It’s so easy to get to the Philippine Arena. Though its location, Bocaue, Bulacan, sounds far away, it actually took us less than 30 minutes to reach via the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx) from Quezon City. Built from funds of the congregation of the Iglesia ni Cristo and situated in a 140-hectare tourism zone called Ciudad de Victoria, the Philippine Arena has its own exit gate from NLEx, right after the Marilao exit.
It also feels good to go there because the people are warm and accommodating—from the security guards who salute visitors to the staff who nod and smile like five-star hotel personnel.
We went there—accompanied by music promoter Wing Inductivo and musician Jumi David, both of whom helped us get through the venue’s management group, Maligaya—to experience what it feels like to have such a massive structure, acknowledged as the world’s largest multipurpose arena with a 55,000 seating capacity, on native soil.
Now we can stop daydreaming about having to go abroad to watch artists who have not performed here because they’re either too expensive or have specific requirements.
We’re glad to know that Maligaya is run by youthful leaders, one of whom has a musical background. Over a late lunch in one of the Arena’s offices, the first foreign artist to be mentioned in Maligaya’s wish list was Adele—the British singer-songwriter whose album “21” grabbed six Grammy awards in 2012.
“Kaya lang she’s retired na yata,” said one of the managers.
“No,” we countered, “she just hates long-haul flights.”
But are they open to local artists as well?
“Of course,” was the reply, “why not a big music festival featuring all-Pinoy bands?”
Another Eraserheads reunion, plus top artists from Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao, would be nice.
Or Sarah Geronimo, said another manager. “She can fill up the Araneta for two nights, so why not hold a concert here for one night?”
The Maligaya managers proceeded to take us on a quick tour inside the Arena, pointing out its perfect sight lines from every side of the audience and two gigantic permanent video screens to benefit those seated in the upper sections.
At present there are six special box sections for corporate sponsors, all of which have been sold out. “We plan to add more,” said one of the managers.
An elevator took us to large, well-appointed reception rooms for performing artists including a few marked with “VIP” and “VVIP.”
The Rolling Stones would feel at home here, said another manager.
Well, somebody bring them here soon before Mick Jagger gets too old to prance.
As for the rumors that U2, Coldplay and Beyoncé are due to perform soon, the managers said that all they have so far are “inquiries” from major concert promoters abroad. The managers added that local promoters have also visited them. “We’d rather deal directly with artists’ management,” said one of the managers, which meant middlemen and agents who want to make a fast buck are out of the picture.
In any case, here’s our own random wish list which, from the way the Philippine Arena folks talked, is not that impossible to realize:
Paul McCartney—One of two surviving members of the world’s greatest band, The Beatles, is still actively touring with his own group. He just needs to be convinced that the Philippines is really the most hospitable country one could think of, and that there won’t be a repeat of the rude sendoff the Fab Four suffered when the band played in Manila in 1966.
For a perfect closure to that unfortunate incident, it would be great to have Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band to open for McCartney.
U2—A few years ago, concert promoter Francis Lumen was looking for a 100,000-capacity venue outside Metro Manila because that was the first requirement that then U2 manager Paul McGuinness had, if U2 were to perform here. The Philippine Arena is good enough, should the band’s current handlers consider heading out to Asia for a new tour.
Prince—With James Brown gone, perhaps the other most exciting artist to embody soul and R&B is Prince. He has enough material to dazzle even an audience vaguely familiar with his superb stage act.
James Taylor and Carole King—They may be aging, but this duo, especially Taylor, still sounds fine and their music relevant to contemporary society. This show would surely attract a wide audience including those who came of age in the 1970s and ’80s, with their kids in tow.
Apparently that’s the major factor that would fill up the Philippine Arena—entire families watching a concert together.