Any time Fresno gets a major concert announcement of the kind we got Wednesday morning (Elton John’s final tour!), it sets off friendly back and forth on who is the most iconic act to ever play the city.
Given the history of popular music goes back almost a century (way longer than our collective memories) it would impossible to rank all of the artists who have ever been through town with much authority (though Elvis would be high on the list, no doubt).
But given the relatively brief history of Save Mart Center, we can (and did) put together a list of the biggest artists to play the arena since it opened in 2003. Some of the acts are icons and chosen on that status alone. Others were chosen based on the sheer magnitude of the event – or the surrounding hype.
Presented in order and with full expectation of disagreements:
1. The Rolling Stones – This is a no-brainer. There is arguably no bigger or more influential rock band.
2. Paul McCartney – He’s a Beatle who chose Fresno as the kickoff spot for his One on One tour. We were honored, obviously.
3. Garth Brooks – Brooks had a series of legendary shows in Fresno in the ’90s. His return – four shows over three nights in late 2016 – was met with massive amounts of hype and turnout.
4. Justin Bieber – In 2012, the pop star played Save Mart Center on his Believer tour. Fans camped overnight so they could get in line at 5 a.m. for the chance to get tickets. The show sold out within minutes. There were crying kids and fake tickets on eBay.
There was a different kind of freakout when he came back in 2016.
5. Prince – Aside from being one of the best-selling artist of all time, Prince was widely considered one of the best live performers to ever hit the stage. His Save Mart Center performances (in 2004 and 2011) took on special importance for fans following the singer’s death in 2016.
6. Elton John – The piano man (not that one) has been a pop-music staple for the past 50 years. He was also the first pop act to play the arena in 2003.
7. Beyonce – When Beyonce came through in 2007, she was still on a career upswing. She is now arguably the biggest pop star on the planet (with a headlining spot at Coachella to prove it).
8. Andrea Bocelli – Not an expected choice, perhaps, but there was a reason the world-famous tenor was chosen to play the arena’s opening night.
9. Madonna – The Material Girl was a full-on woman when she played the arena in 2006, but she played a rare two-night stand that drew huge crowds.
10. Metallica – Whatever you think of the band after the Black Album, there is no bigger metal band in history.
Honorable mentions (in no order):
▪ Carrie Underwood, April 5, 2016. Again May 28, 2008; May 18, 2010; March 5, 2013
▪ Justin Timberlake, Jan. 17, 2007
▪ Bob Dylan, Oct. 16, 2004
▪ Shania Twain, June 22, 2004. Again Aug. 23, 2013
▪ John Mayer June 6, 2007 and Feb. 22 2004
▪ Michael Buble Aug. 14, 2011
▪ Josh Groban April 4, 2007