Summer Concerts: Canceled shows, tours have industry in a sweat

By Chris Richards
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 4, 2010

Hear that? It's the sound of widespread fretting over the summer concert season.

Billboard magazine recently predicted that summer 2010 could be the toughest touring market artists and promoters have had to face since the mid-'90s, citing a spate of nixed shows and canceled tours -- many scheduled to visit the Washington area.

The Eagles and Maxwell scrapped recent local dates, and John Mayer, Rihanna and Lilith Fair have canceled dates elsewhere. U2, Simon and Garfunkel, Christina Aguilera and Limp Bizkit postponed entire tours.

"It's probably not as bad as it's being depicted, but it's clear that promoters are facing a challenging summer," says Glenn Peoples, a senior editorial analyst at Billboard.

Peoples doesn't completely agree with his Billboard colleague Ray Waddell, whose aforementioned article for the trade magazine has stoked worry. "We really have nothing else to go on other than anecdotes," Peoples says.

But there are plenty of anecdotes, with artists citing illness, scheduling conflicts, lack of preparation -- everything short of dogs eating homework. While Bono probably isn't faking the emergency back operation that caused U2 to postpone 16 U.S. dates, fans and insiders often see these excuses as code for lousy ticket sales -- an irksome surprise in a year when the concert business was expected to bounce back.

"Everybody thought 2009 was the recession summer and 2010 was the recovery year," says Peoples. "Well, just because economists say that there's a recovery doesn't mean that people feel there's a recovery. Consumer spending has improved, but maybe not for luxury items." Case in point: The Eagles, before canceling a June 15 concert at Nationals Park in May, were asking $55 to $240 per ticket.

Marquee tours are canceled every summer, and Gary Bongiovanni, editor of Pollstar, the trade magazine that tracks the concert industry, says that "just because Limp Bizkit can't sell tickets . . . that's not really indicative of overall health. If you're following Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift around, you get the exact opposite impression of the concert market."

Swift, the pop-country wunderkind, proved her ticket-selling prowess in Washington last month with two sold-out concerts at Verizon Center.

A majority of this summer's concert woes fall squarely on Live Nation, the promotion behemoth behind many of popland's highest-grossing tours. Live Nation representatives declined to comment, but other local promoters say they aren't feeling the same pain. IMP, responsible for booking Merriweather Post Pavilion, says it is faring just fine, and Wolf Trap says its season's first quarter actually sold better than last year because of the venue's low ticket prices.

Meanwhile, dark clouds continue to loom over Live Nation. "They are the biggest company and probably feel a lot of pressure to buy a lot of the shows that other promoters would pass on," Bongiovanni says. "They gotta buy a lot of horses to keep that stable full."

In 2009, Live Nation touted itself as the biggest promoter on the planet, boasting annual attendance of more than 52 million concertgoers. To keep those numbers up, the promoter has launched various campaigns to put keisters in seats. Its Jiffy Lube Live amphitheater in Bristow rolled out an "artist of the day" promotion for June, offering $10 lawn tickets for that artist's concert. The venue also repealed service fees for the month of June -- a logical step considering Live Nation merged with TicketMaster earlier this year.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company