The Carrier Dome: Home to sold-out concerts, SU sports

The Dome has done it all

The iconic Syracuse arena has a storied history of hosting major musicians and big sporting events.
Published: May 10, 2022 | Updated: May 13th, 2022 at 8:20 am
The Dome with a large Paul McCartney banner and lots of fans waiting outside.
Paul McCartney performed at The Dome in 2017 and will be returning this summer.

Last month, Paul McCartney announced his return to Syracuse on his sell-out 2022 tour, which will be followed by Elton John’s performance scheduled for September 2022.

These performances will be held in The Carrier Dome, located in the center of Syracuse University’s campus and the hub for various student events. Yet, what is it that draws these artists to Upstate New York, rather than its neighboring, lively cities such as New York City, Philadelphia and Boston?

Founding director of the Bandier Program at Syracuse University and president of DMR Booking, David Rezak, talked of the long history of live music in Syracuse, dating back to before the Carrier Dome broke ground. Located at the present-day MakerSpace in Kimmel Hall, the “Jabberwocky” was a university-owned space, serving as an essential aspect of nightlife on SU’s campus.

“It was a beer and wine serving nightclub venue at about 150 capacity that had artists at the level of James Taylor, Talking Heads, Cyndi Lauper,” Rezak said. “Just an incredible array of amazing artists showcased there before they got big.”

Jabberwocky was not the only spot on campus providing live music, as SU was a hub for great nightlife and performances.

“Campus just had amazing music going on,” Rezak said. “I saw Miles Davis and B.B. King in Crouse College, and great concerts took place in Hendricks Chapel, for heaven’s sake!”

As the campus was alive with music and upcoming artists, Rezak notes that while the performances themselves were incredible, the spaces they took place in were underwhelming. Then came the Carrier Dome in 1980, a 500,000+ square foot arena that promised events with unprecedented attendance. And with its newly implemented renovations, including a brand new roofing system, Rezak said larger artists such as McCartney can put on truly spectacular performances.

Yet, with a space as renowned as the Carrier Dome, functioning as both a venue for various events in the city and Syracuse University students, SU Vice President and Chief Facilities Officer Pete Sala said one of the hardest parts has been accommodating all parties.

“I have men’s and women’s basketball that I have to schedule, football, men’s and women’s lacrosse and then all the university events,” he said. “…And then what I do for the section state with high school football, the New York state field band, and all these other things we do.”

With numerous events to schedule, Sala learned he has to prioritize one group: SU student-athletes.

“I took the mentality years ago that our student-athletes take precedence over everybody,” Sala said. “We try to shoehorn the shows around our student-athletes and our students – that is the truth.”

Having SU be such an inviting and personal space for artists to come perform has been one of the main factors that sets the Carrier Dome apart from various venues across the country. Working with the university since 1982, Sala said scheduling these performers and watching them has been one of the most rewarding aspects.

“My favorite show ever probably was Garth Brooks back-to-back, only because we were with those guys for a week and we loaded them out to their European tour,” Sala said. “…we’ve become very good friends and same with Billy Joel’s group. He’s been in seven times, on seven sell-outs.”

 

Billy Joel performs at The Dome.
Billy Joel performs at The Dome in 2015. Joel has performed in Syracuse seven times.

For Sala, hosting Billy Joel has been one of his favorite experiences, forming close relationships with the artist’s team and Joel himself.

“At Billy Joel, every time he’s been there when they do ‘Saigon,’ they used to use stagehands to sing that part of it, they always let me sing with them,” Sala said. “I’ve been up there with him on that stage like five times. It’s just kind of cool, you know. Not everyone can say that.”

While many of these artists are at the end of their touring days, the future of Carrier Dome guests is uncertain. But, for Chuck Chao, the owner of Creative Concerts, an entertainment company specializing in concert promotion, he believes that the Carrier Dome will remain a popular spot for years to come.

“But I think for the future, if it’s going to continue that LiveNation and AEG control the reins on most of these artists, some of the newer stuff has got to start breaking through and getting in there because you know Billy Joel, Elton John, Paul McCartney are killer and legendary but aren’t going to last forever.”