Bands Warm Up for Busy Summer on the Road

Vans Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman says his roving rock and extreme sports festival is selling better than last year. The tour, which starts June 26 in Pomona, Calif., and features dozens of bands for about $30, has sold more than 35,000 discounted early bird tickets, compared with about 24,000 a year ago. "We won't really know until the end how we're doing," Lyman says. "Warped can sell 75% of its tickets in the last three days before a show, so you're sweating it a bit. But we're very strong at the beginning."

Sonicbids, which connects talent bookers for clubs and festivals with more than 200,000 independent bands, has seen no falloff in demand, says CEO Panos Panay.

South by Southwest, the annual indie-band showcase held in Austin each March, is "a good barometer of how the industry is going to go," Panay says. "This year, they booked 1,800 bands, about 20% more than before, and every venue was jammed. If you had asked me in October what I thought about South by Southwest, I would have been fearful, but we have been fairly insulated."

Not all of the news is rosy. Miami's Langerado Music Festival, which was scheduled for March, fell by the wayside, while Pemberton Festival, which launched last July in British Columbia, announced it was on hiatus until 2010.

Smart packaging, careful routing and increased scaling of ticket prices to consumers' comfort levels have all helped keep live shows attractive.

"Tours that don't have a compelling reason for fans to come see them — a great new album, a significant absence from the marketplace or a package that's a great value — could struggle," says Billboard touring editor Ray Waddell.

Teamed attractions such as Bob Dylan/Willie Nelson/John Mellencamp, Chicago/Earth Wind & Fire, Blondie/Pat Benatar, Aerosmith/ZZ Top and Eric Clapton/Steve Winwood have given fans a lot of bang for their limited bucks.

"Normally, Clapton would be the only act of significance on a bill," Bongiovanni says. "But putting Winwood on there may be an homage to the economy. Clapton's fans are probably people who have seen him before. So when it comes to making the decision whether to see him this year, having Steve Winwood on the bill is a new wrinkle."

The Warped Tour is aimed at 13- to 19-year-olds, but until last year also drew 24- to 30-year-olds who were Warped fans in their youth, Lyman says. But the tour lost that crowd when fuel prices soared last summer, because they "needed money just to buy gas and go to work." This year, the tour has added some older bands to the bill that those fans might want to see.

Musicians keenly felt gas prices last summer, but they don't see the economic downturn having a similar effect.

"When the gas prices went up, that was an instant adjustment that we had to deal with because of trucks and buses," says Marc Roberge, O.A.R.'s guitarist/vocalist. "This year, I don't know that we anticipate anything that drastic. But I think that where parents used to give their kids $100 to have a good time, people are not as free with their cash."

Bands Fine-Tune Their Thinking

O.A.R. is one of many acts doing what it can to give fans something extra. The band just started liveoar.com, a website where audience members can get a free download of the concert they just attended. No Doubt is letting ticket holders download the band's entire catalog free, and Coldplay is giving away a live album.

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