BOOTSY COLLINS travels with 60,000 pounds of sequins, sunglasses, amplifiers, synthesizers and other funk paraphernalia, all packed into five trucks. In the last few days, the Bootsy entourage has taken on a little more weight -- an extra 500 gallons of diesel fuel.
"We make prearranged gas rendezvous in the middle of the night," says Collins' tour manager, David Leiber. "We arrange to meet at a service station, or we hire somebody to buy gas. We've even picked it up in barrels."
Leiber learned to be prepared during the 1974 gas crisis, when he was managing Alice Cooper. Leiber had special tanks built into Cooper's trucks, too.
All over the country, performers and their booking agents and administrators of arts centers have an eye on the spinning prices at gas pumps and the other on dropping numbers at the box office. Higher fuel prices are a factor in the rising ticket price of entertainment, since it is increasingly expensive for artists to travel from city to city. And the scarcity of fuel threatens to cut down on audience attendance.
"We have to have somebody get up at 4 a.m. to get gas," says Frank Carillo, whose namesake band roared through the Capital Centre last week. "You have to time it so the rent-a-cars and trucks hit the borders of some states on the right day just at midnight so the odd-even plan will let you get gas."
For Carillo, his sold-out but quarter-empty Nassau Coliseum date was especially bitter, since he can recall working in a Long Island gas station in "the good old days" when "Gulftane was 27.9, regular 31 and high test 34."
In days of crisis, old war stories seem to get recycled. Looking out into the Terrace Theatre last week, critic Walter Terry recalled how, during the gas rationing of World War ii, dancer Ted Shawn was "pulling his hair out," convinced that no one would drive out to rural Massachusetts for the Jacob's Pillow Festival. "Just as he was pulling it," recalled Terry, "we heard the clatter of hooves, and about 10 people rode out of the woods on horseback."
This year's version has REO Speed-wagon lead guitarist Gary Richrath riding his horse to a Los Angeles recording studio from an outlying valley particularly hard-hit by the gas shortage. Moreover, Richrath is alleged to have written a song called "Saddle Sores" for the album REO was recording but his cohorts [who were carpooling] nixed the idea.
According to a Los Angeles theatrical promoter, attractions which had been drawing 90 percent houses three months ago dropped to "60, 50, 40 percent" as the gas lines lengthened. The national touring company of "Grease," which would ordinarily be a hot musical property this year, was forced to cancel several week-long engagements on the West Coast.
"Breaking a new act today is virtually impossible," laments CBS publicist Michael Jensen. "There are a million 'baby acts' who can't afford to tour."
Even established entertainers are finding the road work rougher than ever. Maynard Ferguson and his orchestra have been scuffling around looking for a bus to charter. In a tactic that industry observers say will probably become standard, Orleans has begun adding "rider" clauses to its concert contracts requiring the promoter to furnish upon request [but at the band's expense] up to 50 gallons of gas.
Peter Mensch of Leber-Krebs booking agency predicts that the big Sunday outdoor shows "just won't happen."
"Usually any outdoor concerts can expect 'drive-ups' from 100, 125 miles away," says Mensch, "but nobody's going too far unless they're sure of getting home."
In order to draw as many ticket-buyers as possible, Mensch says Leber-Krebs is offering three-act packages "to give audiences more value for the money." Another new strategy, which has already been employed at Belmont Racetrack and Madison Square Garden, is to combine a concert with an athletic event, taking advantage of a relatively captive audience and presumably increasing attendance.
At New York's Metropolitan Opera House, touring company director John Wilson says the gas shortage has changed the buying pattern by patrons. "We're used to a large advance sale, but now tickets are all bought a day or two ahead. And the night of each performance we have a huge box office."
Wilson said the Met's mail-order business from patrons in New Jersey, Long Island and Westchester Country had "definitely" been adversely affected. "People are afraid to committ themselves to a show without full knowledge of whether they're really going to have the gas."
"If we had known in time, we might have moved the curtain time up to take advantage of the trains and verious public transportation, but the logistics of changing that now would be impossible."
As far as the Met Opera itself is concerned, a staffer says that the company's Central Park concert series took its toll on the truck's gas tanks. "None of them actually ran out of gas, but if we'd had one more show to do, we'd have been in trouble."
Lillian Livman of the Nederland Organization agrees that "suburbanites" are not coming into New York City as much as would be expected during the summer season, but says the tourists already in the city are keeping most of the Broadway hits within reach of usual box office sales. Livman says that while the presence of, for example, Rudolf Nureyev at the New York State Theater has kept the early summer business strong, he has noticed a drop-off Theater has kept the early summer business strong, he has noticed a drop-off for July. And he dropped a plan for bringing in "a foreign attraction that shall be nameless" for a big West Coast tour "because the gas shortage really prohibited it-it would require such heavy promotion to insure sales."
On the other hand, mail order and advance ticket sales for the Bolshoi Ballet have been extraordinary good, says Livman. "The Bolshoi is not due in until August, and I really think people are optimistic that by August the situation will have eased." Right now his main worry is getting costumes and equipment across country by truck: "It's a little hair-raising," he admits.
Although the gas shortage has demonstrably affected the tourist industry in Washington, Kennedy Center director of operations Tom Kendrick says "it's too early to tell" whether the gas scare has cut box-office sales. Audiences for the Stuttgart Ballet and the Ballet Nacional de Cuba have been smaller than in 1978, but Kendrick points out that both companies set longer engagements than they did last year, and that reviews of both have been more negative. "The big test will come in August, when we have 'Death Trap' and Oklahoma!,'" Kendrick says.
Kennedy Center officials have already met with Metro system administrators about the possibility of a shuttle bus to run from the Foggy Bottom subway stop to the Center at showtimes and back after the curtain. The feasibility of rerouting one of the Pennsylvania Avenue or K Street buses to run past Kennedy Center also is under study. A third possibility is a limited-point pick-up bus service along the Center's own "northwest corridor"-from upper Connecticut Avenue and Montgomery County.
It already is clear that visitor-attendance figures [including audiences and tourists] at the Kennedy Center are down by 15 to 20 percent, which, according to Kendrick, exactly parallels the drop-off recorded by Park Service officials at such yardstick sites as the Lincoln Memorial.
Audiences at such out-of-town venues as Wolf Trap, Merriweather Post Pavilion and Capital Center have not dropped off noticeably, at least one yet. Wolf Trap has gotten into the spirit by advertising itself as "only a gallon away" from home.
Meanwhile, the gas squeeze is contributing to the escalating economic pressure, and entertainers are beginning to feel the strain from all sides. A few weeks ago, Blue Oyster Cult had plenty of gas-but the trucks had to be escorted by National Guardsmen through an independent truckers' blockade.
Legends of fleets of private jets aside, air travel doesn't seem to be the answer, either. As Carillo points out, "the problem is you can't take equipment on planes. It's so expensive that you eliminate any possibility of making money-it costs you more than you're paid for the gig just to get the equipment there."
And besides, air travel is unreliable. Just a week or so ago, all six Village People were stranded for several hours in Detroit International Airport by the grounding of the DC-10. CAPTION: Picture 1, Bootsy: The 500-gallon solution; Picture 2, Blue Oyster Cult had plenty of gas, but National Guardsmen had to escourt its trucks through a striking-truckers' blockade.