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POP MUSIC | POP EYE

Wanted: Short-Timers for Music Fests

March 22, 1998|Steve Hochman

Festival tours a la Lollapalooza have been the quintessential concert format of the '90s. But will they make it into the next decade?

With some in the music industry complaining that the format is getting tired and predictable, box-office action was at best hit-and-miss last year for Lollapalooza and such followers as H.O.R.D.E. and Furthur. While the youth-oriented Warped and metal-heavy Ozzfest showed positive numbers, only the new Lilith Fair, with its all-female lineup, was an unqualified blockbuster.

This could be the year of a rival variation: one-time and limited-run events.

Plans are being laid for a U.S. debut of Tribal Gathering, for years one of England's top music fests, with an emphasis on electronic dance culture. Organizers are looking for September dates for two possible installments, one on the East Coast and one on the West. The key to success, say organizers, is to make each concert truly a one-of-a-kind special event.

"Part of the design of Tribal is it's not going to be a traveling festival," says Jonathan Levine, the agent who is co-organizing the venture. "It's too much of a circus and too much of a production and we don't want to dilute it by trying to take it on the road."

Tribal joins such recent arrivals as the Tibetan Freedom Concerts and the Celtic-centric Fleadh (pronounced flah). The former debuted in 1996 in San Francisco and continued last summer in New York, and will be in the Washington area this year with shows June 13 and 14. R.E.M. is set to appear, along with Beck and the Beastie Boys, with many more to be added.

Fleadh, which sold more than 50,000 tickets for its two days in New York last year, is this year growing to three regional events, with a return June 13 and 14 to New York's Randall's Island, plus a June 20 date in the Chicago area and June 27 in the San Francisco vicinity. Sinead O'Connor and the Chieftains are among the returning acts, with the Indigo Girls, Los Lobos and Chumbawamba among the other participants. Van Morrison, who headlined last year, is rumored to be joining at least one of the dates.

These limited events have an edge in stacking the lineups with top draws over the full tours that tie up peak touring season.

"Certainly you don't have to make that long commitment," says CAA agent Carole Kinzel. "That gives the artists flexibility and freedom."

Some of the success of Lilith, which this year will expand to 54 dates, including a European swing, can be attributed to its asking top names to do only a week or two.

"Lollapalooza was the model," says Stann Findelle, senior editor of the concert trade magazine Performance. "Now the industry is endeavoring to freshen the formula. Among those, Lilith has the least possibility for staleness, circulating as many as maybe 80 artists."

BEEP BEEP: A&M Records won't be the only interested party tracking the sales of the new hip-hop soundtrack collection from Ice Cube's upcoming film "The Players' Club." Fans buying the first 500,000 copies of the album will find inside a promotional offer for a free top-brand pager--a tie-in to the urban player culture depicted in the film--with purchase of a year's subscription to a paging service.

This is the latest from A&M Records' drive for unusual cross-promotions. The label hooked up granola-rockers Blues Traveler with Birkenstock footwear last year.

"It's a good match, targeting the right audience," says Stephanie Cohen, the label's director of marketing.

Indeed, Craig Resnick, CEO of Pagemaster, the paging service company involved in the promotion, cites studies showing that 60% of people 18 to 24 intend to acquire a pager in the next 12 months. And he dismisses the stereotype of pagers being used in seamy dealings.

"That was a misconception," he says. "Not long ago we found out that there were approximately 122,000 drug dealers in the country, and of those 55,000 were in jail. But if every one of those dealers had a pager, that would still represent only about one hundredth of a percent of all the pagers. So clearly it was an erroneous link."

MOUSE TRAP: Chrissie Hynde hasn't exactly been indiscriminate about letting her music be used in commercials. So fans may have been surprised to hear her 1980 Pretenders song "Message of Love" in a Levi Dockers TV spot that began airing recently--at least until they saw the ending.

The ad features a young couple tracking down a mouse in their house and chasing it with a frying pan. But when the man catches the critter and holds it up by the tail, both humans are won over by its cuteness quotient. In the closing shot, the mouse is seen frolicking in a wheel, while the happy couple looks on from a futon.

That's the Hynde hook, given the rocker's record as an ardent animal rights activist--or so you'd think. In fact, it's all a happy coincidence.

"Apparently it's just a case of cosmic forces converging, or karma," says Hynde's spokeswoman Liz Rosenberg . "All Chrissie knew was there was going to be a cute guy in jeans. But she'll be thrilled."

Dan Matthews, director of campaigns for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), an organization to which Hynde has lent much support, was thrilled when told about the ad.

"It's a giant step in the right direction," he says. "We collect good ads and bad ads regarding their messages about animals and give out awards, and it sounds like Levi will be near the top with this message."

Expect a big PETA presence when the Pretenders and fellow veggies the B-52's tour together this spring.

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