The pop music world is jumping into the time machine this summer and turning back the clock, and all expectations are that previous concert box-office records will fall.
Long-unseen figures Barbra Streisand and the Eagles are back on the road after extended hiatuses. And such lumbering giants as Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones bringing their Gargantuan spectacles back to stadiums. The result is that concert promoters--having suffered through a three-year recessionary slump--are positively giddy about the year's prospects.
Their vision: $1.1 billion.
That's the record take for U.S. pop concerts, set in 1990, just before the economy took a downturn.
With those shows and with such other monsters as an Elton John-Billy Joel stadium pairing, and reliable perennials like the Grateful Dead and Jimmy Buffett also on tour, it's a virtual cinch that, barring an apocalyptic cataclysm, the old record will be far surpassed this year.
"There's no cap on (how high it could go)," says Hal Lazareff, director of West Coast booking for the Pace/Sony/Blockbuster alliance, which operates the Glen Helen Pavilion and other amphitheaters. "Whatever the demand is, that's how high the new record will be."
For the high-profile, veteran acts that are dominating the season, the demand has been tremendous. Even with prices much higher than standard concert tickets, the Streisand shows (top ticket: $350) and Eagles reunion concerts (up to $115) sold out almost instantaneously everywhere they have gone on sale so far.
The stadium events too have so far been dramatic sales successes, including Pink Floyd's two Rose Bowl shows starting tonight and the more than 20 John-Joel dates that have been announced, including four shows at the Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey (L.A. dates are still in the planning stages). Some observers speculate that the Pink Floyd tour could even approach the single-tour record of $98 million set by the Rolling Stones' 1988 "Steel Wheels" trek.
Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the concert business trade magazine Pollstar, says that while veteran acts generally dominate the top concert grossers each year, the number of superstar attractions coming out this summer is unprecedented.
"Last year we had Steely Dan and Bette Midler, two acts that people had pretty much given up on getting to see," he says. "But we didn't have the stadium acts like this year."
Bongiovanni also notes that the steady growth of country music's audience in the last several years and the arrival of such young attractions as Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots and the Spin Doctors--all of whom are touring this summer--has also strengthened the concert market.
"But most of our business relies on old acts," he says, noting that even the H.O.R.D.E. tour, founded by the band Blues Traveler with the intent of exposing young acts, is this year being headlined by the veteran Allman Brothers Band.
The reason is simple: "The demographics of the Eagles and Pink Floyd and those acts are people with money and credit cards," says Lazareff.
While those people were a little tight with their funds in recent years, the consensus in the concert industry is that the economy has leveled off.
"Southern California is not 100% recovered, but I think we're seeing an optimistic attitude," says Alex Hodges, vice president and head of booking for the Nederlander Organization, which operates the Greek Theatre and books concerts at the Pond in Anaheim, where Streisand will be performing. "And people are starting to get over the earthquake and the other tragedies we had and want to have some fun. People need this kind of outlet."
Connie Hillman, Elton John's U.S. manager and the producer of the John-Joel tour, agrees. "These big shows are artists with catalogues of music to play and you know you're going to get, as Elton said, value for money," she says. "And there's a confidence level trickling to the point of people saying they'll go spend $150 for two tickets to the Elton and Billy show and they'll get something great in return."
Not all are so confident, though. Some fear that the big acts will chew up so much of the concert business that people will be unwilling or unable to buy tickets for other shows.
"I think the summer's going to be a disaster," says one major booking agent, who asked that his name not be used. "If people buy Eagles tickets for $75 and go to one or two of the other big shows, that's a lot of money spent. At some point there's no money left in the marketplace for other acts. Something like Stevie Nicks or the package tour of the Doobie Brothers and Foreigner, who's going to want to see that if they've already spent a lot of money?"
The first victim may have been Lenny Kravitz, who recently canceled a summer tour due to poor initial ticket sales, according to industry sources. And some say that even the Rolling Stones' planned fall tour could suffer some if fans are strapped for cash and burned out from the glut of big events.
But promoters on the whole prefer to see the situation not as a glut but as a market-priming wealth.
"These big events get people into going to see live shows," says Arny Granat, co-owner of the Chicago-based Jam Productions concert promotions firm. "One feeds off of another."
Says Dave Frey, manager of Blues Traveler and the organizer of the H.O.R.D.E. tour, "Good shows breed more good shows, and if people see a good one they're more likely to go see another. Maybe I'm being overly optimistic, but it all helps."