It's A Cruel And Unusual Summer For Rock Tours

While concert ticket sales are picking up, modern rockers are not doing the briskest business.

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

so far.

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

resurgence.

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

slow sales.

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

6-8.

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."