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Summer Tours Slumping

Concerts take a hit from high ticket prices

June 21, 2004 12:00 AM ET
A month after promoters declared the concert industry healthier than ever, big summer tours such as Ozzfest, Fleetwood Mac, the Dead and Lollapalooza have run into a concrete wall of slow sales. "Ticket sales are mixed, and in some cases they appear to be substantially off from the past," says Alex Hodges, executive vice president of House of Blues Concerts, one of the three major U.S. promotion companies.

The summer's success stories so far are big-buzz superstar events such as Prince and Madonna, plus low-cost packages including the long-running Warped Tour, Alanis Morissette/Barenaked Ladies and No Doubt/Blink-182. Also, the three-day Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, Tennessee, recently scored its third annual sellout, with 90,000 tickets. Otherwise, sales have been universally slow.

Promoters and agents list several reasons for the unexpected ticket-buying malaise: Once fans spend their summer-entertainment money on Prince and Madonna, they have little left over for Kiss or Ozzfest; some of 2003's biggest draws, such as Fleetwood Mac and Aerosmith, have already toured several summers in a row at high prices; and the core baby-boomer audience is finally getting tired of amphitheater lawns.

"What consumer wants to sit out at night in Phoenix, Arizona, in 105 degrees to watch Daryl Hall and John Oates?" says Dennis Arfa, president of Writers and Artists Group International, an agency representing Metallica, Rod Stewart and others. "People don't have an unlimited amount of funds. In the amphitheater business, there is some concern."

Nobody's panicking -- yet. In early 2003, promoters expressed similar gloom, until Bruce Springsteen, the Eagles and others barnstormed the country. Says Seth Hurwitz, whose company, I.M.P. Productions, books the Merriweather Post Pavilion near Washington, D.C.: "Over the last ten years, I've heard 'This is the worst yet' every year."

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A country-folk song of epic proportions, "San Francisco Mabel Joy" tells the tale of a poor Georgia farmboy who wound up in prison after a move to the Bay Area found love turning into tragedy. First released by Mickey Newbury in 1969, it might be more familiar through covers by Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez and Kenny Rogers. "It was a five-minute song written in a two-minute world," Newbury said. "I was told it would never be cut by any artist ... I was told you could not use the term 'redneck' in a song and get it recorded."

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