Gloomy Summer Tour Forecast

The cold days of winter may be dwindling, but members of the touring industry don’t see much hope for a thaw in business this summer.

Lack of titanic touring talent and the possibility of a prolonged recession are the industry’s biggest concerns; overpriced tickets and an excess of amphitheaters in some markets, the bane of past summers, also loom large for summer ’91.

Biggest confirmed name so far is Whitney Houston, who will play arenas and amphitheaters; current tours by Paul Simon, Sting, M.C. Hammer and Vanilla Ice will continue. Still undecided are possible roadtrips by Prince, Guns N’ Roses and Tom Petty – as well as the long-rumored but unconfirmed Led Zeppelin reunion tour.

Absent will be goliaths like the Rolling Stones, the Who, Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney and Madonna.

Hard rock/heavy metal, traditionally a big summertime draw, will be represented most conspicuously by Poison and Cinderella. Ongoing delays in releasing Guns N’ Roses’ “Use Your Illusion” album have put any definite touring plans on hold.

Similarly, the Prince tour is up in the air: According to a Paisley Park Prods, spokesman, a tentative visit to theaters is planned for this spring, followed by arenas in the summer.

“It just doesn’t look like that many artists will be touring at this point,” remarks Carl Freed, exec director of the North American Concert Promoters Assn. “Promoters and agents are going to have to be a little more creative.”

“Everyone’s being very cautious about this summer,” affirms Brad Gelfond, an agent at Triad, which will roll out the Houston, Steve Winwood and Jane’s Addiction tours this year. “If there’s one thing we’ve all learned recently it’s that one needs to package properly.”

The shining example of successful packaging is the long lived Bad Company/Damn Yankees tour; Premier and QBQ joined forces for what was originally believed to be a roadtrip of little interest.

“The popular belief was that Bad Company was washed up and Damn Yankees wasn’t much better,” says one promoter, pointing out that the latter group features ’70s mainstays Ted Nugent, Tommy Shaw of Styx and Night Ranger’s Jack Blades.

But the show clicked with older rock fans, and the Yankees’ self titled debut album, out for almost a year, is hovering near the top 10, powered by the “High Enough” single.

One tour that has benefited from a different kind of creativity is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tour; originally booked into large halls for multiple dates, the show had a difficult time selling ducats (VARIETY, Oct. 22).

Producer Steve Leber shifted the kiddie show to smaller venues, usually for one-nighters, and the rockin’ reptiles now are averaging 80% to 90% capacity. Agent Jerry Ade of Famous Artists confirms that the tour will be extended into the summer.

While the Persian Gulf war has had an effect on European tours by U.S. acts – artists from Frank Sinatra to Cinderella have postponed European jaunts – most observers remain unconvinced that it will hurt domestic business.

“Right at the beginning of the war people were staying home, glued to CNN,” says Gelfond, “but that has pretty much subsided now.”

“There probably will be a lesser amount of tickets being sold, due more to the recession than the war,” says Fred Bohlander of Monterey Peninsula Artists, which will tour Bonnie Raitt, Huey Lewis and the Doobie Bros. this summer. “I hope and feel that ticket prices will be adjusted down this year, which might result in more people turning out for shows.”

“The business runs in cycles,” says NACPA’s Freed. “Some summers run hotter than others. I think it’s just coincidental that we’re seeing a downturn in the economy at the same time. There are not that many album releases scheduled for this summer, and touring usually depends on that.”

While summer traditionally is the hottest touring season, it looks like fall will be the leader this year. Albums from U2, Peter Gabriel, Metallica, Bobby Brown and Van Halen are due then, and all likely will be followed by extensive tours; Dire Straits, originally penciled in as a summer tour, will release its new album about Sept. 1 and begin a tour the following January, per Monterey Peninsula’s Bohlander.

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