Summertime - there's no stopping rock 'n' roll, especially when it hits the road. This summer's touring season is going to be big, maybe one of the biggest ever.
True, there are no mega acts - no Pink Floyd, no U2, no Rolling Stones. Yet, this warm-weather season offers a diverse mix of established rock superstars, nostalgia acts, and up-and-comers. Scroll through the summer schedule, and it reads like the index at the back of The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll. And a tad more: The "rockopedia" doesn't list The Legendary Pink Dots, an obscure band formed in London in the 1980s, which will tour more than 30 US cities.
"This summer the market is overcrowded," says Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of Pollstar, the industry trade magazine. "[Still] sales of tickets are very healthy."
Alan Greenspan appears to have little impact on the concert industry, which is set to extend its bull market at the box office. Tickets to this summer's top attractions, which include a diverse array of artists such as Dave Matthews, 'N Sync, and Metallica with Korn and Kid Rock, are disappearing fast. Most of the more than 100 other major concerts and a dozen festivals that will hit amphitheaters around the US are faring quite well too.
All this despite a hike in prices. "The ticket prices of the Top 50 touring acts on average jumped 30 percent in one year [1998 to 1999]," Mr. Bongiovanni says. "This year I expect an increase, but not by such a [wide] margin."
No band or musician is charging the surreal prices The Rolling Stones did last year ($300 per ticket). The priciest fares this year are Diana Ross and the Supremes ($250), The Who ($150), Ricky Martin ($95), Don Henley ($89), and Tina Turner's farewell tour ($85).
Though some popular acts tour every year - think Jimmy Buffett - this season is distinct in at least three ways: the vanishing of festivals, preadolescent-pop mania, and the rise of Latin music.
The once-ubiquitous festivals are now gone, almost. When Lollapalooza, the mother of all festivals, called it a day three years ago, it spawned a plethora of imitators. Today there are just a handful, the Ozzfest being perhaps the most recognizable (and this is its last year).
Fans of Lilith Fair - created by Sarah Mclachlan and known for its bold legacy of empowering female musicians - are disappointed it is not touring.
"[Festivals] are extremely difficult to stage ... musicians want to know 'how long do I play, who's making more money, what's the billing.' It's politics," Bongiovanni says. "[But] they're not gone forever ... and radio station-sponsored festivals are doing an extremely good job with impressive lineups and reasonable ticket prices."
But the cranking down of festivals has been offset by the rising teen-pop movement, led by the amazing popularity of stars such as Ms. Spears and Christina Aguilera. "They are playing to a very active demographic," Bongiovanni says. A bonus for parents paying the bill: "Teen acts charge a lower price as compared to older acts," he says. For a Spears concert, tickets range from $25 to $40.
The popular teen band 'N Sync is drawing bigger crowds than Motown legend Diana Ross. However, like last year, blasts from the past will rake in the most money as baby boomers pony up the big bucks to revisit old-time favorites.
The fastest-rising genre is Latin music, both in record sales and concert-going. Not long ago, Latin music appealed only to Spanish-speaking audiences. Now much of the audiences at Latin-music concerts doesn't have Spanish as a first or even second language, Bongiovanni says.
Carlos Santana's runaway success at the Grammy Awards added ballast to the trend spurred by the pop glamour of Ricky Martin. The genre is so popular that the Backstreet Boys released a Spanish version of its top hit, "I'll Never Break Your Heart," titled "Nunca Te Hare Llorar."
But the biggest touring act this year is undoubtedly Dave Matthews. He's filling stadiums, a feat few have accomplished.
The Dave Matthews Band "fan base is largely based on live shows," Bongiovanni says. "They tapped into a kind of Grateful Dead appeal, a sense of community."
*For comprehensive summer tour listings, check out www.pollstar.com
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society