A sagging economy hasn't put the brakes on bands hitting the road this summer. Enticed by high-profile acts and discount tickets, fans are still opting to keep live music in their budgets.
"The popularity of live music continues, and people want to be entertained," says Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the touring trade publication Pollstar. "Maybe they are forgoing a more expensive vacation, staying close to home and treating themselves to a concert."
That's good news for the hundreds of acts beating paths to venues from coast to coast, and indications are that they won't be playing to many empty seats. The industry is coming off a banner 2008 in which it grossed $1 billion in summer ticket sales, according to Billboard Boxscore, and observers say 2009 is looking good, too.
Live Nation, the world's biggest promoter of live music and owner of more than 50 amphitheaters across the USA, expects to put on 6,700 concerts globally this summer. The slate includes such heavyweights as Aerosmith, Beyoncé, Bruce Springsteen, Coldplay, U2, the Dave Matthews Band, Elton John & Billy Joel, Green Day, Kenny Chesney, Kings of Leon, Phish and The Dead.
"They are all selling tickets," says Jason Garner, Live Nation's CEO of global music. "The average fan only goes to one or two shows a year, and these are their Kodak moments. There may be 80 baseball games in your city this summer, but only one night with U2."
Then there's teen faves the Jonas Brothers, who were playing clubs two years ago but have sold 850,000 tickets for their summer tour, including some stadium dates. "They're an amazing American success story," Garner says. "Any concern that they were a momentary flash is gone."
Several other signs point to a healthy summer. April's Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in Indio, Calif., traditionally the first big music event of the warm-weather season, had its second-biggest year to date with an aggregate three-day attendance of 160,000 people. That's up from the 151,666 who attended last year. The festival lineup boasted Paul McCartney, The Killers, My Bloody Valentine and Leonard Cohen, and 18% of the concertgoers bought tickets through a new layaway plan.
The country festival Stagecoach, which comes a week after Coachella at the same site, also had more than 100,000 attendees. The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival had more than 400,000 attendees over its two late April/early May weekends.
AEG Live, which produces those festivals and others like Denver's Mile High and New Jersey's All Points West, says business is holding up.
"Our festivals have done exceedingly well so far, which is the first real test of the economy," says AEG CEO Randy Phillips. "It's hard to tell how others will do this summer, because with a festival, you have almost unlimited seating, so people don't have to buy immediately. They are off a bit from last year but not significantly."
Phillips says Michigan's Rothbury Festival, July 2-5, is running about 15% behind last year (it drew 120,820 in 2008), but a drop-off was expected because of the struggling auto industry. "I expected it to be much more difficult than it has been," Phillips says. "People still need to get out of the house."