Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Theme Park For Boomers?

Visitors look out over the 55 acre Hard Rock park built around a lake dominated by 70 foot replica of a Les Paul guitar Saturday, April 26, 2008, in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

(AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)

Now that we are retiring, we can travel far and away.... I still wish that it was built in California though.

Led Zeppelin, Moody Blues rides at new Hard Rock Park in SC

By BRUCE SMITH, Associated Press Writer Tue May 6, 12:47 PM ET

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. - The Led Zeppelin classic "Whole Lotta Love" throbs from the 1,200-watt sound system as the slick silver and white roller coaster nears the top of its serpentine track.

Lead singer Robert Plant shrieks, "Woman. You need. Loooooooove..." And as he does, riders scream as the car falls from a height of 155 feet, reaching speeds of 65 mph.

Welcome to Hard Rock Park, America's newest theme park and the first one built in the nation in a decade. Here the theme is not movies or fairy tales or water shows. It's that American invention, rock 'n' roll.

The $400 million park in the heart of South Carolina's $16 billion tourism industry had a soft opening in April that it called a "sound check." The grand opening is slated for June 2-3, with concerts by the Eagles and The Moody Blues.

As has Led Zeppelin, both groups have lent their names to key attractions at the 55-acre park built around a lake dominated by 70-foot replica of a Les Paul guitar.

The Eagles' "Life in the Fast Lane" roller coaster spins through what appears to be an abandoned saw mill as the hit song plays. "Nights in White Satin, The Trip" winds through the dark amid psychedelic lights and images set to the 1960s Moody Blue's hit.

Nearby looms a reproduction of the Statue of Liberty with sun glasses, and holding not a torch, but a Zippo cigarette lighter. Engraved on the pedestal is a quote from Neil Young: "Keep On Rockin' in the Free World." The park also hosts nightly fireworks shows choreographed to "Bohemian Rhapsody," and one of its eateries is called Alice's Restaurant, after the Arlo Guthrie song.

The park is the first foray by Hard Rock, best known for its cafes, into the amusement park business.

"We realized everybody had done movie parks," said Steven Goodwin, the park's chief executive officer. "Why do something everyone else has done in Orlando and Paramount parks around the country? We just thought rock 'n' roll was a natural."

Building a theme park around music guarantees an audience from children to seniors.

"Music is one of those things that connects emotionally with us," he said. "You hear a song and you immediately have a memory or a related emotional experience. That's what we're trying to create here."

"What younger kids have been exposed to is very eclectic because of the Internet and the iPod," said Jon Binkowski, the park's chief creative officer.

"Younger kids have been exposed to be the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and things like that."

The park is divided into areas such as British Invasion, which features the bus the Beatles used in the film "Magical Mystery Tour."

Among the other areas are Cool Country, Born in the USA and even Rock and Roll Heaven, where the names of 350 musicians playing in that big concert hall in the sky are engraved bricks and stone as a memorial.

Visitors can see swimmers and divers perform in a show called "Malibu Beach Party," play arcade games such as Whack-A-Boys-Band — similar to Whac-a-Mole — and catch live musical performances throughout the park.

All the while, rock music from different eras plays seamlessly through the park's elaborate sound system.

"You can layer rock 'n' roll over a theme park. It's just a natural," Binkowski said. "Music makes a connection that a movie doesn't. Movies continually have to tap back into music to get their flavor and their soul."

Hard Rock is the first new park built in the nation in a decade, according to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. There are about 400 amusement parks in the United States.

Hard Rock hopes to attract 30,000 visitors a day and about 3 million a year.