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SAN DIEGO COUNTY Spotlight

POP MUSIC / THOMAS K. ARNOLD : Ticket Prices for Concerts on an Upward Spiral in S.D.

June 28, 1989|THOMAS K. ARNOLD

Watching a pay-per-view concert isn't cheap and it's certainly nothing like the real thing, but it may be the only ticket many rock fans can afford. Take, for example, last Wednesday's performance by the Grateful Dead at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View. For a "mere" $19.95, scores of San Diego Deadheads caught the show not in person, but on the tube--courtesy of Cox Cable.

Sadly, $20 is a bargain, compared to what San Diegans are now paying to see big-name pop acts at local venues such as San Diego State University's Open Air Theatre, where ticket prices are consistently the highest in the nation. To wit: The best seats to the July 25 Tom Petty show cost nearly $40 apiece--more than what many of the rocker's young fans earn in a day.

Local concert promoters readily concede that there's been a steady increase in ticket prices in recent years, yet they refuse to plead mea culpa.

In the 10 years he's been promoting concerts at the San Diego Sports Arena, the San Diego Convention and Performing Arts Center's Civic Theatre, Golden Hall, and most recently the Starlight Bowl in Balboa Park, Bill Silva said the average ticket price has practically doubled, from $11.50 to $20.

But so has the average price of the act, he added.

"In 1979, the standard fee for an arena headliner was $25,000, plus $5,000-$7,500 for sound and lights and an additional $1,000, maybe $1,500, for the opening act," Silva said.

"Today, it's a bargain if we can get a headliner to play the arena for $50,000, plus $15,000 for sound and lights and another $5,000-$10,000 for the opening act."

Also contributing to the rapid rise in ticket prices, Silva added, is the rapid rise in production costs.

"The cost of putting on a show is getting higher all the time," he said. "Staging, pyrotechnics, theatrical effects--everything's much more complicated and much more expensive.

"And while in 1979, you could pick up a roadie who wanted to work for the love of rock 'n' roll for $50 to $100 a week, now these guys are qualified and experienced technicians who command anywhere from $1,500 to $2,500 a week."

Kenny Weissberg, however, said promoters are not entirely blameless. When he first began booking the annual Concerts by the Bay series at Humphrey's on Shelter Island in 1984, he said, the average ticket price was $12.50. This year, tickets cost between $17.50 and $25.

"To me, it's not only the artists' demands for higher guarantees and the escalating costs of putting on a show, but the bidding-war mentality that exists among promoters determined to get acts at all costs," Weissberg said. "Every time a new promoter tries to break into the market, the only leverage he has is to make huge offers--and that drives up the price, which we then have to pass on to the public.

"Last year, for example, when the Batiquitos Festival (in Carlsbad) made a run at being a series, they put in offers to virtually every act that had played Humphrey's in 1987, and on the average, their offers were $5,000 to $10,000 higher than what I had paid these same acts the year before.

"So to prevent certain acts from leaving Humphrey's, I had to compete with their offers. And while their series never materialized, the damage had been done--all of a sudden, what had been a $10,000 act in 1987 became a $15,000-$20,000 act in 1988."

LINER NOTES: The Coasters that will be appearing at the Del Mar Fair grandstand Monday as part of the "30th Anniversary of Rock 'n' Roll" oldies show are not the same Coasters that performed at the Wild Animal Park over the Memorial Day weekend. Both groups include just one holdover from the past, each of whom claims to own the "Coasters" name. The fair's Coasters are led by Cornelius Gunter. Gunter wasn't part of the original line-up, but he sang on eight of the wisecracking doo-wop group's 10 Top 40 hits of the late 1950s and early '60s. The Coasters that played at the Wild Animal Park are led by Leon Hughes. Hughes is an original member, but he left after the first two hits. . . .

No San Diego dates have been announced, but several local ticket agencies are already accepting deposits for choice seats to possible upcoming appearances by such superstars as the Rolling Stones, Madonna, Billy Idol, Elton John and Paul McCartney. More than likely, it is a bluff to rake in some quick cash. But if it isn't--and if those agencies know something we don't--who told 'em? Could it be some promoters who have long been rumored to sell tickets to agencies--for a hefty surcharge, of course--before placing them on sale to the public? . . .

Less than a year after he began booking national acts into the Park Place nightclub in El Cajon, local concert promoter Rick Tupper has turned his sights westward. He's planning a series of big-name concerts at Mick's P.B. in Pacific Beach, beginning with the Bus Boys on July 8. . . .

Mojo Nixon's 24-hour Elvis hotline, 239-KING, is back in service after it was accidentally disconnected sometime last week due to "a breakdown in communications," Nixon said. . . .

Legendary rock balladeer Gene Pitney's canceled June 23 show at Humphrey's has been rescheduled for Aug. 20. Tickets to the June date will be honored.

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