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New Kid on the Block(buster) : Video Giant's Arena Turns Up the Heat in Battle for Concertgoers

July 01, 1993|STEVE HOCHMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Do you know the way to Devore?

Or more importantly, will you drive to Devore, 60 miles from downtown L.A., off Interstate 15 about 10 miles north of Interstate 10 in San Bernardino County?

Blockbuster Entertainment, which will open the Glen Helen Blockbuster Pavilion there this weekend, thinks so, and is betting heavily on it, starting with the $15 million it spent just to build the state-of-the-art, open-air concert facility. Among the features: four video-screen towers and an on-site record store.

Blockbuster Pavilion is the biggest development on the Southern California concert scene since the Orange County openings of the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre in 1981 and Pacific Amphitheatre in 1983. (The just-opened Anaheim Arena is an important part-time player in the concert business, but its primary emphasis will be sports events.)

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday July 2, 1993 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 16 Column 2 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
Management-- Steely Dan is managed by Howard Kaufman of HK Management. Denny Rosencrantz, who works for HK, was incorrectly identified as the group's manager in a story in Thursday's Calendar.

Major concert promoters in the area are worried about what Blockbuster--owned by the very profitable video giant--might do to the recession-racked business.

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"We're the new kid on the block, and (the established promoters) are nervous," said Allen B. Flexer, the chief operating officer of Blockbuster's Amphitheatre Entertainment Corp., which built similar amphitheaters in Phoenix and Charlotte in the last three years.

"And frankly, I don't blame them. We're clearly the finest facility in Southern California."

Such boasts aren't being ignored by executives at Avalon Attractions, which operates Irvine Meadows; Nederlander, which operates the Greek Theatre and also books shows at the new Anaheim Arena, and MCA Concerts, owner of the Universal Amphitheatre in Universal City.

"We'd be idiots not to pay attention to what they're doing and be concerned," said Susan Rosenbluth, general manager of Nederlander Concerts. "There's definitely an overlap between their market area and ours."

The Glen Helen Blockbuster Pavilion officially opens for business on Saturday with an oldies rock 'n' roll show. A series of grand-opening concerts slated for the 16,000-capacity facility will continue with Poison on Tuesday, Lynyrd Skynyrd on Wednesday, Def Leppard on July 9 and exclusive Southern California appearances by Don Henley on July 10 and Rod Stewart on July 31. Other upcoming shows include Neil Young, Steely Dan, Coverdale/Page, Duran Duran and two country twin bills: Travis Tritt/Trisha Yearwood and Clint Black/Wynonna Judd.

Plans for next year include an expanded lawn area that will increase the capacity to 65,000, making it a rival for the kind of big-event concerts that are courted by the Rose Bowl, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Anaheim and Dodger stadiums.

But it's this summer's smaller-scale shows that will be the first tests of whether this region can support another concert market.

Flexer sees the facility as an oasis in the Inland Empire, an area without a major concert venue despite a rapidly growing population that stands at more than 3 million within about a half-hour drive. Supplementing that, he says, are another 12 million who live within an hour, including the bulk of Los Angeles and Orange counties.

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"There's that whole growing population out there, a combination of yuppies and blue-collar," said Denny Rosenkrantz, manager of Steely Dan. His band will be among the first acts to see if it's possible to draw well in all three regions. The band is booked for late-summer dates at Blockbuster, Irvine Meadows and the Greek Theatre.

"If you've lived out toward (Glen Helen) and you saw they were playing at Irvine and Blockbuster and for years you schlepped to Irvine, you'd be more than happy to try Blockbuster," he said.

But not everyone's enthusiastic.

"Glen Helen as a site for concerts has not been very successful in past years," said Stann Findelle, senior editor of the concert business trade magazine Performance, referring to the 1982 and '83 US Festivals, which were plagued by massive traffic jams and oppressive heat and dust. "The US Festivals were money-losers, to say the least."

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Alan DeZon, the Pavilion's general manager, said it's unfair to compare the new facility to the makeshift trappings of the US Festivals.

"This is not a temporary stage and Port-o-Sans," he said.

In any case, US Festival organizer Steve Wozniak, the founder of Apple Computers, had plenty of money to lose, and so does Blockbuster, the company built around the country's biggest video store chain.

But Flexer dismissed widespread speculation that Blockbuster is overspending in order to establish itself in the region. "I feel fortunate to work with Blockbuster," he said. "But being successful doesn't mean we can pay anything for anything. What's the point of booking a show and losing $200,000?"

Still, concert booking agents are drooling as they hear talk that Blockbuster will pay high fees for major stars and that other promoters will have to do their best to keep up.

Inside sources say that Henley and his people reportedly are getting a guaranteed fee of $275,000 for his Blockbuster show, a high figure considering that he has no current hit singles or album to boost his drawing power.

There has been talk that the established promoters will retaliate by forbidding acts that want to play one of their facilities from appearing at the new one, or restricting advertising on competing shows. But Brian Murphy, president of the Avalon Attractions promotion firm, said that his and his colleagues' reactions have not been so extreme.

"I'm not making any brash statements that if someone wants to play there they can't play here," said Murphy, who's taking a wait-and-see stance before drawing conclusions as to the impact of the new facility on his business.

"Certainly we're asking if they're playing there. With some artists, if they are, we'll withdraw our offer. But with others: 'By all means play there.' It won't have any impact on us."

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