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This Summer Tour Is Nothing to Spit At

March 09, 1997|Steve Hochman

With tobacco, even when there's no smoke, there's fire.

So expect plenty of heat to be put on a new entry to the summer rock festival circuit this year.

ROAR--for Revelations of Alternative Rhythms--will hit the road in late May or early June with a rock lineup including Iggy Pop, Sponge, Linda Perry and the Reverand Horton Heat, under the sponsorship of Skoal smokeless tobacco. This is believed to be the first rock tour sponsored by a tobacco product, though that industry has been involved with country music artists and jazz musicians for years.

"I presume that, as with any rock tour, it will attract a lot of kids," says Bill Novelli, president of the National Center for Tobacco Free Kids, a Washington-based lobbying group. Citing Center for Disease Control statistics that show nearly 20% of U.S. high school males use smokeless tobacco, Novelli says, "What you have here is U.S. Tobacco [Skoal's parent company] . . . increasing its aggressiveness of going after the youth market."

U.S. Tobacco did not return calls seeking comment.

At least two planned tours, including Warped and the new, still-unnamed dance-music showcase, were approached by Skoal about sponsorship but turned the company down despite an offer of what one tour organizer calls "a huge amount of money."

The company then made a deal with the Florida-based promotions firm Magic to put together a new tour. Organizer Scott Kernahan is aware of the controversy, with the tobacco industry under increasing pressure over the alleged marketing of its product to teenagers, but is confident that the Skoal connection will be more positive--in terms of tour resources and the ability to offer a low ticket price of $10--than negative.

"That will shut a lot of people up," says Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of concert business trade magazine Pollstar. "If you're going to do a $10 ticket, you have to have underwriting coming from somewhere. And at this point, the tobacco and alcoholic beverage companies are stepping up to the plate."

And Skoal's presence will just be one of a number of elements involved with the show, which sounds not unlike Warped's pop- culture approach.

"The gist is like a radio station concert, with two stages going," Kernahan says. "We're bringing a virtual reality/extreme sports concourse--things like a rock-climbing wall, human bowling--and we're working on a deal with Iwerks to have a virtual reality theater."

That all helped sell the participating acts on the concept. Susan Silver, Sponge's manager, says that she and the band had some reservations before signing on to the tour, but they believe that the venture will not compromise the band or put it in the place of endorsing Skoal.

"This is a tour that they're marketing as a lifestyle tour, not a chewing tobacco tour," she says.

Art Collins, Iggy Pop's manager, is even less concerned.

"I know it's an issue to lots of people, but not to me--I'm a smoker," Collins says. "It's not the PC thing. . . . It's just the way of doing business in America right now."

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