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Concert Business Grinds to a Halt in Hurricane Sandy's Wake

'Losing a week of shows probably will hurt a lot,' says one promoter

Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images
October 30, 2012 3:45 PM ET

David Byrne and St. Vincent had to postpone their appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman tonight in New York because one of their backup musicians was stuck in Mexico City, a monitor engineer was stranded in San Francisco and a horn player flew from Portland to Minneapolis to Washington, D.C., before finally realizing he couldn't even get into the city via car. "A lot of the alternative plans that got made were then themselves canceled," says David T. Viecelli, one of the duo's managers, adding they'll still appear Thursday on The Colbert Report and hope to reschedule Letterman. "It was a constantly rolling readjustment period – 'we have to do this more convoluted thing.'"

In addition to drowning subways, knocking down trees, exploding transformers and generally disrupting life in New York and the East Coast, Hurricane Sandy has scrambled the entertainment business, particularly music. Broadway shows and performances at Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall and Lincoln Center were canceled on Monday and Tuesday; late-night hosts Letterman and Jimmy Fallon performed their regular shows yesterday with no live audiences, while Jimmy Kimmel nixed a live taping of his show in Brooklyn; Journey canceled their show tonight at Brooklyn's Barclays Center; and Louis C.K., Mos Def, Ghostface Killah, and Grimes all canceled Monday night gigs.

Hurricane Sandy Disrupts East Coast Concerts

Other acts are cancelling shows outside of the New York metropolitian area. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band postponed their Rochester, New York concert from Tuesday to Wednesday; Trey Anastasio moved his Sunday night show in Port Chester to November 5th; Cat Power's Sunday gig in Philadelphia was pushed to January 2nd; and indie-rockers the xx and electronic dance music star Pretty Lights scrapped tour dates throughout the East Coast. 

Perry Greenfield, who manages singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright, spent the last two days with nowhere to go because his Red Light Management office is on Sandy-ravaged Wall Street. Wainwright's appearance, with fun. and the National for the Freedom to Love Now! marriage-equality benefit at the Beacon Theatre, was canceled tonight – and Greenfield had to deal with the logistics from his Manhattan apartment with no Internet or cable. "It was tough yesterday," he says by phone. "We had a few stranded folks."

In the short term, the canceled concerts will merely be a financial hit for artists, venues and promoters. When New Yorkers and other residents in Sandy-affected states assess the damage, some predict longer-term repercussions. Sarah Kesselman, director of events and talent buyer for Santos Party House in Manhattan, had to postpone a sold-out Shiny Toy Guns show tonight and may not reopen until Thursday – tough to overcome during Halloween week. "It's not that there is damage to the club, but we don't have power, so it's just a matter of canceling all the concerts," she says. "It is affecting us financially." A top promoter told Billboard he expected "an impact on our budgets and earnings."

Smaller clubs in especially rough weather zones may have longer-term problems, too. Owners of New York fixtures such as legendary jazz club Village Vanguard, Arlene's Grocery and Terra Blues couldn't be reached Monday, but Greenfield fears the worst. "It's in a basement in the West Village," he says. "Who knows what's going on." John Scher, a longtime New York City promoter who had no power in his suburban home, is even more apocalyptic. "New York's a disaster. Manhattan's closed down," says Scher, who canceled three shows in the city this week, including Rickie Lee Jones Thursday at the Concert Hall. "There's no power in Manhattan from 34th Street south – that pretty much makes about 90 percent of the clubs in the rock space, and the subways are completely closed and flooded. Losing a week of shows probably will hurt a lot." 

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