Lollapalloza, Coachella, Bonnaroo draw crowds

The recorded music business has been combating an eight-year funk that, on the surface, looks like a recession unto itself.

This year’s first quarter will likely post another double-digit drop from the year previous, as sales are likely to just squeeze past 100 million units, a 10% dip from 2007. Sales of digital tracks are up 27% to $259.4 million as of March 23.

The concert industry, which has been reduced to two major players, has been fighting back, with an increase in regional festivals. Rather than put Lollapalooza on the road, for example, promoters have claimed a chunk of land — a Chicago park, and a date — the first weekend in August. That concept, which starts with Coachella the last weekend in April and includes Tennessee’s Bonnaroo in June, is being expanded into northern New Jersey (Bamboozle, All Points West), Denver (Mile High) San Francisco (Outside Lands), Pryor, Okla. (Rocklahoma), Quincy, Wash. (Sasquatch), and Calgary (Sled Island Festival), as well as Chicago (Pitchfork, Lollapalooza).

Modeled on successful ventures in Europe, the fests provide dozens of thematically and culturally aligned bands, a considerable bang for the buck and an air of exclusivity in which like-minded fans can gather. A number of acts are booked in multiple U.S. festivals: Jack Johnson and the Roots are in five, the Felice Brothers are booked for four.

Expansion, though, comes with its drawbacks. Bonnaroo, which has its roots in the jam band movement, has received some online lashings for venturing into music that doesn’t fit its model; and Coachella has taken some ribbing for its headliners (Jack Johnson, Roger Waters) not fitting the perceived indie rock aesthetic.

Beyond the festivals, though, more and more acts are asking their fans to shell out cash in the winter and early spring for summer concerts. Early-bird specials — tickets going on sale between three and five months before the concert — have been used this year by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Rod Stewart, Tim McGraw and the double bill of Maroon 5 and Counting Crows.

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