Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The future's not bright

Our entertainment writer, Brad Hundt, could probably offer a more incisive commentary on this, but it seems to me that hard times are ahead for Post-Gazette Pavilion, known to the locals as Star Lake Amphitheater. The venue has announced a dozen or so shows for this summer, and the first thing that strikes one is the average age of the performers. Jimmy Buffett and Rod Stewart are both in their 60s. Lynyrd Skynyrd has been around since I was a kid. Then you've got Def Leppard, Poison and Cheap Trick. Dave Matthews and Kid Rock, who are in the range of 40 years old, are spring chickens in this bunch. Sure, there are "younger" groups such as No Doubt, Nickelback and Coldplay on the roster, but they're the exceptions, not the rule. Star Lake drew huge crowds last year for the Police and Tom Petty, the two shows I attended, but the Police concert was a one-shot deal, and the Petty show could possibly have been his last in the area. It seems to me that the success of Star Lake is tied to acts that might not be performing five years from now. In the year 2015, who will be packing them in at these large concert venues? Among newer musical acts, a relative few could be counted upon to fill a 23,000-seat concert site. Could Star Lake survive by scheduling more festival-type shows that package together several groups from a particular genre? That's the type of show I would consider attending, but maybe I'm in the minority. As it is, I don't see a single offering on the Star Lake list that would entice me to drive to Burgettstown, and it's an easy trip for me. Couple that with the cost of tickets for a Star Lake show, and I prefer to go to Pittsburgh and see bands in smaller venues, at a better price. And with the current state of the economy, a lot of other people might be thinking the same way. It could be a slow summer at Star Lake.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

The music business has changed radically even in the last five years. Many of the bands my 20-year-old son likes do most of their marketing on the Internet and can't draw a big enough crowd to fill an amphitheater or an arena. Some of them can't even fill a 2,000-seat theater. Years ago when Star Lake opened, I asked Lance Jones, who was then running the place, if the "shed circuit" would some day be the Vegas of rock, where former headliners played to crowds that could still afford to pay the ticket prices and weren't interested in the new acts. "I hope so," he said. And that looks like it is almost accomplished.

The last three concerts I've seen were in small venues -- David Byrne at the Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland, the Subdudes at the Rex and Glenn Tilbrook at the Hard Rock. I much prefer the smaller places, where you can actually get close enough to the stage to actually see the performers' faces.

There are very few "big" acts I'd go to see -- U2, Peter Gabriel, Yes, McCartney, the Stones, Elton John. I hope that when the new hockey arena opens, some of them will come back.

April 1, 2009 at 6:42 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

I'm with you on the small venues. Although I'd prefer to watch shows outdoors for some reason, if I'm going indoors, I like places such as the Rex and Diesel on the Southside. I can't even remember the last time I saw a show at a place like the Civic Arena. Just not into arena shows at all.

April 2, 2009 at 6:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this is more a testament to how few popular Rock bands there are in music. Rock has slowly been pushed out of the way by pop country, which is really just pop music with a little twang added.

Imagine 10 years from now, when Petty, Stones, Bruce, etc., stop performing. What will be left? Not much.

BTW, prices are ridiculous. The Eagles Hell Freezes Over Tour sold their cheapest tickets for $125 apiece. Ridiculous.

April 2, 2009 at 10:23 AM  
Blogger Brant said...

I would enjoy seeing the Eagles, but I would never pay $125 to do so. To me, they're just showing a total disrespect for their fans by raping them like that at the box office. Really, I can't think of any individual or group that I would pay $125 to see. It just seems too far out there on the conspicuous consumption scale for me. People can spend their money as they wish. I just can't comprehend spending that much for a two- or three-hour show.

April 2, 2009 at 10:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Go check out a piece that the NY Times published yesterday. It's about how those expensive tickets are getting harder to come by, and becoming even more expensive, thanks to resale sites like StubHub and eBay. Brokers and scalpers are scooping up tickets to hot shows in the pre-sale phase, or right after they go on sale, and leaving many fans out in the cold.

