Rock Fans Get More Beat for the Buck
Concert industry fine-tunes music tours to lure summer fans
Rock 'n' roll musicians are playing second fiddle in this booming economy.
The concert industry - once built on hard cash - has gone soft, insiders say. Record sales have stalled, tour costs are up, revenues have declined, and more bands are competing in the same market of tight-fisted fans.
The last big year was 1994 when the industry generated a record $1.5 billion. That was when Pink Floyd and Rolling Stones, among other big-name bands, played the stadiums.
This year, the overall dollar value could be around $1 billion, forecasts Gary Bongiovanni, editor of Pollstar, a leading concert trade publication.
"The music industry is in trouble because the majority of the new music being produced [is of bad quality]," says concert goer Robert Rawlinson.
Fans like Mr. Rawlinson are begging for more of the old stuff. Last year, of the more than 25,000 albums released, only a fraction had any success.
Now the concert industry is being fine-tuned with some skeletal changes.
While last summer didn't include such heavy-hitting bands as the Grateful Dead, this season is notable for its abundance of groups. Almost every band is on the road again competing for a finite amount of money, industry sources say.
Promoters are putting a number of acts on one bill and calling them festivals.
They include rock, jazz, pop, country, blues, and Christian multi-act packages with a number of them in every genre. As many as 11 major rock and pop festivals are, or will be, on the road this summer.
Success of Lollapalooza
It all began in the summer of 1991. The success of a modest project called Lollapalooza, modeled after popular British rock festivals, was the spark. Since then, it has spread wildly.
Why? Cheap is better.
Keep ticket prices around $30 and put plenty of acts together, and you have better chances of selling out, says Mr. Bongiovanni.
These multi-act marathons (some go on for nine hours) are all about niche marketing.
Hippie-types are flocking to the H.O.R.D.E festival to see 60s guru Neil Young.
Meanwhile, girls with popsicle-blue hair, black lipstick, and spiked wristbands are heading to the Gothic heavy-metal Ozzfest.
And a cross-section of concertgoers are making the all-female Lilith Fair festival a success. The festivals have also opened opportunities for fresh bands to build up some credibility and perhaps a fan base with the hope that some day they can tour on their own.
Rise of amphitheaters
"Small House, Big Noise." That's how Motley Crue sold its reunion tour this summer. Big is not always better and the Crue slogan is another instance that points to the rise of the amphitheaters and the decline of stadium concerts.
U2, the summer's only stadium act, has come and gone. During their 27-date North American tour, the Irish band never came close to being the blockbuster act of their 1992 Zoo TV tour.
This time around they cancelled a few shows and had trouble selling off some others. They grossed $49 million, as they traveled in an expensive python-like caravan that included 52 trucks of pyrotechnic equipment.
Stadium tours don't interest concertgoer Damien Walters anymore. They're not the same, he says during a recent Motley Crue concert. "This, is awesome, man. Real music. You can see Vince Neil and feel the music, you know?"
Mr. Walters says the small stage and the absence of electronic gimmickry created a sense of intimacy.
There are other reasons for the declining popularity of stadiums: Tickets are pricey, parking is expensive, drives are long, and traffic jams are frequent.
Old favorites draw crowds
Except for a few bands such as Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones, who tour once every four or five years, not many bands out there could sell out a stadium, says Bongiovanni. "So most of the action will be happening at the amphitheaters."
But within the upheaval is an island of stability.
It involves artists who have built genuine goodwill by many summers of traveling. Jimmy Buffett, the Allman Brothers, and Tony Bennett sell out.
These groups are powered by the intensity of their fans' devotion. Fans will submit to high ticket prices and traffic jams just for their annual ritual. And these fans have the money.
"Unlike the teenagers, baby boomers have discretionary income," says Bongiovanni. "That's why established bands from the 60s and 70s, have a decent market."
Multi-Band Festivals On Tour This Summer
Black Crowes, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Moe, Jorma Kaukonen, Bruce Hornsby, and others. Arlo Guthrie is host.
Headlined by Black Crowes, this festival offers a good excuse for Dead Heads to keep alive the parking-lot concert culture. A Vending Village with tie-dyes and other Dead goodies is part of the entourage. Ticket sales have been soft. Web site: www.dead.net/cavenWeb/Furthur/index.html
Neil Young, Ben Folds Five, Primus, Kula Shaker, Soul Coughing, and more. Joining them on limited dates is Beck.
This provocative bill of multigenerational rockers is headlined by hippie guru Neil Young. Doing respectably so far, the tour is expected to do even better once Beck joins them starting Aug. 1. The concourse has a Lionel train theme because Young's son is a model-train buff. Helpful web link: www.tvguide.com/music/features/summer
HOUSE OF BLUES SMOKIN' GROOVES TOUR
George Clinton, Cypress Hill, the Roots, Erykah Badu, and Foxy Brown.
Hasn't started. Missing from the bill are last year's stars, the Fugees. Computer kiosks at the site will link fans with artists backstage. Portions of the concert will be accessed on the Web: www.smokingrooves.com
Sarah McLachlan, Tracy Chapman, Joan Osborne, Fiona Apple, the Cardigans, Shawn Colvin, Jewel, Indigo Girls, Sheryl Crow, and more.
Brought together by singer Sarah McLachlan, this is the summer's most intriguing show: the first all-female festival. This young and hip cast has been tremendously successful for an initial project. Chapman and Crow are not playing all dates. Web site: www.lilithfair.com/
Korn, Tool, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Trickey, and Orbital, Damien Marley.
This time around, the mother of all festivals is an eclectic blend. A heady stew of heavy-metal groups such as Korn and Tool, rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg, rhythm from Trickey, and reggae from Bob Marley's son Damien. Altogether the bill has 13 acts, which got a lukewarm reception in their first two shows but has fared better since. Web site: www.lollapalooza.com.
Ozzy Osbourne, Black Sabbath, Marilyn Manson, Pantera, Machine Head, Type O Negative, and Fear Factory. More acts on the second stage.
The high-decibel fest recently completed the warm-weather circuit with $12.3 million in ticket sales. Headlined by Osbourne, it featured a 30- to 45-minute Black Sabbath reunion set. A side attraction was Never Never Land: rides, games, and interactive exhibits. Web site: www.ozzfest.com/index.html
Iggy Pop, Sponge, the Reverend Horton Heat, Tonic, and Linda Perry of 4 Non Blondes.
A festival that has been dubbed "snore tour." Iggy Pop has been out of the last few shows. Web site: www.roartour.com
Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Social Distortion, Helmet, Sick of It All, Pennywise, Descendents, and more.
A festival for the extreme-sports crowd - skateboarders, rock climbers, and cyclists. An amateur skating competition and a Mega-Pump Climbing Wall Competition are part of the circus. It's a little early to predict how the tour will fare. Web site: www.warpedtour.com