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Summer Live Preview: Superstar Shows Help Revive Industry

“The business has just exploded in every genre,” says one industry veteran. “It’s incredibly healthy”

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Industry insiders say that the glut of superstar shows will revive last year's relatively sluggish summer schedule.

Christopher Polk

Nothing like U2, Madonna, the Rolling Stones, the Who and Taylor Swift to make the concert business forget that in 2014, revenues dipped and ticket sales dropped from 40 million to 38 million.

All those sure-thing music superstars are on the road this summer, and all are selling out most of their shows, even at prices as high as $425 (for the Stones), $350 (Madonna) and $275 (U2). “In 2010, things were struggling and the economy was top of mind and there was this kind of doom and gloom about the live business and this debate about ‘who are the new headliners?'” Arthur Fogel, global touring president for promoter Live Nation, tells Rolling Stone. “Over the last four or five years, the business has just exploded in every genre. It’s incredibly healthy.”

One Direction return to stadiums; Paul McCartney is playing arenas; the Zac Brown Band headline the first concert at Coors Field in Denver; AC/DC and Foo Fighters have sold out 40,000 tickets apiece at Chicago’s Wrigley Field; Mumford and Sons sold 35,000 tickets at Benton Harbor in Chicago; and Nicki Minaj-Meek Mill-Rae Sremmurd and Kelly Clarkson-Pentatonix are among the strong-selling packages. “There’s a lot of shows, and they all seem to be selling well thus far,” says Brent Fedrizzi, chief operating officer at AEG Live in Denver, home of Red Rocks Amphitheatre, where Bassnectar is close to three sellouts and Neil Young, Van Halen and J. Cole round out the summer schedule.

Still, prime seats remain available for several U2, Madonna and Stones dates, and some in the concert business worry about the implications of slow sales for the biggest acts. “It’s absolutely cloudier than the perspective that they’re giving you,” says Lee Trink, Kid Rock’s manager, referring to promoters’ typically sunny proclamations this time of year.

As he did in 2013, Rock charges just $20 apiece — although the occasional VIP platinum seat goes for $400. He has sold out 10 shows at the DTE Energy Music Theatre near his hometown of Detroit, or more than 145,000 tickets. Trink can’t figure out why other top artists aren’t following Rock’s lead and building tours around super-cheap prices.

“They’re used to getting nice, fat guarantees [up-front payments, as opposed to percentages of sales] and not worrying about how many tickets they’re going to sell,” Trink says. He adds that Groupon deals, such as Yes and Toto for $18 in Chicago, Mötley Crüe for $22 in Indianapolis and Incubus and Deftones for $15, indicate “you’re training the audience to say, ‘Hey, they might lower the price on these things, so don’t run out so fast.'”

Fogel, though, dismisses suggestions of summer-touring problems — U2’s 68 worldwide shows have sold more than 1 million tickets so far, and the band has added dates to multiple runs in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and elsewhere. Madonna, too, is selling well. “I wish that was a universal problem: ‘Most shows are sold out — a few aren’t,'” he says.

Adds Jay Marciano, chief executive of AEG Live, the number-two concert promoter putting on the Swift and Stones tours: “Early indicators [show] 2015 is the best year in the history of AEG — in all segments, touring, festivals, clubs and theatres.”

Although Andy Cirzan, vice president of concerts for Chicago’s Jam Productions, also is concerned about “a lot of discounting at the outdoor shed world,” he agrees with rivals Live Nation and AEG that 2015 is shaping up to be a big-selling summer.

“Even in times of less than favorable financial reality for people, if you’re compelling and you’re priced correctly, you’re going to sell some tickets,” he says. “We’re in a cycle right now where there are a lot of bands that have done stuff the right way are kind of hitting their stride.”

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