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Power Packages

GRAMMY Magazine – November 1, 2002
[Original article © 2003 grammys.aol.com]

Power Packages:
Multi-act concert tour bills are becoming more commonplace

GRAMMY.com
Chuck Crisafulli

Back in the early ’90s, when hair-metal bands were at the peak of their powers, it would have taken a hard-driving week of concert-going to catch shows by the likes of Warrant, Dokken, Ratt and Firehouse. But in September, it only took a single ticket to see all four former chart-topping bands sharing a bill at the Hollywood Palladium.

As ticket prices continue to escalate, and as it becomes increasingly harder for single bands to sell out larger concert venues, the package tour has become an attractive option for bands, fans, and promoters alike. And, while multi-act bills are nothing new in the concert business, packages are increasingly being put together around a musical concept: the “’80s Wave” tour offers fans a chance to see General Public, Flock of Seagulls and Gene Loves Jezebel; the “Rock Never Stops” tour presents Tesla, Vince Neil, Jackal and Skid Row; and the current Eddie Money/Loverboy/Survivor tour is a triple-scoop treat for arena rock fans. One of the most successful concert lineups of the summer of 2002 was also one of the largest packages and highest of concept — the O Brother, Where Art Thou?-inspired bluegrass celebration of the “Down From the Mountain” tour, which featured Alison Krauss, Emmy Lou Harris, Ralph Stanley, and those now-famous men of constant sorrow, the Soggy Bottom Boys.

“Packaging is not a new idea, but we are seeing more of it,” says Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of the concert-business trade publication Pollstar. “It’s a tight market and fans have a lot of choices where they [can] spend their money. You have to offer people value, especially if they’ve seen you before. There are a lot more open amphitheaters out there now and the business has continued to consolidate over the summer months — two-thirds of the concert business revenue is earned between Memorial Day and Labor Day. That’s why you see combinations like the ’80s packages and the metal packages. If you can’t sell out those amphitheaters as a solo act, it makes a lot of sense to team up with other acts.”

Is it ever difficult for package acts to concede that their arena-packing days are behind them? “I assure you that every act on a package would love to be a solo headliner again,” chuckles Mark Hyman, co-CEO of Ashley Talent International, which is currently fielding both the “Rock Never Stops” tour and a “New World Disorder” package featuring the Gin Blossoms, the Spin Doctors, 7 Mary 3, and Sponge. “And perhaps one of them will break through again. This has always been a business of the long-shot winner. People say, ‘That could never happen’ and boom, it happens. In the meantime, the reason the bands join together is symbiotic. It’s mutual interest. They’re all appearing before more people than they would separately and it’s a more financially rewarding experience, too. We go to these bands with 40 to 60 shows lined up, and 40 to 60 nights of guarantee is very attractive to them. Plus you have the opportunity to build your audience if you can knock out the people that came to see one of the other bands.”

For many of the artists on the “Down from the Mountain” tour, the package approach offered not a return to the big spotlight but a first chance to revel in it as they played packed amphitheaters across the country. “There was just an unbelievable response,” says Dan Tyminski, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist in both the Soggy Bottom Boys and the Alison Krauss-led Union Station. “To hear that many people screaming for a banjo — it was my life’s dream.”

The opportunity to hear those kind of screams tends to trump any ego problems that might arise when artists share a stage. “A lot of bands in packages have been on top at one point, but they’ve also been around long enough to be realists,” says Rob Juarez of the Boss Booking Agency, which specializes in ’80s-oriented packages. “At some point people give up caring about how many hits they had or how they used to get treated — they want to be on a stage playing for people. In all my packages, I’ve only had one band that had a big ego problem and made it unpleasant enough for everyone else that they were asked to leave the package half way through. If you go out there thinking it’s still 1985, you’re in trouble.

“My approach, and the approach of the bands I work with, is to put together a great party, where a fan who spends his $30 is going to get four to five hours of music from multiple-GRAMMY winning acts with millions of records sold. You end up spending about a buck-fifty a hit. That’s a good night out for everybody.”

Fans do want to hear the hits when they go to see a package bill, and there may be some artists who get tired of playing them. But others, like Dan Tyminski, have no trouble giving the fans what they came for. “I never pictured myself ever having a hit,” he laughs. “It’s still a very new experience for me to start a song and have people cheer immediately. It’s going to take quite a while to get tired of that.”

(Chuck Crisafulli is an L.A.-based writer who contributes regularly to the Hollywood Reporter and Musicplayer.com.)