Who missed seeing Will Ferrell cavorting like a top-shelf 1970s news dude in Anchorman? Or that hilarious dodgeball spoof featuring Ben Stiller in the really funny moustache?
You see, Hollywood is killer at making us feel that if we miss the new summer blockbuster, we are doomed to fidget uncomfortably at every social occasion as our peers volley quotables from the flicks du jour.
The music industry should be taking notes.
How many of you attended last week's Curiosa Tour, which included a rare San Diego appearance by Robert Smith and The Cure, plus some of the best bands in the international underground? Were you all set with floor seats to get a close-up view of Britney's new falsies? Did you have pot-friendly lawn seats for Lollapalooza?
Probably not. For once, that rotten smell wasn't just the Padres annual late-summer meltdown; it was the stench of the concert industry taking a collective dump.
The first signs of trouble occurred in May when Lolloapalooza organizers canned the alternative circus because ticket sales were way, way below projections. And this was the most eclectic lineup in years, boasting Morrissey, Sonic Youth, the Flaming Lips and a reunited Pixies. Tours by Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Marc Anthony were soon cancelled for a myriad of reasons, leaving local promoters with few “big” names to market.
Turns out Britney didn't really get a serious boo-boo in the knee region-the only thing she injured was her pocketbook and pride by not selling enough seats.
While sales of CDs are up this year for the first time in a long time, the struggling economy and higher ticket prices have created a more critical and frugal concert buyer. Let's say, for instance, a person bought a two-day pass to Coachella-that cost them $140. Such a shelling doesn't leave your average alternative-music fan with enough coin to pick up a ticket to many more large-scale or “shed” shows.
As a result, concerts for big names like Van Halen, Rush, Dave Matthews and Ozzfest were forced to include blue-light specials to draw people out. Industry companies like House of Blues began “2 for Tuesdays” when the public could buy one ticket for the regular price and receive a second ticket for free. Many venues, including Coors Amphitheatre, slashed ticket prices for lawn seats to as little as $10. According to an article in Glide Magazine, for one day in mid-July, concert goliath Clear Channel Entertainment dropped prices at Northern California arena shows to $20, including parking and fees.
Even the smaller venues have felt the lull.
“The Casbah, after having one of our worst months in many years in June, has had a very busy summer,” says Tim Mays, owner of the Midtown rock dive. “June is always one of our slower months at the club. July was one of the busier months we've had in many years. So go figure.”
“We can't really come up with reasons why business is off-and we're talking 20 to 50 percent,” said Gary Bongiovanni in an article on msnbc.com. “It's got all of us scratching our heads.” Bongiovanni is the editor-in-chief of Pollstar, a publication which monitors the U.S. concert business.
Superstar tours by Prince, Simon & Garfunkel and Madonna have enjoyed sellouts, and smaller, low-cost package tours like blink-182/No Doubt and the Warped Tour have also enjoyed large crowds and high revenue. The three-day Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, Tenn. scored its third annual sellout, with 90,000 tickets sold. Last weekend's Street Scene nearly hit 100,000 in total attendance.
Many of the touring musical acts skew to older audiences, leaving the younger demographic shut out of the summer concert season (which may explain the success of this year's Street Scene, which made both days of the event all-ages, and boasted teen-friendly bands like AFI and Jimmy Eat World).
The appeal of spending $30 plus service charge, plus parking fees to sit on a dusty lawn at an outdoor amphitheater a thousand yards from the performer seems to be rapidly fading. Add sitting in hour-long traffic jams, $90 T-shirts (Madonna), $9 beers and dubious sound systems, and buying the entire live show on iTunes for about $15 seems a whole lot more appealing.
Perhaps this is the ripple effect of what the music business has been dealing with for the last three years. Hopefully, artists and promoters wake up sooner than the record companies, because in the end it's the fans that will still smell the stench of a greedy industry feeding on itself.
Britney and Morrissey might want to consider booking their shows at more intimate, bang-for-your-buck venues. Do a three-night stand at SDSU's Open Air Theatre instead of one over-packed arena show. Give kids the feeling that if they miss this, they'll be fidgeting uncomfortably sometime in the future.