Cost of rocking: Will locals pay to see big gigs?
If ever there were any doubts that Charlottesville has gone from sleepy little town to national concert tour destination, they died a quick death sometime between the morning of Monday, March 23 and the morning of Tuesday, March 24. Within that 24-hour span, three Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame inductees and a Country Music Hall of Famer all announced Charlottesville dates as part of their upcoming tours.
It began when the Charlottesville Pavilion heralded the coming of former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne on Wednesday, June 10, singer-songwriter Jackson Browne on Tuesday, August 4, and honky tonk legend George Jones on Saturday, August 8. Those tickets will all go on sale on Friday, March 27 at 10am.
And then just when local music fans started counting their nickels and dimes, trying to decide which Pavilion show to attend, the John Paul Jones Arena announced that iconic rock outfit Metallica had scheduled a Charlottesville date on Saturday, October 17. Those tickets become available on Saturday, April 11 at 10am.
While these shows are great news for fans of live music all over town, a key question remains: With Americans cutting back on luxury spending due to adverse economic conditions, will local music fans buy tickets to all these shows?
Already, there are serious indicators that the local demand for big ticket gigs is waning. Last year, after Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band announced they were coming to the JPJ, the more than 15,000 tickets sold out in mere minutes. Now, the Boss is making an encore appearance on Tuesday, May 5, and there just isn't the same clamor to see the show. Nearly two months after Springsteen's show went on sale, tickets are still available for purchase.
Add to that the factor that U2, arguably the world's most popular rock band, just made it official that they are coming to town, and Charlottesville promoters may see fans begin to pick and choose which big name bands they see.
For his part, JPJ general manager Larry Wilson is unfazed.
"People always pick and choose," says Wilson. "The good thing is that there's very little overlap in the demographics of all the shows that were just announced, and they're spaced out over a series of months."
The tickets for these new dates won't come cheap. The cheapest general admission ticket the Pavilion announced Monday was $25 for George Jones, ranging all the way up to $59 "gold circle" tickets to see Jackson Browne. Meanwhile, metalheads will have to whip out some serious plastic to see Metallica, at a price range of $51 to $71 before service fees.
And fans may just decide to skip all of the above in order to be able to see U2. Though the ticket prices for their upcoming stadium shows in Boston, New York, and Chicago have yet to be announced, tickets to catch their 2005 "Vertigo" tour averaged just under $100 apiece.
Wilson says that the concert industry at large has become more conscious of the bad economy's affect on fans and are adjusting accordingly.
"We're all realizing that when people are losing their jobs, we need to look at our ticket prices," says Wilson. "For example, for the Keith Urban show coming up, he's selling $22 tickets, which is way down."
Even before the economic meltdown, it looked as though Charlottesville might have a case of entertainment ennui. In October 2007, the Hook published a cover story that examined the issue of a local live music market oversaturated with big gigs. At that point, the Police were on the eve of bringing their top-grossing reunion tour to the JPJ, and yet tickets were still going unclaimed at the box office, and a Bob Dylan-Elvis Costello double bill did not play to a capacity arena (though JPJ officials would later tell the Hook they had not put every seat in the house on sale for that show).
Despite the dark clouds hovering over the global economy, Wilson says he's sunny about his arena and Charlottesville maintaining their collective status as major concert hub.
"My mantra has always been if fans buy tickets, artists will keep coming," says Wilson. "It remains to be seen what will happen in the current economy, but so far our sales are strong, and artists have kept coming."
–updated Tuesday, March 24 at 11:43am