Longtime Greenville observers shake their heads when they compare the entertainment venues 20 or so years ago to the array of options available today. Once, the aged Memorial Auditorium was the only choice with its 5,500 seats for basketball, concerts and Monday night wrestling.
Now, whether residents and visitors want to see a rock or country music concert, a Broadway show, a symphony or - yes - wrestling, Greenville can provide any and all of those in its two premium venues: The Peace Center for the Performing Arts or Bon Secours Wellness Arena.
On any given evening, the Peace Center's 2,000-seat concert hall might be offering the Greenville Symphony, the S.C. Children's Theater, the Carolina Ballet Theater or - its primary stock in trade - a performance straight from Broadway. The more intimate 400-seat Gunter Theatre and the 1,200-seat TD Stage outdoors mean there's always a place for shows large and small; the Peace Center averages 200 event nights a year.
"In this business, it's all about the math," says Peace Center president/CEO Megan Riegel. "Some tours are perfect for 2,000 seats, while others work best in smaller venues. We're equipped to handle almost anything."
For larger-audience acts, the Bon Secours Wellness Arena, with capacity ranging from 3,000 to 15,000 seats, is the prime site. "We offer diverse entertainment to residents of the Upstate and Upstate visitors," says Beth Paul, Bon Secours' general manager. "From different music to the circus, WWE (professional wrestling), the Harlem Globetrotters, the Swamp Rabbits (minor league ice hockey), we offer good family entertainment."
Greenville's nightlife isn't limited to mega-entertainment sites. There's also a wide array of smaller choices, from Centre Stage, Greenville's Professional Theater and The Warehouse Theatre for stage shows to music venues such as Blues Boulevard, The Bohemian Café and The Blind Horse Saloon, with live music from visiting groups and its house band, One Eyed Jack.
Paul, who first worked for the then-Bi Lo Center in 1999 and returned in 2005, says Bon Secours Wellness Center's size is ideal for Greenville. "Some artists at the peaks of their careers may need more (seats) than we can accommodate," she says, "but for the most part we're able to meet their needs."
Indeed, the arena has welcomed The Eagles, Elton John, Lady Antebellum, Kenny Chesney and other big-name acts. Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, "Holiday on Ice" and monster truck rallies are part of the annual schedule, and Greenville has always been a strong market for professional wrestling. Sportswise, Bon Secours has the East Coast Hockey League's Swamp Rabbits (formerly the Road Warriors) and in 2015-16 will be the temporary home for Clemson University basketball.
"We make it easy for families to come out to enjoy live entertainment," Paul says. "We've been successful with country music, Southern Rock and gospel, and we draw smaller crowds for comedy," notably ventriloquist/comic Jeff Dunham.
A three-year (2013-16), $14 million renovation - the first since the building opened in 1998 - also enhances the spectator experience, with a new scoreboard and ribbon boards for hockey and basketball, a refurbished concourse, bathrooms and concession areas, plus a new outdoor hospitality area and upgraded premium seating including 30 suites, 28 regularly sold.
While Bon Secours, on East North Street and near the Hyatt Regency, forms the north end of Greenville's bustling Main Street, the Peace Center is a halfway point between the arena and Fluor Field in the West End. Opening in 1990, the Peace Center's six-acre "campus" next to the Reedy River, across Main from Falls Park on the Reedy, is a focal point of the city's downtown renaissance.
"We've had a huge economic impact," Riegel says, noting the center's budget growth from $5 million to $19 million. "We attract people from all over South Carolina, and we also reach far and wide. "We get people who've retired and settled here, maybe built a second home in the mountains, and they tell us, ‘One reason we moved to Greenville was the Peace Center.'"
Acts drawing enthusiastic crowds include: comedians Jerry Seinfeld and Ron "Tater Salad" White, pop musicians Earth, Wind & Fire and Ringo Starr, jazz artist Diana Krall and even rock/blues legend Bob Dylan.
A not-for-profit entity that receives no government funding, the Peace Center also plays host to the Governor's School for the Arts & Humanities, stages youth concerts and shows for school children, offers salsa lessons during the summer on its TD Plaza, and - through its Peace Partner Program - regularly presents "a fabulous night out" for residents of homeless shelters.
"It's just busy all the time," Riegel says. "People support us because we're important to their lives."
To learn more about Greenville's entertainment and nightlife, visit www.UpcountrySC.com.