While college athletes battle for basketball supremacy at AT&T Stadium in Arlington this weekend, the NCAA is bringing some big names in music to downtown Dallas.
Beginning Friday, the March Madness Music Festival will take over the site where Reunion Arena once stood (rechristened “Reunion Park” for the occasion), offering three days and nights of free entertainment, including a series of concerts featuring some of the biggest names in rock, pop and country.
On Friday, the AT&T Block Party kicks off at 3 p.m., with scheduled performances by Jason Aldean, Jack Ingram, Denton’s Eli Young Band and the Wild Feathers.
At noon Saturday, the Coke Zero Countdown will get underway, with the Killers and Tim McGraw set to appear.
Sunday, the Capital One JamFest starts at 2 p.m., with sets from fun. and Fort Worth resident Pat Green, and concludes with a set from Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, their first gig in North Texas in six years.
The site will even feature a Ferris wheel, according to Final Four spokesperson Tony Fay: “This is a full-fledged festival ... a concert [at what is] essentially a new venue.”
Each event is free for all ages to attend — there are no tickets to buy and no wristbands to obtain — and is open to the public on a first-come, first-serve basis. Organizers expect capacity to be about 40,000, and once that limit is reached, those on the outside will be out of luck. Also worth noting: There is no re-entry.
“If you leave, you’re out,” Fay says.
In addition to the main stage, there will be a “rest area” with a video screen set up at the far end of Reunion Park, near the Hyatt Regency hotel, where each performance will be shown, but according to Fay, the entire festival area will be fenced off and those outside won’t be able to see in.
Fay advises the public to keep an eye on the Final Four Twitter account ( @finalfour), which will be regularly updating the public on Reunion Park’s capacity.
A Final Four app is also available for download. (The festival’s website also has an FAQ posted, which outlines what can and cannot be brought inside the festival grounds.)
According to Fay, the key for fans over the course of the weekend will be patience.
“Give yourself plenty of time to arrive — be patient,” Fay says, suggesting that visitors should, whenever possible, avail themselves of mass transit or plan to walk to the concert site. “Downtown Dallas is going to be very pedestrian-friendly that weekend, with plenty of law enforcement on hand.”
To that end, both Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) and the Trinity Railway Express (TRE) are running extended schedules to accommodate the Final Four festivities.
DART will offer shuttle service from Union Station to the March Madness Music Festival site, and its trains will run until 1:30 a.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday (check DART’s website for a complete schedule).
For those choosing to drive, Fay says to arrive via the eastern side of Dallas, if at all possible, and to seek out any surface lots or parking garages in downtown (prices vary) — there will be no on-site parking at the festival.
The musical performances won’t be truncated, according to Fay, who says to expect full sets from each night’s headliners — even Springsteen, whose concerts routinely stretch beyond the the three-and-a-half-hour mark.
“This is not something [where] it’s just 45 minutes and done,” Fay says.
And as the weather around this time of year is notorious for wreaking havoc on outdoor events, Fay says the March Madness Music Festival is a “rain or shine” event, and there is no contingency plan to move the music indoors.
In the event of severe weather, NCAA officials and event organizers will determine a plan for public safety, according to Fay.
But, hopefully, unlike the ice-bedeviled week of Super Bowl XLV in 2011, this round of high-profile, sports-related entertainment will be a simple slam dunk.