A lot of rock bands and concert promoters are singing the summertime blues.
While some major performers — the Police, David Bowie, Simon & Garfunkel — did booming business this summer, many other rock attractions that normally sell out played to half-empty halls.
In Rochester, for example, Marvin Gaye, the Animals, Joe Walsh and Jackson Browne drew sparse audiences to their concerts, losing money for the concert promoter, John Scher Presents Inc. of West Orange, N.J., which puts on most of Rochester's rock concerts.
Elvis Costello's scheduled Aug. 20 performance at the Community War Memorial in Rochester sold so few advance tickets the concert was cancelled.
"With a few exceptions, this has been the worst summer in the 13 years I've been in the business," John Scher told Rolling Stone magazine. "There have never been so many major acts out; they've been falling all over each other."
And most fans simply couldn't see them all. "All of a sudden, there was an awful lot of talent out there," says Jeff Springut, owner of the Red Creek Inn, 300 Jefferson Road. "The market got flooded. I think a lot of performers were anxious to work, and people thought the economy was perhaps stronger than it really was."
David Marsden, an associate producer with John Scher Presents, says that normally one or two poorly attended concerts in Rochester lose money each summer; this year there were four or five out of the 17 major concerts Scher produced in the area. "That's not a great batting average," Marsden says. "People got to the point where they had to be selective about which shows they saw."
Generally, Rochester followed a national pattern of concert attendance this summer. Acts that did well nationwide drew well here; acts that drew poorly across the country did poorly here. Among the losers across the country, according to Rolling Stone magazine, were Linda Ronstadt, Supertramp, Rick Springfield, Men at Work and Joni Mitchell, although Mitchell drew rather well (about 7,000) at her July 18 performance at the Finger Lakes Performing Arts Center in Canandaigua. But there also were notable successes this summer. Two shows at Holleder Stadium, which holds 30,000 people, sold out Journey on June 5 and the Police on Aug. 9.
Because of those strong showings, Marsden says, next year John Scher Presents probably will double the number of shows at the stadium to four. At the War Memorial, sold-out concerts included Z.Z. Top, Kenny Rogers and Def Leppard; Diana Ross sold out the Finger Lakes Performing Arts Center in Canandaigua, and Marsden noted that he could have sold another 2,000-3,000 tickets to that show if there had been room. "We ended up not having a great summer, but we had a decent summer," Marsden says. "We made some money." In Buffalo, Eddie Tice, vice-president of Harvey & Corky Productions, said this summer wasn't even that good: '
"It was terrible; one of the worst summers ever. I think the economy, especially in Buffalo, had a lot to do with it. And there were probably too many acts it seemed like they all came out at once."
For those reasons, says Marsden, music fans mostly decided to hold out for the big attractions. "The bigger the shows, the bigger the event, the more people wanted to be there," says Marsden. "The Police at Holleder wasn't just a concert, it was an event, and everybody waited for it" The shows that got hurt this summer, Marsden says, were the bands that played in theaters seating 2,000-3,000 people, such as Rochester's Auditorium Theater, which holds about 2,500. The Animals, for example, only attracted about 1,800 to the Auditorium for a July 27 concert Another casualty of the summer was Red Creek's Harmonia Gardens, which held about 1,000 people. Harmonia Gardens was 8 tent in the parking lot of the Red Creek, which was forced to close after neighbors complained about noise and the town of Henrietta decided not to extend a liquor license for the facility. "We got off to a good start before disaster struck," says Springut "August was pretty much of a scramble to re-schedule."
Another reason some groups did poorly here this summer was bad timing, Marsden says. Ideally, a performer should tour shortly after his or her album has appeared in the stores, both to encourage sales and to ensure the audience is familiar with the material. Jackson Browne, who attracted only 5,700 to the 10,000-seat War Memorial, went on tour before his album came out. As for Marvin Gaye, who drew about 5,000 to the War Memorial, his Midnight Love album was out long before he went on tour. Naturally, there are exceptions. This year's exception to the rule-of-thumb about album release is Simon and Garfunkle, who have had a hugely successful tour despite the fact their new album, Think Too Much, hasn't been released.