Some of the ticket price increases are driven by simple greed, while some of it is also due to performers trying to make up for losses in record sales. But, yeah, the average punter (to use a British term) has to pick and choose his shows carefully when tickets are in the $200-and-up range.

As far as the sheds go, they might be closer to the end of the road than the beginning. There was a boom in constructing those things outside urban areas 20-25 years ago, but the willingness of people to trek to them has declined, particularly as ticket prices have increased. Paying $100 or more for a ticket hurts even more when you're on the lawn and the rain is pouring down.

Moreover, the music industry hasn't spun out many superstars in recent years who can reel in 25,000 people. That's why you see the usual suspects summer after summer, like Dave Matthews and Jimmy Buffett.

In fact, the sheds in the Columbus, Indianapolis and (I think) Nashville recently closed.

And, yes, when the veteran acts finally hang it up, the concert industry is going to be in a tough spot. Probably the only way younger artists would be able to fill those venues is if they're part of package tours like OzzFest or the Vans Warped Tour.

--Brad Hundt

April 2, 2009 at 1:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I should add, another thing that's thinned out the herd of artists who play the sheds in the summer has been the rise of casinos. Some of these folks are opting to play 5,000 to 10,000-seat showrooms, and pack 'em in, rather than face a half or three-quarters empty house at a venue like Star Lake or IC Light.

For musicians who had hits in the 1960s and 1970s, that's also where a lot of their core audience is now hanging out.

--Brad Hundt

April 2, 2009 at 2:08 PM  
Blogger Dale Lolley said...

The last concert I went to see was the White Stripes at the Palumbo Center. Place was packed and they were great.
It was just the right size for that kind of event.
Before that, I saw Galactica and the North Mississippi All-Stars in the strip district. Again, a nice small venue.
But the older I get the fewer concerts I really want or can get to.

But here's a list of newer groups/solo artists that can still pack a place like Star Lake:
Pearl Jam
Red Hot Chilli Peppers (who never play here)
(Possibly) Linkin Park
The Beastie Boys

Those are just some I came up with off the top of my head.

April 2, 2009 at 11:21 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

Just one problem with that list: Most of those groups are older, not newer. Granted, they're younger than the Stones, the Eagles, etc., but they're far from spring chickens. Even Eminem, Linkin Park and Nickelback have been around since the mid-90s. Pearl Jam is approaching its 30th year in the biz. The Chili Peppers and Metallica have been around since the early '80s, and I was 21 (damn, that was a long time ago) when the Beastie Boys came out.

April 3, 2009 at 7:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, it's definitely sobering to realize that the 20th anniversary of Nirvana's "Nevermind" is just two years over the horizon...

--Brad Hundt

April 3, 2009 at 9:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, I think the naming rights to Star Lake expire next year, and it would seem very, very likely that the P-G will not extend that deal considering the woes it (and other newspapers) are experiencing. So it will probably becomes Dick's Sporting Goods Amphitheater, Hi-Fi Buys Amphitheater or something like that.

My favorite name (and I say this with sarcasm) for one of these venues is Tommy Hilfiger at Jones Beach Amphitheater over in suburban NY.

--Brad Hundt

April 3, 2009 at 10:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post got me to asking around town as I am employed at the ampitheatre. They currently have 20 shows scheduled and more on the way. With the recession in a downturn the entertainers are hurting too and album sales are an unreliable revenue source because of downloads leaving touring as the most reliable option. Star Lake will be around for a while.

April 11, 2009 at 12:08 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

I think it depends on what you consider "a while." I would expect they'll be in business for the next couple of years, at least. But five years down the road? I'm not so sure. As Brad noted earlier, similar "sheds" in cities similar in size or bigger than Pittsburgh already have shut down. I'll be curious to see what the attendance figures are this year, what with the economic downturn. Folks like Buffett and Matthews will sell out, but some of the others might struggle to sell tickets. Personally, I'm tired of the same old acts showing up there year after year and would welcome some more festival-style events.

April 11, 2009 at 7:08 PM  

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