This New Year's Eve, many won't party like it's 1999

Crowds, Y2K worries, and overpriced entertainment are keeping many

Though he's in the entertainment business himself, jazz band manager Bob Gefaell plans to spend New Year's Eve "at home with the covers pulled up."

Across America and beyond, the much-anticipated ushering in of 2000 has all the makings of a wet firecracker, at least when it comes to the high-priced entertainment packages aggressively marketed throughout the past year.

"Our take is that people are staying away because they'd rather be with their families. Secondly, there are Y2K fears. And thirdly, a surprising number of people are working that night to watch over the computers that are now part of almost every business," says Matt Markovich of the Everything2000 Web site that tracks New Year's activities.

Celebration 2000 in New York featuring artists Andrea Bocelli and Aretha Franklin, for instance, has fizzled and promoters' last hope is to find a smaller venue. Glitzy events scheduled for Los Angeles, San Francisco, Nashville, Tenn., Seattle, and a host of other cities have either been scaled back or canceled.

Despite the popularity of the Latin sound this year, singer Luis Miguel's concert at the San Jose Arena in California, for instance, was recently shut down. The apparent reason: Mr. Miguel wanted to earn $1 million that night with ticket prices as high as $1,000, a price consumers would not support.

There are exceptions of course. Barbra Streisand has sold out in Las Vegas, despite ticket prices up to $2,500 a pop and many of the more traditional celebrations around the country appear to be on firm footing.

New York's Times Square is expected to be jammed with celebrants, as will San Francisco's Union Square and the Boston Common. The number of cities with First Night celebrations that emphasize nonalcoholic events has grown to 200 cities and full crowds are expected.

But the ultracommercial aspects of this New Year's Eve are struggling.

"I think it's a reflection of just how special most people feel this millennium stuff really is. That whole concept may have been more of a media creation than anything most people related to," says Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the concert trade magazine Pollstar.

Mr. Bongiovanni points out that concerts where artists are charging the kinds of prices they charge throughout the year are doing fine. Examples: KISS in Vancouver, British Columbia, Phish in the Florida Everglades, and Metallica and others at the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan.

Big day, big deals

Overpriced concerts aren't the only events with empty chairs. Lots of other grandiose millennial packages are looking for customers as the big day nears. Skyauction, an online auction site, is offering "millennium madness travel bargains" and many hotels are reportedly cutting prices and making deals to fill their rooms.

Patrick Moscaritolo, head of the Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau, is quoted in a press report as saying 1999 has the potential to end up "the slowest New Year's Eve in the nine years we've been tracking New Year's Eve activity."

Some hotel industry analysts expect overall occupancy rates nationally to be well below the 85 percent norm for past New Year's Eves. While most hotels don't expect to actually lose money, the bonanza once anticipated has failed to materialize.

Celebration schedules

To deal with Y2K fears, some festivals are deliberately stretching their schedules. First Night in Boston, for example, usually runs just on New Year's Eve. But this year there will be activities from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of the New Year's weekend.

And just to make sure things are really settled down, the town of Gilbert, Ariz., plans to have its New Year's celebration on Jan. 15.

There are also heightened security concerns this New Year's Eve. In San Francisco, known for its cuisine, a number of the town's swankest restaurants have decided to close. In some cases, the restaurants are being rented by private parties, but even that is unusual given the revenue potential on the last night of the year.

Security concerns are also reportedly forcing a number of eateries and cafes along Paris's famous Champs-lyses to close.

"Generally, the entertainment industry overestimated people's desire to go out and spend a lot of money," says Charles Breckling, marketing director of the First Night in Boston. "This night isn't that special to most people. For most of them, they just want to be with family and friends, that's what'll make this night special."

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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