Industry Tries to Survive Summer Concert Season Without Superstars

Despite increased attendance, some promoters remain cautious

Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails performs in Chicago, Illinois.
Taylor Hill/FilmMagic
April 18, 2014 10:05 AM ET

For the first time since 2007, U2, Madonna and the Rolling Stones are all sitting out touring the U.S., and with Bon Jovi and Taylor Swift also off the road, the concert business will have to get by this summer without a sure-thing megastar. "Some of the artists who've been iconic multiple arena and stadium acts — we're not seeing that in North America," says John Meglen, president of global touring for concert promoter AEG Live. "But there's a lot of good talent selling out arenas right now." (Industry sources have confirmed to Rolling Stone that Beyonce and Jay Z are planning a joint tour together, though no details have been worked out as of press time.)

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Making up for this top-tier deficiency may be One Direction, which graduates to baseball parks and football stadiums. The superstar boy band will do more than 30 such shows, many of them sold out, which has helped Live Nation, the industry's biggest promoter, expand its stadium concerts from 30 in 2013 to 55 this year. Plus, Billy Joel, Eminem/Rihanna, Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, Cher, Fall Out Boy/Paramore, Nine Inch Nails/Soundgarden and a slew of country stars, including Jason Aldean, have sold well and given breadth to the summer season. "We've got some macro-economic tailwinds that are being helpful," says Bob Roux, Live Nation's co-president of U.S. concerts. "There's a generous number of high-value artists touring in the U.S. as a result of the good economy here."

Five years ago, the Great Recession kicked in and crushed the concert business, discouraging cash-strapped fans from buying tickets to overpriced shows. As a result, tours from Rihanna to Lilith Fair had to cancel dates or give away piles of free tickets to fill seats. The business appears to have moved on to better days. Last year, Live Nation declared in its financial reports an attendance boost of 19 percent and increased revenue of 11 percent. Pollstar, the concert-business magazine, reported ticket sales jumped from 4.7 billion in 2012 to 5.1 billion in 2013 — but that was thanks to the "iconic multiple arena and stadium acts," such as Bon Jovi, Paul McCartney and the Stones, on the roster.

This summer, some promoters aren't quite as optimistic about the big names. Festivals such as Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza have grabbed some of the best headliners, such as a reunited Outkast, which will play no amphitheatres or arenas. The sheds, meanwhile, are jammed with aging stars: Lionel Richie, Chicago/REO Speedwagon, Peter Frampton/Doobie Brothers, Foreigner/Styx, Backstreet Boys, Journey/Steve Miller Band and Kiss/Def Leppard. "I gotta be honest with you, I'm not seeing anything that's blowing my mind," says Andy Cirzan, vice president of concerts for Chicago's Jam Productions. "I'm looking at the summer season just kind of scratching my head: 'Where are the cool bands?'"

Cirzan encourages fans to look for smaller, indoor shows: Haim, which is selling out House of Blues-type venues everywhere, and upcoming alt-rock tours by Jack White and The National. It's a way to beat the weather, anyway. Last summer, a sudden Chicago-area storm knocked out three major concerts on one night: Pearl Jam, Bjork and Phish. "You've got literal global chaos going on," he says. "I ended up in a bar."

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