lot of bluesy jams with rock riffs. "Fleet Foxes" makes for relaxed soothing voices "New Male Singer-Songwriters" on Songza is a great discovery setting. If I feel Latin, I play a "Shakira" station or "Juanes".  But if I just want pop to work out to, "Katy Perry" or "Kesha" are reliable for the beats.


ND: Your interest in writing is well documented, what question would you ask about the venue, and what would the answer be?


What memorable moments will happen here?


Shocking Lana del Rey with her own festival size crowd, a light explosion with Pretty Lights.


We have already broken the Guinness world record for costume gathering in Champions Square on Halloween for a NBC night game on a Saturday in 2010.


New Orleans is setting more records. The Bold Sphere stage is meant to be an extension of other events in the city. Linking up with Ampersand Events we were a part of Jazzfest as Jazzfest at Nite.  Expanding the footprint of major events is what helps benefit all of New Orleans, through the hotels, restaurants and shops in between them all. I'm doing this for economic development reasons, but it's also to improve the quality of life for everyone. I want people to fall in love out there. I want them to meet their friends and share the best days of their lives. It's a great place to immerse yourself in the music or step back to the edges of the crowd and dance. How many music venues give you room to dance? Music is about movement and Bold Sphere Music is where New Orleans comes to live the rhythm and spirit of our city under the stars.


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