Touring stages shifting to rock and country

One roadblock after another has been placed in the career paths of pop performers whose careers date back to the 1950s.

The major label contracts disappeared in the 1980s, but more recently, the touring staples — performing arts centers, casinos and fairs — have seen a shift to rock and country. Younger talent buyers have taken over, state fairs have lost their fear of rock ‘n’ roll and casinos are targeting bands that gamblers favor.

Basically, the bands that broke 30-45 years ago — the Beach Boys, Allman Brothers, Tower of Power, Grand Funk Railroad — which pushed the likes of Andy Williams, Johnny Mathis and aspiring crooners off the FM airwaves, are now taking over the 2,000- to 4,000-seaters and getting paydays in the mid-five to low-six figures.

“The days of performing arts centers only doing Mel Torme and acts like that are gone,” notes one music agent who asked to not be identified. “This has become a tremendous opportunity of growth for so-called ‘heritage acts’ (Pat Benatar, Jethro Tull, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Peter Frampton, for example) over the last decade.”

Navigating the music business — recordings and concerts — has required them to think creatively on multiple levels. And the last decade has seen performers try the outrageous — Pat Boone’s big band recording of heavy metal tunes continues to stand out — and the inevitable — jazz albums, PBS specials, mentoring younger singers in the studio, and on TV shows such as “American Idol,” the U.K.’s “Pop Idol” and “Canadian Idol.”

Pollstar’s Gary Bongiovanni says many of the ’50s acts no longer have a general audience, and despite younger musicians reintroducing the material of the veterans, there is no spillover effect.

“It’s the natural aging of the audience,” he says. “Glenn Miller Band fans have faded into the distance. People booking fairs are no longer scared of rock ‘n’ roll or limited to Conway Twitty. And when an artist is booked into casino, it’s not how much of a crowd they’ll draw, but how much will (their audience) spend gambling.”

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