Promoters are calling this summer a so-so season for the concert business, even though a number of performers long off the road — Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, the Cars, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Aerosmith and Deep Purple, among them — will be making appearances across the country. ”Business will be steady, but not like last year,” said New York promoter Ron Delsener. Brian Murphy, head of Avalon Attractions in Los Angeles, agreed: ”Last summer, everyone who ever learned to play guitar was out. It won’t be nearly as nuts this year.”
Last summer, the Police, David Bowie and Simon and Garfunkel were each drawing upward of 60,000 people into huge outdoor stadiums, and three-quarters of a million people attended the Us Festival. This year, only the tours by the Jacksons and Springsteen are seen as blockbusters, but Springsteen will mainly be playing in arenas that seat 10,000 to 20,000, and the Jacksons still have no definite sites or dates.
”The era of many, many outdoor shows is gone,” said San Francisco promoter Bill Graham. ”The Who, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin aren’t around. The industry is changing. A lot of the new groups are very visual and theatrical and don’t lend themselves to huge outdoor events.”
There are still a few acts big enough to play the stadiums. Some, like Springsteen, have chosen not to. And, according to Murphy, who unsuccessfully tried to talk ZZ Top into doing three stadium shows, ”a lot of acts that could easily play the outdoor stadiums — Scorpions, Rush, Judas Priest, Van Halen — came through here in the spring.”
In fact, there were so many spring tours that the number of acts on the road this summer is down by as much as 25 percent, said Chuck Morris, a promoter at Denver-based Feyline. His company books Red Rocks, an amphitheater in the Rockies, the kind of venue that does all its business in the summer months. Last year, Red Rocks presented 45 shows; this year, there will be only 35.
”It’s the luck of the draw,” New Jersey promoter John Scher said of the drop-off in summer shows. ”Acts tour behind albums, but if 20 percent of the headlining acts are slow in the studio, it slows down the summer tours.”
Scher, like other promoters and booking agents, said he’s busiest this summer with ”up-and-coming acts” that play the midsize theaters. A new one, seating 5500, is the New Orleans World’s Fair Amphitheater, which has scheduled concerts by the Go-Go’s, the Stray Cats, Greg Kihn and Linda Ronstadt.
Ronstadt will also be appearing at Milwaukee’s annual Summerfest, where she’ll sing in front of the 90-piece Milwaukee Symphony. The Summerfest usually draws about 18,000 to its main stage for evening shows, or about 850,000 people for the 11 days of the festival. In addition to Ronstadt, the festival will feature Huey Lewis and the News, the Moody Blues and an Everly Brothers reunion appearance.
The Everlys’ tour is their first in 11 years. Also making comebacks this year are Aerosmith, reuniting Steve Tyler and Joe Perry; and, after an 11-year split, Deep Purple, with Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Gillan and Jon Lord. ”Just what the world needed, a re-formed Deep Purple,” sighed Randy Levy, who runs Schon Productions out of Minneapolis. ”But for my business, that’ll do just fine.”
These tours might have drawn a lot of media attention, if only the Jacksons hadn’t planned to be out at the same time. And trying to evade them has proved impossible. ”Their tour is changing daily,” said Marsha Vlasic, an agent with American Talent International, which booked the Cars’ two-month tour. ”We’d hardly be able to keep moving things around based on what they’re going to do.”
All the same, nobody wants to pull into a city on the same day as the Jacksons, said Ken Kragen, who manages Lionel Richie. (Richie’s summer concerts will be opened by Tina Turner.) ”We obviously don’t want to be head to head with the Jacksons tour, which is going to get incredible publicity,” said Kragen. ”For example, we’re in Oakland in August. If we found out the Jacksons were there then, we’d have to examine our date carefully.”
Premier Talent’s Barry Bell, who booked the Bruce Springsteen tour, was also worried about bumping into the Jacksons. ”It was so speculative, that Jacksons tour, that we couldn’t wait to book ours,” said Bell. ”I hope they have our tour schedule so they don’t go on top of us.”
