With skies turning sunny and thoughts shifting to muggy nights under the stars
listening to some live music, summer-concert ticket sales appear to be picking
up after a slower-than-expected start.
But the names sitting atop the list of hot touring acts might surprise rock fans.
Out of the picture for now are such rock heavyweights as U2 and the Rolling
Stones. Filling the arenas this season in their place are country superstar
Shania Twain, easy-listening instrumentalist Yanni and recently reunited
Southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd.
"Shania Twain is going out for the first time and doing really well," according to
Rob Evans, manager of the Box Score, a tour-grosses chart in the concert-
industry trade magazine Amusement Business.
In a less surprising development, Evans also predicted that the Dave Matthews
Band could well be one of the top touring acts of the year. But even that
stadium-filling jam band might not beat 1998's real touring heavyweight
That would be Yanni.
"Surprisingly, Yanni is leading the year in tour grosses," Evans said.
It's that kind of summer for touring acts. According to a number of industry
experts, the hot and cold sales of a number of tours point toward a season that
will likely equal, but not best, last summer's grosses.
Veteran acts such as Van Halen and Janet Jackson are suffering from less-than-stellar sales in some markets, while touring newcomers the Spice Girls
and Hanson are vacuuming up allowances across the country. A number of
lesser-known acts could graduate to larger venues by the fall, while a few
veteran acts may endure bruised egos.
Dave Williams, who does concert promotion in Washington, D.C., said Southern
boogie-rockers Lynyrd "Free Bird" Skynyrd are a "really big deal" so far this
summer. "I've been really surprised by their numbers," Williams said, adding
that he was "clueless" as to what the explanation was for the band's
Traditional summer "gimmes" such as Vermont jam band Phish, folk singer
James Taylor and Mayor of "Margaritaville" Jimmy Buffett continue to pack
amphitheaters in a season that lacks a major stadium tour by cash cows such
as U2 and the Rolling Stones.
Seattle rockers Pearl Jam, mounting their first summer tour in several years, are
doing brisk business, according to Evans, after a few early dates suffered from
Meanwhile, an industry professional, speaking on condition of anonymity,
dubbed the solo tour by Fleetwood Mac singer Stevie Nicks and the double-diva tour by crooner Michael Bolton and country star Wynonna Judd "disasters."
Another blast from the past packing them in so far this summer is the Grateful
Dead-centered Furthur Festival, headlined by the Other Ones, a band
comprising former Dead members Mickey Hart, Phil Lesh and Bob Weir. "I think
they're doing much better because they're back to the more Dead-centric
lineup," said Ray Waddell of Amusement Business. The tour was
launched two years ago by the surviving members of the Dead following the
death of leader Jerry Garcia.
"We're on a huge roll of momentum," said Dead publicist Dennis McNally of the
tour, which he said has been doubling its numbers from last summer when the
tour featured the Black Crowes and emcee Arlo Guthrie and failed to attract
large audiences. Also doing well is one of last year's breakthrough tours, metal
maven Ozzy Osbourne's Ozzfest.
And so far, despite its failure to sell out a few opening dates of the tour, this
summer has been pretty much business-as-usual for folk singer Sarah
McLachlan's all-women Lilith Fair.
Lilith is headlined again by McLachlan and features the Indigo Girls, rapper
Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott, Liz Phair and Erykah Badu on select dates. "They
have more dates this year and they're playing larger venues," Evans said, "so
even if the first two dates at [Washington state's] Gorge didn't sell out, they
played to a lot of folks."
Evans estimated that the tour played to 32,000 fans over two days at the
20,000-capacity venue. The future looks bright for the tour, with three dates sold
out at the 21,000-capacity Pine Knob Music Theater in Clarkston, Mich., on July
The Blues Traveler-led H.O.R.D.E. (Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere)
tour had to cancel its July 9 kickoff in Minneapolis due to poor ticket sales that
organizers blamed on weather-related economic distress, but the tour seems to
have rebounded in other areas. Two dates at Pine Knob (July 18-19) are sold
out, and only 3,000 tickets remain for the Aug. 4 date at Hartford, Conn.'s
27,000-capacity Meadows Music Theatre show, according to Ticketmaster.
It looks like a cruel summer for some, though. Rock stalwarts Van Halen so far
have sold only 15 percent of the tickets available for their Aug. 29 date at
Meadows Music Theatre. Indie-rock giants the Smashing Pumpkins had to
move a charity concert from the 58,000-capacity Soldier Field in their hometown
of Chicago to the 28,000-seat New World Music Theatre in nearby Tinley Park,
Ill., after soft sales. British rockers The Verve were forced to move two arena
shows to smaller clubs due to lighter-than-expected sales.
Meanwhile, a few other modern acts are on the verge of a major season.
"I think the Matchbox 20/Semisonic/Soul Asylum tour will do real well," said
Gary Bongiovanni, editor of concert-industry trade magazine Pollstar.
With pop bands crowding the charts, Bongiovanni speculated that bubblegum-
pop sensations Spice Girls and Hanson should do well with their respective first
arena tours and that the young vocal ensemble Backstreet Boys also will lure
the young to large venues.
A whole new generation of concert-goers could emerge from those youth-oriented shows, Evans speculated. "I think a lot of kids will see their first, second
and third concerts ever with [Hanson, Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys]," he
said. "That's a good sign, because if they have a good time, it's good for the
future of the concert business."
Promoter Williams was less optimistic about the longevity of the current pop
darlings. "They're putting asses in seats now," Williams said. "But do they have
legs? Can they do it next year? I have no clue. It remains to be seen."