The worst-selling summer concert season in recent memory has claimed another victim — Lilith Fair, which on Thursday canceled 10 shows, adding to a grim list that includes U2, Christina Aguilera, Limp Bizkit, Simon & Garfunkel, certain Eagles stadium dates and Rihanna’s tour opener originally scheduled for tonight. “It’s the reality of this summer,” says Terry McBride, Lilith Fair’s co-founder. “It’s just across the board. Main Street is still in recession. We’re not out of this yet. Did we see that four months ago? I don’t think anyone did.”
The tour, which includes singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan on every date and rotating headliners such as Mary J. Blige, Rihanna, Emmylou Harris, Norah Jones and Loretta Lynn, will continue its remaining 24 dates as planned — and McBride adds that the non-canceled shows are selling well. (Organizers suggest fans check the Lilith Fair website for updates on whether acts on canceled dates reschedule for others.) However, Kelly Clarkson also announced today that she is skipping her previously scheduled Lilith dates to complete work on her upcoming studio album. Lilith Fair was the top-grossing concert of 1997, at more than $16 million, but it has struggled to sell tickets in its comeback year, in part due to the economy and in part, some concert-business sources say, because its marketing campaign never really kicked in.
John Scher, a New York promoter who tried unsuccessfully to book Lilith for a 25,000-seat stadium show, adds that the Lilith tour is a symptom of larger problems in the tour business. More than ever, huge promoters such as Live Nation and AEG Live are attempting to outbid each other for top tours, over-paying numerous artists, then wind up raising ticket prices too high. As a result, Live Nation, the world’s biggest concert promoter, had to create a no-service-charge deal for all of its amphitheatre shows, including Lilith, last month. “We are not, as an industry, creating any lasting careers and very few big headliners,” says Scher, also co-manager of Simon & Garfunkel, whose tour was selling decently well before Garfunkel developed vocal strain last month and had to cancel. “It was hard for [Lilith] to put together the kind of lineup that they had traditionally gotten.”
The concert business, which has slowly taken over from struggling record labels as the profit center for the music industry, has been thriving for years as ticket prices and tour revenues have surged. But thanks to Bono’s back injury, Garfunkel’s vocal strain and what sources say were soft sales on the Aguilera, Rihanna, Jonas Brothers and Eagles tours, cancellations and soft sales are widespread this summer. “It’s not just Lilith Fair, it’s everyone,” says Will Simon, one of the managers for singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega, whose upcoming Lilith dates are still on the schedule. “Concert tickets — it’s a luxury, to be honest. When you’re cutting back [as a customer], that’s one of the first things you cut back. But everyone is always going to want to see live music, and it’ll come back.”