H.O.R.D.E. (Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere) headliner Neil Young's new tour movie may be called Year of the Horse, but on summer concert stages in '97 it was definitely rock's turn to proclaim the "Year of the Woman."
Leading the way was solo artist Sarah McLachlan and her highly successful, all-women Lilith Fair, which provided a safe attractive setting for a largely female audience to see some of America's most popular female stars.
"I think it went really well," said Terry McBride, McLachlan's manager, who is also a part-owner of Lilith. "We weren't expecting it to succeed like it did, but we didn't really know what to expect, since it had never been done before."
Outgrossing the opposite-end-of-the-gender-spectrum Ozzfest, a testosterone-heavy-metal package featuring big name acts and Ozzy Osbourne reuniting with Black Sabbath by several million dollars, the women of Lilith took the crown for the summer package tour champ.
Based on figures gathered to date by concert industry trade magazine Amusement Business (sister publication of Billboard), Lilith outpaced Osbourne's Ozzfest '97, by more than 100,000 attendees. Both tours launched a full schedule of dates for the first time after dipping their toes in the water last year with a handful of trial shows.
As of Sept. 24, with the numbers in on 27 of the 37-dates tour, the Lilith Fair, which featured McLachlan and a rotating list of female-fronted acts including Sheryl Crow, Tracy Chapman, Suzanne Vega and Jewel, grossed $12,278,833 with an attendance of 456,819 and 19 sell-outs, playing to 93 percent of capacity. That compares to 80 percent average capacity for the runner-up Ozzfest.
Lilith and Ozzy's dominance weren't the only surprising stories this summer. Based on the still-incomplete numbers, former one-two champs Lollapalooza and H.O.R.D.E. saw audiences and grosses shrink as never before. In a summer in which audiences seemed to flock to festivals with unified fronts over those with eclectic sampler bills, both tours suffered, with H.O.R.D.E. slipping to the #5 position, behind the Grateful Dead revival Furthur festival, which built on last summer's inaugural momentum to spring to the #4 position. Meanwhile, Lolla' went from being one of the best attended festivals to #3, drawing 67 percent average capacity.
Bringing up the rear, both the R&B/hip-hop-focused House of Blues-sponsored Smokin' Grooves festival, featuring George Clinton, and the VANS-sponsored skate and punk Warped festival, with its rotating slate of punk and ska bands, saw their audiences grow over last year's numbers.
"Lilith was clearly the winner," said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of concert industry trade magazine Pollstar. "Lilith came out on top because it was a better package and many of the artists on the tour were receiving extensive commercial airplay."
Additionally, Bongiovanni said Lilith succeeded because it offered a new concept in summer festivals, with a 4-to-1 ratio of women to men. "It was bringing in a whole new audience," he said. "But Ozzfest was smart by going out early and ending before many of the other tours had started."
A representative for the RAINN (Rape Abuse & Incest National Network) organization, one of two national charities involved with the tour, praised Lilith for being the "perfect environment for our organization because of its non-threatening, friendly atmosphere."
Attesting to the strength of the tour's far-from-the-maddening-mosh-pit vibe, Scott Berkowitz, president of the RAINN board, said his organization distributed more than 100,000 brochures on RAINN's issues of abuse, and that "every time we moved through a city, there would be a dramatic increase in calls to our hotline the next day."
On the other hand, Ozzfest prospered with a far-from-politically-correct shock-rock bill that included Osbourne re-uniting with his Black Sabbath mates, the controversial Marilyn Manson, Type O Negative, Pantera and others. With 18 of the 22 dates counted, Ozzfest grossed $10,785,123 with an attendance of 352,815 and seven sell-outs, playing to about 80 percent capacity.
"It was huge, great," said Louis Messina, CEO of the PACE Music Group, which organized the tour. "It was probably the biggest, most successful festival on the road this year. People may call his music dinosaur rock, but its far from dead... You give the people what they want, a quality show for the right price and they'll come see it."
Messina speculated that the metal-focused tour succeeded where others failed because "it was true testament to what this business is about, not trying to be cute and mix metal with hip-hop, or old farts with young kids, just a straight-ahead rock show."
The assessment seemed to hold true in reference to two of the more reliable summer festivals, H.O.R.D.E. and granddaddy Lollapalooza. Each saw their audiences dissolve as a result of mix-and-match bills that didn't seem to connect with audiences. Representatives for Lollapalooza were unavailable for comment at press time.
Lollapalooza's mix of electronica (Prodigy), rap (Snoop Doggy Dogg) and pop (James) -- which followed last season's metal-heavy Metallica-topped tour -- didn't have the appeal of previous years' line-ups. Despite the return of founder Perry Farrell (Porno for Pyros), and an experimental vibe that was once the trademark of the pioneering summer tour, Lollapalooza was overshadowed by the newcomers, grossing $7,408,934 on the 24 reported dates (of 32 total), with 282,786 in attendance and one sellout. It played to an average 67 percent capacity.
"I think it was certainly the nature of the package," said Bongiovanni. "It just didn't have a wide enough appeal and I don't know if having a rotating headliner was the reason, because (the VANS-sponsored) Warped tour did the same thing and it seemed to work. I think this year it just wasn't exciting enough to motivate ticket buyers.
However Bongiovanni added, "there's no reason why if they didn't put the right talent together they couldn't come back strong next year."
A clearly stoked Messina said, similarly, that Ozzfest will "absolutely" be back in 1998 for another go with a similar formula, and that there are plans to expand it to Europe and other overseas markets.
Rounding out the list of major rock package tours were:
4) The second-annual Dead-centric Furthur Festival featuring former Dead guitarist Bob Weir's Ratdog, Mickey Hart's Planet Drum and sets from Moe and Arlo Guthrie ($6,274,552 gross, 243,520 attendance, 51 percent capacity , one sell-out, 28 of 29 shows counted);
5) H.O.R.D.E. with Neil Young and featuring the Squirrel Nut Zippers, Soul Coughing, Big Head Todd and others, ($4,995,712 gross, 190,069 attendance, 57 percent capacity, no sell-outs, 21 of the 29 dates reported);
6) House of Blues' Smokin' Grooves tour featuring George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars, the Roots, Erykah Badu and others, ($3,025,310 gross, 159,935 attendance, 45 percent capacity, no sell-outs with 23 of 26 dates reported);
7) VANS Warped Tour with professional skaters and Pennywise, Social Distortion, Sugar Ray and others, ($2,044,391 gross, 102,556 attendance, 88 percent capacity and six sell-outs on 13 of 29 reported shows).
"There were a lot of festivals out there last summer," said H.O.R.D.E. tour director Heidi Kelso. "I think we had a good tour, but not necessarily the strongest in terms of ticket sales. We've learned not to really have high expectations in general," said Kelso, who stressed that the tour looks to book bands that "play well live and jam, whether it's for 3,000 or 23,000 people."
And what was the secret to the Lilith tour's success? McLachlan manager McBride said, "I think the women brought the media, but the fans were attracted based on the artists."
McBride promised that the tour would return next summer, again all-female, and that it would hit several more cities. [Thurs., Sept. 25, 1997, 6 p.m. PDT]