Picture yourself on a typical day in L.A. Smog is in the air, and cars are
clogging up the freeway. As you sit though another traffic jam flipping the
radio dial, you hear an announcement about upcoming ticket sales.
You can't believe your ears.
"Coming to the Universal! A stellar one-night lineup! Jane's Addiction!
Chumbawamba! The Verve! Smash Mouth! Sarah McLachlan! Sneaker Pimps! Fiona
Apple! Jamiroquai and Matchbox 20!"
Wow, you think, they're announcing Lollapalooza awfully early this year.
And then you remember that it's not even December.
That lineup is actually the slate of performers for KROQ-FM's
eighth annual "Almost Acoustic Christmas" concert -- and that bill is only
the first night, to be held on Dec. 5 this year. The following evening boasts an
equally impressive lineup of David Bowie, Everclear, Green Day,
Portishead, Third Eye Blind, Save Ferris, Live, Sugar Ray, 311 and the
While the "Almost Acoustic Christmas" counts itself as the first alt-rock
radio winter festival concert, almost a decade after its inception it is by
no means the only show of its kind. In fact, almost every major media
market with a modern rock station hosts a similar concert, many of which
are charity benefits and correspond to comparable summer events such as
KROQ's "Weenie Roast" and Washington, D.C.'s "HFStival."
Mary Kay LeMay, marketing and promotions director for WHFS-FM in
Washington, said the popularity of the winter and summer concerts has
spawned a seasonal route for bands that want to travel from radio event to
event. "For some bands there is a circuit, but [the radio station
concerts] are all different as well," said LeMay, who organizes her
station's "Holiday Nutcracker." "There isn't just one tour that goes from
radio station to radio station. Each individual station
does their own."
A glance at the list of this season's shows reveals that several bands are
hitting the circuit. Everclear, for example, have established an itinerary
that includes radio station festivals in D.C., L.A. and Boston, while Save
Ferris hit D.C., L.A. and Philly. Meanwhile, the Cure stop in D.C., Boston
LeMay said that WHFS consulted with other CBS-owned stations
such as KROQ and Boston's WBCN-FM to ensure that the stations did not
schedule conflicting events that would prevent bands from hitting a holiday shows in a number of cities.
Some markets have found such great success with the concerts that they are
scheduling tandem events with specialty themes. This year, San Francisco's
Live 105 (KITS-FM) will sponsor the "Electronica Hanukkah" (with DJ Shadow,
Crystal Method, Sneaker Pimps and others) in addition to their standard
Christmas." In Washington, ska pioneers the Specials and Save Ferris will
appear at WHFS' first "Skanukkah."
KROQ music director Lisa Worden attributes the success of her station's
events in part to their ability to draw big-name artists. "People look to
KROQ to supply them with something like that," Worden said. "I don't know
if they would get a show like that without us. And you get all this for a
really low ticket price, too. It's not like you're paying 60 bucks like
you do to see the Stones."
But as shows such as the "Nutcracker" and "Acoustic Christmas" have become
increasingly popular with listeners, they've become increasingly
controversial within the concert industry.
"It creates an unrealistic public perception of what the market value of
these artists really is," said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the trade
magazine Pollstar, which covers the concert business. "If you can go to a show and see six or seven
pretty well-known acts at a bargain ticket price, it makes it more
difficult for the concert promoter who's trying to sell your normal two or
three act show at what would be your normal ticket price."
Radio stations incur relatively small costs to stage the seasonal festivals,
since their own operations offer a built-in advertising outlet and since record
companies often encourage bands to perform at reduced rates (or for no fee at all) to generate
increased airtime -- none of which sits well with concert promoters, who
want to bring the same artists back for standard length, standard cost
"From a concert promoter's perspective, when an artist plays one of these
radio shows, it eliminates the possibility of them coming, at least in the
near term, and playing a full show," Bongiovanni said.
But Jim McGuinn, program director for WPLY-FM in Philadelphia, countered that
the holiday festivals have the potential to help local promoters down the
road. "My hope is that by the Cure doing a 3,000-seater and it selling out
so fast, it puts the demand back in their career," said McGuinn, whose
station is hosting its third annual "Y100 Feastival" beginning this week.
"So when they do come around for a proper full show a year from now, people
remember it as, 'Remember that incredible show that sold out so quick we
couldn't get tickets? We've gotta go see 'em this time.' "
Some bands are finding the concerts as irresistible as their fans. WBCN
program director Oedipus said that he had to turn away some acts for this
year's "Xmas Rave," which features 29 bands in 10 venues across the city.
"I find it a win-win for the bands, the listeners and the radio station," he
said. "The way we do it, bands get an enormous amount of exposure, airplay
and attention for a long period of time. The fans get to see these
fabulous bands. The record labels, they win because they get the airplay
and they can do special retail programs. And the radio station wins
because of their association with the bands."
And whatever mutual back-scratching is going on between the bands and the radio stations, don't forget that most of the shows benefit organizations such as the Greater
Philadelphia Food Bank, which will receive all of the proceeds from the "Y100
Feastival." In addition to raising funds for the anti-hunger group, the
radio station is asking all concert-goers to bring canned goods for
donation at the "Feastival" events.
This year WBCN's "Xmas Rave" will raise funds for the National Tay
Sachs and Allied Diseases Association, the Sunshine Foundation and the
Boston Living Center, said Chachi Loprete, WBCN's promotions director.
"Last year we raised $15,000 for each of the three charities involved," Loprete said
Winter Radio Shows:
WHFS Holiday Nutcracker: 11/30
WHFS Skanukkah: 12/1
WBCN Xmas Rave: 12/2
WPLY Feastival: 11/26, 11/27, 11/29
KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas: 12/5 and 12/6
LIVE 105 Green Christmas: 12/7
LIVE 105 Electronica Hanukkah: 12/6
[Wed., Nov. 26, 1997, 9 a.m. PDT]