20 years ago, Raleigh opened a new home for entertainment in the Triangle, dubbed the Entertainment and Sports Arena (E.S.A.) before becoming the RBC Center and, now, PNC Arena.
I’ve experienced so many amazing things at the E.S.A. throughout the past 20 years and narrowed it down to my top five. Needless to say, it was pretty dang difficult. Enjoy!
NHL All-Star Game
When it was announced that 2011 NHL All Star festivities would be coming to Raleigh, I was incredibly excited. That excitement turned into disappointment in a hurry as I found out that the general public would have virtually no chance of snagging tickets, as any available tickets were made to Carolina Hurricanes’ season ticket holders.
However, local news station WRAL held a series of contests on Twitter leading up to the event, where fans could tweet a certain phrase to be entered to win. I sent so many tweets that Twitter literally banned me from tweeting for a day! On the last day of the contest, I won tickets to the game! Lower level seats at that! The game itself was a blast and featured some current Hurricanes players at the time, who all got a raucous welcome from the hometown crowd. I’ll never forget it.
As the Idol superfan I am, you already know I had to include some memories on this list. In fact, my first ever live concert experience happened at this arena, the American Idol Live! Tour in 2003. That year’s tour featured finalists from the second season of the show, including Raleigh’s own Clay Aiken. He donned a Carolina Hurricanes jersey on stage as he performed his big hit at the time “Invisible” and Pop-Tarts was the sponsor. I remember the second part so well because we all got free Pop-Tarts as we left!
The following year, Aiken came back to Raleigh as part of a tour with fellow Idol alum Kelly Clarkson. The duo played a sold out arena and, even though Clarkson was the “headliner” per-say, Aiken was the crowd favorite, for obvious reasons.
Fast forward seven years later, and it was Garner native Scotty McCreery who received the royal treatment at the venue. Locals organized a viewing party for the finale night of Idol, when McCreery was announced the winner, and I was in attendance with my grandmother who was a huge “McCreerian” like me. The place was absolutely packed! The crowd for fellow finalist Lauren Alaina paled in comparison to ours; so much so that Idol producers didn’t do many live shots from the viewing parties during the finale. Then, of course, I attended the Idol tour that summer featuring the finalists and got to meet the man himself!
Justin Timberlake & Bruno Mars
Seeing both Justin Timberlake (2013) and Bruno Mars (2017) was a dream. It was a chilly, rainy night for Timberlake’s show. After being a huge NSYNC fan, I was stoked to see him live, particularly since it was in support of his The 20/20 Experience project. Still the best solo project he has produced, in my opinion.
The coolest part of the whole night was Timberlake being raised up on this incredibly large platform and traveling all the way down the length of the arena, giving fans a great view! Oh, and who opened for him that evening? A little known artist named The Weeknd!
Mars’ show came a few years later and, like Timberlake, was one of the best concerts I’ve ever attended to date. It was a blast hearing his velvety vocals and seeing his incredible smoothness in person. He performed all of his hits as well as tunes off 24K Magic.
Jeopardy! College Championship
One of the unique experiences of my life, I attended a taping of the 2005 Jeopardy! College Championship. Back then, the show hit the road for its college battles each year and, in 2005, N.C. State played host to the event at the arena. Who would’ve known that I would attend the university 10 years later?!? But I digress.
A few weeks before the event, my mom and I went to Southpoint Mall as the Jeopardy! Brain Bus made a stop. We even got to play a mock version of Jeopardy! for prizes and picked up tickets for the taping. The tickets were free and we even had “V.I.P.” designation – which really just meant we got in the doors faster than regular ticket holders. But, hey, we thought it was the best thing since sliced bread! My mom and I attended with our family friend who also happened to be my middle school band teacher. She was just as excited as we were to be in the audience. You can even see us clapping away on an episode as the show went to break!
Witnessing the greatness of Elton John in concert was something I always dreamed about. A bucket list item, if you will. But seeing him twice? I never thought it would happen. He stopped two times in Raleigh (2012 and 2019) and I was fortunate enough to attend both shows.
The latest being his Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour a few months ago. The sheer talent this man exudes is just unreal. Not to mention the fact he performed all of his beloved hits and even squeezed in some time to sign autographs for folks in the first few rows during the first of these shows. These performances are still at the top of my all time favorite concerts.
There you have it! I hope you enjoyed this journey back to my favorite moments in the past 20 years at this venue – and the throwback pictures!