Country music sets the stage for the return of live concerts – Billboard


Bobby Reynolds loved everything that passed on his desk. The senior vice president of AEG Presents in Las Vegas knew that as the coronavirus pandemic abated, many major artists would be eager to get back to work – and as he began to book shows for the new Resort hotels World and Virgin, he found managers and agents particularly accommodating.

What he didn’t expect was how many A-List acts he would juggle at once: in November, two Old Dominion nights at the Cosmopolitan, plus the residences of Luke Bryan and Carrie Underwood. at the Resorts World theater; in December, Luke Combs at T-Mobile Arena and Little Big Town at the Virgin Hotel theater. “It’s good to create a lot of opportunities for people who haven’t worked for a while,” says Reynolds. “But then you watch all the shows you book and you realize, ‘Wow, it’s going to take a lot of work to sell and stage all of these shows. “”

With the pandemic hopefully in the rearview mirror, country music is playing a key role in the return of the concert industry. Twelve major country music tours – each expected to attract at least 10,000 fans – will visit Los Angeles before Thanksgiving, while Dallas begins a streak in late July in which a major country show is scheduled every weekend through October. (In 2019, less than a third of major concerts during the same period were given by country artists.)

Ticket sales so far have been strong, but business dynamics are also starting to fuel concerns about the overheating market before a recovery can really take hold. As demand for post-pandemic emissions nears record highs, developers now face a dilemma: how to profit from a bull market – and hope not to end up with the sack if that market becomes too saturated.

“From the numbers I see, the superstar artists are going to have a great year,” says promoter Louis Messina. “But if I wasn’t sure about an act, I might reconsider taking them out on the road or pushing the ticket price limits too far.” For artists who, before the pandemic, were ready to take the plunge to a higher level of venues, that could mean sticking to less ambitious venues a year from now with a lot of promise but little certainty.

Country touring oversaturation fears go back decades, based on the idea that the amount of money consumers will pay to attend a wide variety of concerts – from megastars to arena and stadium tours; other acts playing in smaller venues, festivals, state and county fairs, and rodeos – is pretty static and too many shows at one market at one time could cannibalize either side’s ticket sales. others. Promoters of the genre typically try to space out shows “to give themselves as much room as possible,” says 191 Touring talent buyer Brock Jones. “It was a courtesy to your colleagues, but it was also a smart business.”

This pipeline of shows that has dried up amid COVID-19 is about to be inundated and may prove those old assumptions to be wrong. Combs, Old Dominion, Maren Morris, Dierks Bentley, Thomas Rhett, Brad Paisley, Chris Stapleton, Ashley McBryde and Scotty McCreery will all hit the road before July 4th. After that, Garth Brooks relaunches his 2020 stadium tour, Reba McEntire relaunches his arena tour before returning to his Las Vegas residence with Brooks & Dunn, George Strait comes out of “retirement” for the 10th consecutive year to play in Vegas and headline the Austin City Limits Festival, and Willie Nelson is relaunching his traveling festival Outlaw Country. Blake Shelton, Kelsea Ballerini, Tanya Tucker, Brothers Osborne, Lady A, Eric Church, Kane Brown, Keith Urban, Kip Moore, Little Big Town and Dan + Shay are also expected to tour.

So far, reimbursement requests for shows postponed to 2020 have been low and “ticket sales are increasing in almost every category,” says Bryan Perez of AXS Tickets, America’s second largest ticketing company. North. That’s thanks in large part to Nashville’s most powerful marketing tool, FM radio, which continued last year to promote a new group of actors preparing to launch their touring careers. Meanwhile, promoters preparing for releases were increasingly able to use data from a growing streaming audience. According to MRC Data, the country audience jumped 21.4% in March and April 2020, and the overall market share of the streaming music genre increased from 6.9% before COVID-19 to 7.5% after. locking.

In the opinion of some promoters, this hardly justifies the problems of supersaturation. “Looking ahead to the year ahead and worrying that people will be exhausted by too many stars hitting the road seems counterproductive,” says Canadian promoter Jim Cressman of Invictus Entertainment.

But beyond navigating ticket sales, promoters may be faced with another challenge: browsing an intimidating map of states with wildly varying COVID-19 restrictions. A number of them, including New York and California, will require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test at least 72 hours in advance for indoor events of 5,000 people or more, while States like Florida and Texas have virtually no restrictions and are considering banning mandatory vaccine requirements. (With Canada barely emerging from lockdown, most tours plan to skip the country until next year.)

There is also the potential for a short-term labor shortage: the pandemic has reduced the number of roadies and technicians available, many of whom have found new jobs in the past year. Now, with dozens of artists on the road at the same time, promoters are worried about a shortage of stage and sound equipment that could drive up the costs of tours that already operate on low margins. Higher costs also make financial planning more difficult, Messina says, especially if ticket sales collapse. Yet, like many others like him, these concerns did not dampen the promoter’s eagerness to return to his business.

“I am optimistic but realistic,” says Messina. “There is absolutely a cap – anyone who thinks that there isn’t a finite amount of money that can be taken out of the market is wrong. But neither can we be afraid to take risks and hit the road again.

This story originally appeared in the June 26, 2021 issue of Billboard.


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