1994 Summer Tours Get Expen$ive

Efforts by Pearl Jam and the Grateful Dead fall on deaf ears and $100 ticket prices

Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam
Peter Still/Redferns
Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam
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If 1967 is remembered as the Summer of Love, 1994 may likely be cast as the Summer of Money. As many of rock's biggest stars opt to push ticket prices as high as $100 or more, the packed summer concert season – featuring stadium shows of such legendary artists as the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, the Eagles and the Grateful Dead, as well as a double bill of Elton John and Billy Joel – will undeniably be the most expensive ever.

In addition to the major stadium shows, outdoor amphitheaters and arenas will play host to performances by rock veterans Bryan Adams, Aerosmith, Jackson Browne and John Hiatt, Phil Collins, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Bob Dylan, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Foreigner with the Doobie Brothers, Meat Loaf, John Mellencamp, Steve Miller, the Moody Blues with various symphony orchestras, Mötley Crüe, Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Bonnie Raitt and Bruce Hornsby, Santana, Steely Dan, Traffic and Yes.

Also on tap is the 25th anniversary of the Woodstock festival, slated for Aug. 13-14 in Saugerties, N.Y. Woodstock's '90s counterpart, Lollapalooza – whose lineup will include A Tribe Called Quest, the Beastie Boys, the Boredoms, the Breeders, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, George Clinton, L7 and Smashing Pumpkins – returns for the fourth consecutive year. And the H.O.R.D.E. tour, with the Allman Brothers, Blues Traveler and Big Head Todd and the Monsters, also makes the rounds again this summer.

It isn't just the wealth of big-name acts playing king-size venues that promises to make this summer's rock circuit the most lucrative ever for top acts. Ticket prices for rock concerts, which have risen steadily since the days when $5.50 bought you the best seat at the Fillmore East, are skyrocketing.

Not surprisingly, the highest prices are for the biggest shows. Billy Joel and Elton John tickets are expected to sell for between $40 and $70, a price the Rolling Stones were also expected to ask until pop diva Barbra Streisand put top tickets for her national tour on sale for $350 – and saw them snapped up without hesitation.

"What are the Stones going to charge when an old woman can get $350?" asks a friend of the band. "Let's face facts: This could be the last time they go on tour."

Fred Rosen, the head of Ticketmaster, the national concert- and sports-ticket broker, says the price of tickets for Streisand's shows will definitely be felt by rock fans who would never go to her concerts. "Barbra Streisand has redefined the top end of the concert business," says Rosen. "If people were afraid to charge $100 for a top ticket, they're not anymore."

The Eagles, who have reunited for a summer tour after 14 years, aren't waiting to see what the Stones do. Their top ticket price for an upcoming show at California's Irvine Meadows is a whopping $115 – with the remaining tickets for that show priced at $75 and $35. Yet concert promoters and others in the business – even those who are unhappy about the boom in prices – say they see nothing to indicate that concertgoers won't pay up.

"Sometimes I think this is a business with a death wish," says John Scher, chairman of the New Jersey-based Metropolitan Entertainment, which produces shows in the Northeast, "but I see virtually no price resistance." As if to prove this, fans bought more than 200,000 tickets, selling out 11 Eagles shows in California, according to one of their spokespersons. In Southern California, the response was particularly furious: More than 85,000 tickets to shows at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheater were sold in 90 minutes.

Indeed, Bob Grossweiner, the New York bureau chief for the concert trade publication Performance, says the lowest-priced tickets are frequently the hardest ones for promoters to sell. "There's a stigma attached to being in the last row," he says.

This summer's ticket prices are startling despite a winter that saw the steady escalation of top ticket prices for the concerts of artists who appeal to older audiences, like Simon and Garfunkel, Bette Midler and Van Morrison. "Rock & roll isn't only a kids' medium anymore," says Scher, adding that his middle-aged neighbors in the suburbs have both the desire and the money to see certain rock acts regardless of the price. Adds Ticketmaster's Rosen: "This is a business that is growing up. I think the industry has been afraid of raising prices. But it's not out of line with what you'd pay to see the Los Angeles Lakers or a Broadway musical. Nobody pays more for a concert ticket than they want to. This is a summer of facing reality."

Still, promoters fret that higher prices for superstar shows and mega-events like Pink Floyd's – which features an elaborate laser show and lavish special effects – could hurt the meat-and-potatoes tours the promoters rely on to make their all-important summer amphitheater season a success. "We have the luxury of having 12 million people in New York," says arena promoter Mitch Slater of Delsener/Slater Enterprises, "but it is a concern. There's no question that if these stadium concerts and prices have an impact, it will be on shows that are marginal."

While promoters are loath to identify the acts they're worried about, some tours that might otherwise be expected to shine now find themselves in the shadows of the behemoths. The Traffic reunion of Jim Capaldi and Steve Winwood – which was intended solely to headline an arena and amphitheater tour – has now taken some refuge on the Grateful Dead tour, where the group will open between 12 and 14 outdoor shows this summer. Bonnie Raitt, a hot ticket on the arena circuit in recent summers, has bolstered this summer's show with Bruce Hornsby as her opening act. And how performers like the Moody Blues and Steve Miller will do, despite strong tours last summer, is uncertain at best.

Despite the efforts of bands like the Grateful Dead and Pearl Jam to keep their ticket prices well below what they could charge, it seems unlikely there will be any real backlash against the bands, looking to take all they can get. If Pink Floyd, the Eagles and the Rolling Stones – who are believed to be eyeing concert grosses in excess of $50 million, $75 million and $115 million, respectively – are selling, it looks like an awful lot of people will be buying.

"What can I tell you?" asks a source close to the Eagles. "I guess we're the people our parents warned us about."

This story is from the June 2nd, 1994 issue of Rolling Stone.


From The Archives Issue 683: June 2, 1994