Concert scene is booming this year

SOUNDS OF SUMMER

May 30, 1993|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

Is there anything more optimistic than a booking agent in the spring?

You wouldn't think so from looking at the year's summer concert schedule. After two years of limited offerings and lackluster concert crowds, the summer of '93 is shaping up as big and busy, with a host of major acts heading out on tour.

Unlike last year, when the best the bookers could come up with were faded fogeys like Emerson, Lake & Palmer, this season's offerings include some of the biggest and hippest names in the business. Among those heading out are Aerosmith, Dr. Dre, Rod Stewart, Peter Gabriel and the Grateful Dead, as well as the Lollapalooza '93.

So far, there's plenty for those on the business end -- particularly venue owners and concert promoters -- to be happy about. Already, tickets have sold out for shows by Van Halen, Jimmy Buffett, and Neil Diamond (although Diamond just added a second show to meet the demand). And though this area's Lollapalooza date won't be announced until Wednesday (WHFS-FM will have a live announcement at 9 p.m.), Lollapalooza tickets in other cities were snapped up in hours.

Why the big change? Some, like Jean Parker, general manager at the Merriweather Post Pavilion, see an increase in consumer confidence -- at least on the entertainment front. "As a whole, consumers are going to be a little bit more liberal with their dollars," she says, adding that even though the Pavilion booked fewer shows than usual last year, "Our average attendance was up dramatically."

Others, like concert promoter Seth Hurwitz, co-owner of I.M.P. Productions and the 930 Club in Washington, think the difference is simply that bands, booking agents and promoters have learned from the mistakes of years past.

"One of the reasons it might be a better summer than the last few is the acts that stiffed for the last several years are not going out," he says. "They're finally being replaced by tours like the Spin Doctors and 10,000 Maniacs, and things like that will do well. The problem with previous summers was that you just had these mediocre acts going out and thinking the market was still there, and it's not. So they've been replaced by more contemporary, cooler shows.

"The dogs are finally dying out."

Changes everywhere

Regardless of how these promoters view the coming season, almost everyone is making changes. Perhaps the most pronounced are at Pier Six, which has responded to last year's disappointing sales with a near-complete managerial overhaul.

"We now use an outside booker for our attractions," says new general manager Brian Liddicoat. "The umbrella of the Baltimore Center for Performing Arts is now taking a more active interest in the Pier, giving us the support that's necessary to make sure that people understand that it's a viable performance center.

"So far, looking at the cross section of what's booked for the season, I think we've done a pretty good job."

Even so, optimism only goes so far in the music business. Thus, despite a general consensus that things are getting better, the more candid admit that it won't be totally smooth sailing this summer.

"There are still too many shows," says Hurwitz. "People still only have so much money. They're going to pick and choose."

Indeed they will, particularly given the amount of concert activity crowded into various portions of the season. For instance, there are more than 30 shows booked for the period between June 18 and 28, including dates by such heavy-hitters as Jimmy Buffett (June 18, 19 and 20 at Merriweather), Peter Gabriel (June 22 at the Capital Centre), and the Grateful Dead and Sting (June 25 and 26 at RFK Stadium).

Were each of these shows appealing to different audiences, this sort of congestion would be no problem. But in many cases, there are simultaneous shows hoping for the same crowd, as on June 23, when alternative rockers the Sundays play Shriver Hall the same time as the Spin Doctors, Soul Asylum and Screaming Trees do their thing at Merriweather.

In short, having a good show booked doesn't guarantee an audience will attend, says Michael Jaworek of Chesapeake Concerts. "My feeling is that a lot of this is just optimism."

Packaging

Perhaps that's why packaging is such a big deal this year. This way, instead of relying on a single big name to pull in crowds, a promoter or venue has the advantage of several well-known names sharing the bill. Lollapalooza is generally recognized as the package approach's greatest triumph, but it works just as well with country and roots music as it does with alternative acts.

"This seems to be what the kids want to see," says Don Wehner, president of Upfront Promotions. "It's allowing new artists to get exposure where last year and the year before last, they couldn't."

"They're competing for people's dollar the way that any business should, by offering greater value for the money," agrees Hurwitz.

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