Bummer Summer For Concerts — Why Aren’t Fans Going?

Ticket sales are down, and big tours are scaling back to smaller venues.

It looks to be a long, hot summer for the touring industry.

On the cusp of the industry’s peak period, a number of high-profile tours and festivals have already hit snags, among them highly touted outings from Mariah Carey, the Field Day Music Festival, Lollapalooza, and Beck and Dashboard Confessional.

Faced with a crowded tour market combined with high ticket prices, permit hassles, a sluggish economy and poor buzz, these tours and a handful of others have either had to scale back the size of the venues they’re playing, scrap shows or cut prices.

“It is brutal,” said the manager of a prominent artist who requested anonymity. “Places we thought we would do better were [just] good, and only 25 to 30 percent [of the dates] lived up to expectation.”

Has Pop Gone Pop?

What in the past would have been seen as a surefire hit pop tour was the first to stumble out of the gate. Saying she wanted to give her fans a more intimate show, Mariah Carey’s Charmbracelet tour — her first U.S. dates in three years — recently moved from the 10,000- to 20,000-seat arenas announced in April to smaller theaters (see “Mariah Carey Scraps Arena Tour, Opts To Get More Intimate” ). The downsizing also resulted in the loss of tour opener Craig David, who had to pull out due to conflicts with his solo dates.

But Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera’s Justified and Stripped tour — one of the summer’s only teen-pop-oriented outings — is doing sell-out or close to sell-out business in major cities, said Randy Phillips, CEO of AEG Live, which is promoting the tour. Still, he admitted, sales have been slower in smaller markets.

Phillips, whose company is also promoting summer tours by the Dixie Chicks, Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles, said amphitheater shows are seeing the biggest drop-off in what he called “secondary and tertiary” markets in the Midwest and South, due to a combination of cold and rainy weather and resistance to higher ticket prices.

“There are always going to be pockets of shows where acts don’t do well,” said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of concert industry magazine Pollstar. “As long as promoters are scaling their expectations to what the market can bear, they should be OK.” None of the Justified and Stripped dates will be moved to smaller venues, Phillips said, because the production is too large to fit in them.

Beck’s tour ($18-$39) scaled down shows in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Portland, Oregon, and canceled a show in Cleveland due to soft sales. The tour also lost support act Dashboard Confessional because slower-than-expected sales made it cost-prohibitive to have two headline-worthy acts on the same bill.

After a well-regarded winter tour with the Flaming Lips backing him up, it seems even Beck’s hardcore fans are feeling box-office fatigue, as he’s hit some of the same cities two or three times over the past year with different band configurations and opening acts. The Cleveland show was replaced by a Philadelphia date, which has since sold out, according to a source close to the tour.

Rising Prices, Faltering Festivals

With the war in Iraq, SARS and monkeypox scares seemingly behind us, the struggling economy may still have music fans thinking twice about spending money on multiple concerts, especially since ticket prices continue to creep up during one of the worst summer job markets for teens in a decade. Pollstar reported that the average ticket price for the top 100 tours of 2002 was $46.56, an increase of $10 over the average 1999 price and more than $20 above the 1995 cost.

With an average top price of $60, Lollapalooza could be in for some trouble. After taking six years off, the alt-rock heavyweight was expected to stage a big comeback this summer with a lineup topped by a reunited Jane’s Addiction and featuring Audioslave, Incubus, Queens of the Stone Age, Jurassic 5 and the Donnas, plus side-stage bands and interactive midway attractions (see “Lollapalooza Back With Audioslave, Incubus, Queens, Jane’s Addiction” ).

The tour’s launch date, July 3 in Ionia, Michigan, was canceled this week due to what a spokesperson called “staging issues,” though spokespeople for the Ionia Fairgrounds have said sales of approximately 4,000 tickets for the 12,000-plus venue could have also been a factor. One of Lollapalooza’s co-producers was recently quoted saying that several Midwestern dates are selling slowly but that it was too early to panic.

