H.O.R.D.E. Tour Reportedly Folds After Seven-Year Run

At height of popularity, summertime jam fest featured such artists as Neil Young, Beck, Barenaked Ladies.

The jam-rock–oriented Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere tour

has reportedly called it quits after a seven-year run,

which would make it the third

major festival tour to opt out this summer.

Although no official announcement about the festival's demise has been

made, John Popper — lead singer of rock band Blues Traveler, who

co-founded the event — broke the news in a recent interview with a student journalist.

"The radio show, usually a one-time festival package thrown at a given time in which the

artists receive airtime, has far surpassed and most efficiently replaced the festival tour,"

Popper was quoted as saying to reporter Elaine Strauss during a May 27 appearance at a concert in Princeton, N.J., sponsored by his alma mater, Princeton High School.

"Therefore, it seems obvious H.O.R.D.E. has had its day," the Princeton paper reported. "Better to be proud

of the former glory of your lost child than to sustain it and watch it turn into a malevolent

and withered creature."

Popper, who last week underwent surgery to clear a blocked artery in his heart, was

appearing at a concert conducted by his high-school mentor, Anthony Biancosino, when

he explained that the tour had been put on hold. Blues Traveler headlined H.O.R.D.E.

every year since its 1992 inception, with the exception of 1997, when veteran folk-rocker

Neil Young filled the lead slot.

Blues Traveler's manager, Dave Frey, did not return calls for confirmation of the

festival's cancellation.

While organizers had long delayed an announcement of the tour's 1999 lineup, a former

H.O.R.D.E. employee who requested anonymity said the end of the festival was

inevitable. "When it started, there were only a few other festivals," the source said. "In

terms of traveling festivals, it hadn't been done that much. Now, it's been done to death.

"These type of events only have a shelf life of so long. ... There's all the hype surrounding

something that starts out great, but eventually loses its allure."

Concert industry experts said they were not surprised that organizers of the struggling

tour, which had seen a decline in attendance over the past three seasons, decided to

scrap it this year.

"At this point, with Popper's health problems and the fact that it's July, I think there's

clearly no hope for it this year," said Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of concert-industry

trade magazine Pollstar.

Bongiovanni said H.O.R.D.E. was likely a victim of the same problems that had

seemingly plagued the twice-canceled Lollapalooza and the hip-hop–oriented

Smokin' Grooves festival, which also was canceled this year.

"It's logistically nightmarish to put on these shows," Bongiovanni said. "There's so many

bands, so many egos, demands for billing, for space and money. Everyone wants to

know what everyone else is getting, and they want a better deal. It's hard enough to do it

with three acts, but with eight or nine it becomes even more difficult."

Another potential stumbling block for festival tours is the proliferation of the one-off

radio-station shows, which often feature all-star bills at reduced prices that undercut

festival ticket costs, Bongiovanni said.

"The summer concert market is so overcrowded already," Bongiovanni said, "I'm sure

nobody will miss Lollapalooza, H.O.R.D.E. or Smokin' Grooves."

H.O.R.D.E. was launched by Blues Traveler in 1992 as a means of spreading the gospel

of like-minded jam bands that were having difficulty breaking songs on radio and

crossing over to larger audiences. Blues Traveler are best known for such songs as "But

Anyway" (RealAudio excerpt), from their

self-titled 1990 debut album, and "Run Around" (

HREF="http://www.sonicnet.com/artists/clip.cgi?track=%7Ek-

XXXXXX%2F3145811792000a03.ra">RealAudio excerpt), from 1994's

Four, which are built around Popper's breathless vocals and virtuoso harmonica

playing.

The first H.O.R.D.E. tour, a series of one-week jaunts, featured Popper and his band

playing alongside improvisational rock peers including Bruce Hampton and the

Aquarium Rescue Unit, Spin Doctors, Widespread Panic and Phish, a band that would

soon cultivate a devoted fanbase numbering in the hundreds of thousands.

In its second year, the tour expanded to a six-week outing, adding sporadic appearances

by such well-known stars as the Allman Brothers Band and singer/songwriter Melissa

Etheridge. In 1993 the tour added a concourse and midway similar to that of the

already-established alternative-rock festival Lollapalooza.

By 1995, headliners from the hard-rocking Black Crowes and reggae artist Ziggy Marley

to blues guitarist Taj Mahal, roots-rock band Wilco and guitarless experimental band

Morphine joined Blues Traveler on the bill. The following year, the tour peaked with a bill

that featured retro rocker Lenny Kravitz, the Dave Matthews Band and ex-10,000

Maniacs singer Natalie Merchant.

Yet despite the presence of folk-rock legend Young at the top of 1997's bill, the tour

struggled through its worst attendance numbers to date.

Even with the return of Blues Traveler, last summer's tour with Canadian pop band

Barenaked Ladies, blues guitarist Ben Harper and sporadic appearances by rock

collagist Beck earned, at best, average box-office receipts.

In his May interview, Popper offered an animated, if cryptic, answer to a question about

his band's relationship to H.O.R.D.E. "The relationship of Blues Traveler and H.O.R.D.E.

is something along the lines of Joan Crawford and her most disappointing, troubled

young daughter," Popper was quoted as saying.

"H.O.R.D.E. — which had once held so much promise and would yield us so much

money, not to mention incredible packages fraught with virtually every artist we admire

— has by this time completely lost our interest. But the tour had run as long as any

tour ever had."