Well, so far, so good. The Jacksons are suppposed to kick off their tour on June 22nd in Lexington, Kentucky. They’ll then probably play three dates in the 60,000-seat Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis on the 27th, 28th and 29th. Other likely sights include Anaheim Stadium in late September, the Los Angeles Forum for eight shows in early September, Dallas’ Cotton Bowl, the Houston Astrodome and the Superdome in New Orleans.
Springsteen will start off in St. Paul’s Civic Center Arena. Although just one Twin Cities show, on June 29th, had been announced at press time, it’s likely Bruce will be playing three shows there. Likewise, tickets for just one show, on July 5th, went on sale in Cincinnati, but more dates will be announced when that one sells out. Springsteen’s August calendar is still being filled, but he may play 10 or more concerts at Byrne Meadowlands Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey. He’ll hit the West Coast toward the end of October, then continue on to Japan, Australia and Europe.
Springsteen may be the biggest thing in Europe at the end of the year, but Bob Dylan, who’s playing 24 concerts, is the hottest ticket abroad this summer. With Santana opening, Dylan began his tour on May 28th in Verona, Italy. Joan Baez was scheduled to join him for a June 11th show in a soccer stadium in Offenbach, Germany; UB40 and Nick Lowe will be on the bill at Wembley Stadium on July 7th. Dylan will also play dates in Holland, Sweden, France and Spain before winding things up at Slane Castle, Ireland, on July 8th.
Other big acts scheduled to play Europe this summer are Yes, Elton John and Stevie Wonder. The stateside leg of John’s tour will commence in late August, when he’ll release a new LP called Breaking Hearts. John may find himself crossing paths with Rod Stewart, who will begin a 71-city tour in Reno, Nevada, on July 3rd, following the release of his 14th album, Camouflage. Billed as ”An Evening with Rod Stewart,” the shows will have no warm-up act but will feature Rod reunited with guitarist Jeff Beck, who will also play a few of his own songs.
Eric Clapton will reappear this summer to back ex-Pink Floyd member Roger Waters, who is mounting a spectacle in support of his solo album, The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking. The show, which pulls into the Byrne Meadowlands Arena in New Jersey on July 20th, 21st and 22nd and may include a few other North American dates, features a 100-foot-wide screen for projected images and animation.
Among the other acts on the road this summer are Van Halen, Little Steven (Van Zandt), Billy Idol, Rush, Joe Jackson, King Crimson, ex-Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour and R.E.M., who’ll be touring with the Dream Syndicate. Toward the end of the summer, Bryan Adams, the Thompson Twins, the Fixx, Joan Jett and Elvis Costello, with his old mate Nick Lowe, will also begin tours. And the Pretenders and Eurythmics will both be out for short tours through markets they worked earlier in the year — a new trend, according to Bill Graham. ”Many artists are visiting an area twice behind the same product,” he said. ”We’ve never had that before.”
Patti La Belle, black music’s hottest vocalist, will be on the road with her Look to the Rainbow Tour through early October. For at least some of the July dates, she’ll duet with Bobby Womack. Womack has begun a summer tour that’ll feature guest appearances by Sly Stone, who is ”on furlough” from a Florida drug-rehabilitation center that considers the appearances ”part of his treatment.”
Cameo began a summer-long tour in June. And the Time, featured in Prince’s Purple Rain movie, due out in July, will begin a tour late in the summer to support their album, Ice Cream Castle. Other R&B acts on tour include the Bar-Kays, the Spinners and Gladys Knight and the Pips. Nigeria’s King Sunny Adé makes a sweep across the States, starting in New York City on July 20th before being joined by the reggae band Black Uhuru for the August dates. And on another double bill, Herbie Hancock is touring with Steel Pulse.
In Minneapolis, Hancock pulls into St. Paul’s Navy Island for a show on the lawn beside the Mississippi River. Outdoor shows, whether on a lawn or in an amphitheater, are what mark the summer season. ”We’ll be doing Joan Baez at the Guthrie Theater, and we’ll be doing the Cars and oddball big rock shows in arenas. But the stuff that’s going to be most successful will be in the little outdoor amphitheaters,” said Randy Levy. ”People want to get outside and have a good time.”