“The tour’s fine,” said William Morris Agency Senior VP Peter Grosslight, whose company owns a portion of the festival. “There’s a lot of innovative stuff going on with the Jane’s show and there were technical aspects [in Ionia] that were impossible to work with. Maybe we should have known, but we couldn’t start off with something that didn’t work and would have required compromises.” Lollapalooza recently added a show in Portland on August 24, which will now be the tour’s final stop. Hard rockers Cold announced on Friday that they would be taking a “short break from the road” and dropping off Lolla’s main stage. A tour spokesperson would not comment on ticket sales.

Concert industry analyst Bob Grossweiner said that if Lollapalooza is experiencing disappointing sales it might stem from the fact that Jane’s Addiction’s first new album in more than a decade, Strays, won’t be released until two weeks after the tour launches and that many younger fans are not familiar with the Lollapalooza brand … or Jane’s, for that matter.

“It’s been off the scene for six years, which is an eternity for a tour appealing to teenagers,” said Bongiovanni. “Until that brand can be re-established, they’re not going to be able to cash in on it.”

One of the summer’s first big casualties was the Field Day Music Festival in Long Island, New York, which fell victim to a whole different kind of problem: an inability to secure the proper permits from the local city council. The fest was hastily rescheduled for the 70,000-seat Giants Stadium with just three days to sell tickets, resulting in 20,000 fans wading through a soggy day of music from Radiohead, the Beastie Boys, Liz Phair and Blur. The star-crossed show was further hobbled when one of its major acts, Beck, was injured by a stagehand, knocking him off the bill (see Radiohead Wail, Beasties Flail, Beck Bails At Field Day” ).

Just a week after the Field Day fiasco, the Bonnaroo NE jam festival, slated for the same patch of land as Field Day, pulled the plug due to the former festival’s permit difficulties. With less than 25,000 of a potential 75,000 tickets sold for the three-day August festival to be headlined by Bob Dylan, the Dead and Dave Matthews, organizers were also looking at slow sales. Festival co-promoter Ashley Capps said ticket sales were not a factor in the cancellation.

The year-old Stateside version of All Tomorrow’s Parties ($100 for a three-day pass) fell victim to another summer bummer: weak sales due to the lack of a major headliner. The festival put off its second edition (June 20-22) citing sluggish ticket sales for an event headlined by Patti Smith and featuring the Melvins, Mission of Burma, the Coup, … And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead and the Breeders. The fest, curated by “The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening, has been rescheduled for September.

One way of combating competition and sticker shock is slashing prices. Major promoter Clear Channel has cut ticket prices to $10 in select markets for more than a dozen of its amphitheater shows, including Ozzfest ($40-$100), 50 Cent and Jay Z’s Roc the Mic Tour ($29-$39), Aerosmith and Kiss ($47-$135), Godsmack, John Mayer and Counting Crows, Peter Gabriel, and Our Lady Peace, according to spokesperson Pamela Fallon. The limited amount of double-nickel tickets are a way to get more people into the venues, which helps venue owner Clear Channel because it makes more money on concessions and parking.

Summer Success Stories

The bankable Ozzfest and Vans Warped Tour ($25) are doing their usual strong business, Metallica’s Summer Sanitarium tour ($75-$110) is expected to do well, as is Roc the Mic. And Aerosmith and Kiss have both proven able to pack arenas on their own, so their team-up seems to be a surefire winner.

Artists appealing to older audiences, including Pearl Jam ($38-$42) (who had to cancel a show on Thursday in Cincinnati due to Ohio River flooding), the Dead ($35-$50) and Jimmy Buffett ($36-$66) continue to draw well. Both Fleetwood Mac ($49-$125) and the Eagles ($45-$175) have added dates, likely because they are suggesting these may be their last tours.

The Dixie Chicks ($35-$65) are enjoying a blockbuster summer, with what promoters are touting as one of the only fully sold-out tours of the season. Tickets went on sale prior to the flap over singer Natalie Maines’ comments about President Bush and just before the war in Iraq. Other big outings this summer include Dave Matthews ($35-$52), Bruce Springsteen ($55-$75) and Cher ($32-$125), whose unending final lap continues to surprise box-office observers even as it hits markets for the second or third time.

“The crop of acts vary from year to year, and the competition for concert dollars is very high this year,” Bongiovanni said. “That said, it’s not a particularly bad year, but it’s not great, either.”

For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.

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