Concert promoters around the country are thrilled by the prospect of watching throngs of 14- and 15-year-olds stream into performances this summer by Hanson, the Spice Girls and the Backstreet Boys.
And it's not just because those tours will help make up for the lack of a Rolling Stones or U2 stadium extravaganza to boost the season's box-office totals.
In fact, even with the teen acts pulling their weight, last year's $1.3 billion in U.S. pop concert ticket sales is well out of reach--not to mention 1994's record $1.4 billion, industry observers agree.
But the reason promoters are excited: This year's 15-year-olds will be next year's 16-year-olds--with driver's licenses, a little more pocket change and, perhaps, a lot more attitude.
"What this clearly does is takes an audience from 10 or 11 to 15 or 16 and gives it if not its first then one of its first concert experiences," says John Scher, president of the New Jersey-based concert promotions firm Metropolitan Entertainment.
"So you have a big part of the population going to not just one show, but two or three shows and getting into that experience. It's great for our industry. And then they grow up. Now, they might be into these teeny-bopper acts, but next year they're into the new alternative acts."
The last time there were this many acts pulling young teens into the concert market was the late '80s-early '90s, when Paula Abdul, New Kids on the Block, Debbie Gibson and Madonna were on the road.
And just a year or two later, having developed a hunger for live music and grown into weightier sounds, many of those same kids, no doubt, were clamoring for Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the burgeoning Lollapalooza Nation.
"It's not a leap of logic to make that connection," says Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of Pollstar, a concert trade magazine. "We can all certainly hope that's the case. Kids today, with the Internet and video games and all the other ways for them to spend their time, it's important that they get exposed to concerts and have a productive first experience. And this year more than any I can think of, with these groups touring, offers them something they want to see."
There are other stories to be told this summer. Pearl Jam's truce in its battle with Ticketmaster has finally allowed the band to mount a full-scale tour--with 24 of 45 scheduled U.S. dates booked in facilities with Ticketmaster contracts. The tour starts tonight in Missoula, Mont., and includes stops July 10 at Cox Arena in San Diego and July 13-14 at the Great Western Forum. The band is still keeping ticket prices low, with a $23 face value (plus various service charges in most markets).
Promoters are also cautiously hopeful about Janet Jackson's first tour in more than four years (with shows Aug. 20 at the Forum and Aug. 23 at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim), and the elevation of the Dave Matthews Band to top-draw status and the apparently unstoppable Garth Brooks phenomenon are maintaining a steady flow of ticket sales.
A few reliable names--including Eric Clapton, Jimmy Buffett, James Taylor and Rod Stewart--are expected to bring in healthy numbers of thirty-, forty- and, increasingly, fiftysomething fans.
The big story of 1997 was, of course, the Lilith Fair, the tour spearheaded by Sarah McLachlan to showcase female artists. With its underdog status and fresh twist on the festival formula, Lilith was a rousing success, grossing an impressive $16 million.
In its second year, though, Lilith organizers have set their sights higher. An expanded schedule of 57 shows and scaling up to multiple dates in some key markets and booking the Rose Bowl next Saturday take away some of that underdog edge. While overall ticket sales have been good for Lilith, expectations have not been met in some locales, including Pasadena, where only about half the 40,000 tickets have been sold thus far. Still, Lilith continues to win praise.
"Lilith still has the unique attraction of being chameleon-like, changing acts for different markets," says Stann Findelle, senior editor of the concert business magazine Performance.
The Furthur Festival--headlined by the Other Ones, a new band featuring the key former members of the Grateful Dead performing that band's music for the first time since Jerry Garcia's death in 1995--hopes to attract Deadheads in solid numbers in 23 dates, including a July 22 show at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre.
One clear winner in the youth market is the Warped festival tour. In its fourth year of courting a teen audience with a mix of emerging rock acts and such lifestyle exhibits and activities as skateboard demonstrations--combined with low ticket prices--Warped is graduating from its Lollapalooza Jr. status to a full-fledged leader. With Rancid, NOFX and Bad Religion in the lineup, Warped is doing solid business nationwide, including a stop July 2 on the grounds of the old Lion Country Safari next to Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre.