Even though the weather indicates otherwise, the calendar and our post-Labor Day doldrums tell us that the summer of 2002 is fading fast. And while this is always a sad annual development for the sunshine junkies and mountain-ranger types among us, concertgoers might well find reason to celebrate the turning of nature's page this year. Fall, mercifully, brings with it a chance to erase the memory of what was ultimately not so much a season of stars as a summer of bummers.
A slow economy, stratospheric ticket prices -- made all the more painful by the inevitable string of vaguely defined service charges (typically, an extra $16 for...convenience? facilities? order processing?) -- and a general glut of some pretty mediocre musical fare all contributed to a disappointing year for concerts. Ticket buyers had too many options and too little cash, artists had too high a demand for fees and the city simply had too many rooms to fill.
For once, that's something on which all three of Denver's major concert promoters can agree.
"Obviously, it's been an off summer," says Clear Channel Entertainment's Chuck Morris. "You combine the stock market, the turn down of some major companies in town and the tourism that came down because of the fires and droughts, and you've got a down period."
Some indicators of just how down it was? We might have guessed things would be rough in May, when House of Blues head Barry Fey appeared in an advertisement wearing nothing but a somber expression and a sign that read "Please Buy Tickets." As the season progressed, concert cancellations became almost the norm, especially at the tented CityLights Pavilion, the new joint venture between CCE and Kroenke Sports that opened in the Pepsi Center parking lot in June. During its flagship year, the venue bailed out of shows by the Israeli Orchestra, jazzman Roy Haynes and Birds of a Feather and John Tesh. CCE also moved the multi-bill Area:2 Festival from its previous home at the Pepsi Center to CityLights, a venue with more than 10,000 fewer seats, and the upcoming KBPI Infest, to be headlined by Disturbed, at Red Rocks was also canceled.
"As far as peoples' reactions go, we were pleased with how things went at Universal Lending [CityLights Pavilion]," Morris says. "But there was a learning curve and no, we didn't do as well as we had hoped. But really, you have down years and up years; I'm just used to it. I've seen it before and will see it again." Morris stresses that CCE is ending the year on a strong note, with sold-out shows from Tom Petty, Bonnie Raitt and Lyle Lovett and John Mayer. "I like to think about it as a prizefighter getting back up after looking sluggish in the first couple of rounds," he says.
House of Blues took a couple of beatings in its own schedule, as well. Its Christian-rock-centric Festival of Life, featuring Jars of Clay and headliner Amy Grant, was axed in August after poor advance ticket sales of fewer than 1,000, which Fey blames on lackluster support from the local affiliate of Christian-broadcast company K-Love, 91.1 FM/KLDV. Another of the company's big shows at Red Rocks -- a triple bill featuring Lenny Kravitz, Pink and Abandoned Pools -- was canceled on the day of the show because of Kravitz's "problems with his voice." (A new date has yet to be set.) Fey says his company also took hits on shows for which it had high expectations -- 3,900 tickets sold to Van Halen/Sammy Hagar in the 18,000-seat Fiddler's Green, for example -- and found redemption in the youth.
"The only things that really did well were the kids' shows," he says. "Blink 182, Eminem. We could have sold another 3,000 tickets to both of those shows. The doom and gloom I predicted wasn't so bad because of those shows. But it's kind of a mixed blessing, because the parents deprive themselves and don't go to shows so that the kids can. You gain the kids but lose the adult tickets."
Jesse Morreale of Nobody in Particular Presents says that while his company didn't have to cancel any shows because of slumping sales, it also didn't escape the problems that plagued his competitors.
"Everything could have done a little bit better," demurs Morreale. "When you're in a crowd, you can't really tell, but there's always just that last 10 percent of ticket sales that could be better and in a lot of cases weren't this year. Just because of our volume, we couldn't have had as bad a summer as some of the others, but there were high points and low points. I think that between ticket prices and the economy, and there being just way too much stuff out there, it just wasn't a good combination. Because it's not like it was a whole lot of quality stuff, either."
You can say that again, Jess. There were more dinosaurs in Colorado this summer than there have been since the Jurassic era. Sure, we've been in a drought, but it started raining aged hair bands way back in June. Courtesy of Clear Channel, we were treated to performances from Kansas, America, Meatloaf, Dream Theater, Ted Nugent and, my favorite, the VH-1 Triple Shot of Rock triumvirate of Eddie Money, Loverboy and Survivor at CityLights Pavilion. House of Blues brought Poison, Cinderella, Winger, Judas Priest and Rush to our fair city, while NIPP's primary contribution to the summer-long snoozefest was the Deep Purple/Scorpions show at Red Rocks.
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So, to what do we owe the influx of warmed-over glam-metal and other mediocre shows that flooded the city all season long? Morreale says a contract the three promoters signed with the city -- a seven-year deal that requires each to place at least twelve shows into Red Rocks each year -- had something to do with it, as did a general climate of competition for competition's sake, in which promoters hesitated to leave a building empty when a rival's was full.
"I think every night there was at least one or more things to do, and that's just too much," he says. "You've got Clear Channel and the new building they had to put shows in, and Fiddler's, and the Fillmore, and we had our commitment to the city. That's a whole lot of stuff to bring in."
"Promoters don't like to say no to acts," Morris says. "There are so many interwoven relationships. I think we all got a little careless when it came to that. And I suspect, next year, everyone will be a little more careful. You have some artists who are bigger than life -- Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen -- where you could be in a depression and we'll do well. But in this economy, unless a show is some kind of event, it's just not going to do as well as anyone would like."
Fair enough. But next year, gentlemen, please go easy on the cheese.