Stadium Rock

The vituperative tone of the debate over the construction of a new multi-purpose stadium for Dunedin and Otago, when it has not stooped to personal abuse, has often concentrated narrowly on arguments of an economic nature.

Not that such matters are unimportant or irrelevant - far from it, they are critical.

In the Forsyth Barr Stadium the city has committed to a project which involves considerable impost on the ratepayer now and into the future and it is quite proper, and understandable, that argument has been rigorous and fierce.

Opposing positions pitting debt against city growth, and foregone investment opportunities against stadium-stimulated economic activity have been canvassed ad infinitum.

Conducted purely in such terms the debate ignores a wider context: societies have always in part been informed by the places and structures in which their citizens choose to congregate - whether that be parks, amphitheatres, temples, cathedrals, concert halls, or stadiums.

In all such spaces a variety of interactions occur, social, economic and cultural, and the very act of shared engagement, participation or consumption - whether it be of rugby, political meetings, opera or rock concerts - helped define the community in which they take place.

They are the stages for the public life of a city or province, and the "living room" of societies in which such conurbations exist. Thus in certain respects the arguments over the stadium go to the core of what kind of place the citizens of the South want Dunedin to be. There are, as is to be expected, a range of strongly-held views on this.

The announcement on Thursday this week that Sir Elton John will play as the first major international act late next year following the Rugby World Cup at least signals that Dunedin, with its new covered stadium, is a city which can, and will - in so far as there is support and demand for them - host world-class performers.

Population and potential audience sizes will perhaps constrain expectations of seeing the very top tier of international acts in the city, but attracting Sir Elton is not to be sniffed at.

A colourful song-writer and versatile singer, he straddles the history of modern popular music, a fixture against the cultural backdrop of the baby-boomer generation.

Born Reginald Kenneth Dwight in 1947, he had his first hit with Your Song in 1970 and - as his hectic touring schedule reveals - he remains in demand the world over 40 years on. He reaches across the spectrum of age, background and musical taste. His winning flamboyance and popularity as an entertainer only adds to his appeal.

The concert, Sir Elton's first appearance in the South Island in 20 years, is a coup for Dunedin Venues Management Ltd and for Dunedin.

It signals, in an unassailable manner, that the stadium is not simply a rugby venue, and it sets a tone for the kinds of acts that might be expected in the future.

Stadium management and the city itself, now that the venue exists, are well-positioned to take advantage of new realities in the world of popular music.

The digital revolution - with its "downloads" and rampant overriding of traditional copyright considerations - has wreaked havoc on the recording industry. Musicians increasingly are performing and touring to ply their trade. Sir Elton, whether he needs to make such a living any longer, is just one member of a growing troupe in search of an audience.

The Elton John concert will not end controversy over the Forsyth Barr Stadium; nor will the Rugby World Cup, or the fact that the city can in future hope to continue hosting major international sporting fixtures; nor indeed will others care that events - conferences, concerts, outdoor entertainment, community fixtures - will have a modern fit-for-purpose venue in the city.

Their focus is elsewhere, has other priorities.

They are entitled to them and they are important, but their proponents do at times present a peculiarly singular view of the possibilities for the community and society in which they would seem to want to live.

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