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Fans, arena management look for big turnout for Saturday Metallica show in Grand Forks

Jose Gil holds his favorite piece of Metallica memorabilia, a guitar pick from a concert at AT&T Park in San Francisco. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald1 / 2
Jose Gil is surrounded by Metallica memorabilia including a pair of Vans X Metallica SK8-HI sneakers in his "Met Cave" in Grand Forks. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald2 / 2

Jose Gil of Grand Forks claims to be Metallica's biggest fan—at least in this region—and, after viewing his collection and hearing his story, few would argue with him.

In Gil's basement, his "Met Cave" is a testament to his 30-year dedication to the heavy metal band he considers to be a pioneer in that musical genre.

The walls are lined with posters from concerts held around the U.S. and elsewhere, albums, novelties, and other memorabilia that include an inscribed wristwatch, a drum key and guitar pick used by a band member.

"When I heard Metallica was coming here, I started screaming, 'I can't believe they're coming here,' " he said. "I never expected them to come here in a million years."

Saturday's concert at the Alerus Center will be the 27th he has attended.

"I follow them when I can," he said. "I travel a lot."

He's been all over the country to catch their concerts, and plans to see them in Boise, Idaho; Spokane, Wash.; and Salt Lake City later this year, he said. "I hope to see them perform in Europe when they announce those dates next year."

He planned to host a pre-show party tonight at his home for members of the Fargo Whom the Bell Tolls, the North Dakota Metallica fan club, and fans from around the country, he said. The name is a riff on the band's 1984 song "For Whom the Bell Tolls."

The camaraderie with other fans fuels his devotion to the band, he said. "It makes you feel part of a family."

His unwavering loyalty took root in his freshman year at a Chicago high school where "I was a new kid and didn't know anybody," he recalled. "The music helped me clear my mind a bit, and helped me get out my aggressions. It was my outlet when I was frustrated growing up."

"I bonded with other 'metalheads,' " he said. "I have so many fond memories."

Gil, who attended his first Metallica concert in 1991 in Chicago, said the group "is still putting out great quality music. I'm definitely in it for the long haul."

Looking around at the posters, printed glassware, and cases of memorabilia, Gil admits, "Some people may think it's obsessive. I think I don't have enough."

His keen interest in Metallica, which became evident in his social media posts in recent weeks, has drawn attention beyond the group's fan base.

When the Alerus Center marketing team spotted his posts, "we reached out to him to produce fan art for the show," said Riley Simenson, director of marketing for the facility.

"We'll keep one of the specialty posters in house, and give one to the band as a gift," he said.

Diverse entertainment

Anna Rosburg, general manager of the Alerus Center, said concerts that fall into the country and rock genres always do well in Grand Forks.
"We've done really well with Metallica sales," she said. "We're excited about them coming here."

Since her employer, Spectra Venue Management, based in Philadelphia, took over management of the Alerus Center about a year ago, "we've brought in diverse events and the community has been really great about supporting them."

"In our first year in the building, we've hosted three major concerts that sold more than 8,500 tickets each, so that's been a record year for us," Rosburg said.

Those concerts were country music singer, Thomas Rhett, and the heavy metal band, Five Finger Death Punch, both in May, and Metallica today.

"We're working hard to bring other events, including a couple of comedy shows, to Grand Forks," Rosburg said.

Earlier this year, the Alerus Center hosted Jurassic Quest and Monster Truck events, she said. And in October, it will host Rick Springfield and the contemporary Christian rock band, "Casting Crowns."

Also, Mannheim Steamroller is scheduled to present a Christmas show Nov. 20 and "Hairball" is set to perform an "annual type" show Dec. 28, she said.

"We want to bring in show programming that enhances the quality of life for Grand Forks residents, but also drives economic impact in this area," Rosburg said.

"We're looking at exciting things in '19," she said. "We'd like to bring in a pop (music) act, but we're looking at what makes sense for our market."

Metallica performed in Grand Forks at UND's Hyslop Sports Center about 30 years ago, Rosburg said.

At Metallica's concert tonight, "we're hoping to break the attendance record," which is nearly 20,000, she said.

That record was set by the roughly 19,500 fans who flocked to the Alerus Center to see country music singer George Strait perform in February 2013.

The second-highest audience was the audience of slightly over 19,000 who attended a Cher performance in February 2002, she said.

Engelstad arena

The Ralph Engelstad Arena, known as the home of the UND Fighting Hawks hockey team, has also hosted its share of notable musicians, said Jody Hodgson, general manager.

Some of the largest crowds have attended concerts by musician Eric Church and country music singer Carrie Underwood, he said.

"They were each in the 11,000 range," Hodgson said.

Elton John's concert in 2012 "was a great success," drawing just under 10,000 attendees, he said.

In recent years, other successful events have included concerts by the bands Florida Georgia Line and Little Big Town and singers Miranda Lambert and Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, he said.

Factors that determine if an artist or group is right for The Ralph include the question of profitability, Hodgson said.

"Does it make sense in our community? What is the anticipated demand? Will it make money?"

Hodgson has to weigh whether factors such as "date availability and can the building accommodate (the event)," he said. "Can we get everyone in and out safely?"

For example, "Keith Urban is performing on Sunday, Oct. 13, after a Saturday night hockey game," he said. Preparation for the Urban concert will start "before everybody's out of the parking lot."

"We're always interested in additional profit-producing events," Hodgson said. "We look at the reality of where is the intersection of anticipated tickets sales and the capacity of the venue. It's a balancing act between maximizing profit and protecting the market—the market can only bear so much."

Not every act is a right fit for The Ralph.

"Some events are a better fit for a larger venue, like the Alerus, and some are better suited for a smaller venue, like ours," he said.

"Ultimately, every artist wants to walk out on stage and have the seats filled in the venue, regardless of the size of the venue."

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