Big summer: Only Prince tops Tour de Dave
Aside from allegedly creating a big stink in Chicago [see sidebar], the Dave Matthews Band certainly cleaned up on its summer tour. The jam-rock quintet grossed $9.2 million for the first six months of 2004, according to Pollstar magazine.
Based on 11 shows in eight North American cities, average gross was $1.1 million per city. This was just the beginning of the tour, though– 207,000 tickets. By September 30, they had sold almost 900,000 tickets, with an average ticket price around $43. That week, Pollstar pegged their box office draw as second only to that of the newly rejuvenated Prince.
As head of the foremost authority in concert tracking, Pollstar editor Gary Bongiovanni offers insight into DMB's remarkable decade-plus ticket-selling prowess. Still, he suggests that they might do well to aim higher still.
"This probably wasn't the best year for the Dave Matthews Band, although they still did all right," says Bongiovanni. "Business has been off for pretty much everybody."
He says ticket sales for live music events took a nosedive several months ago and haven't yet fully rebounded. Arena shows have been plentiful, but this has meant trouble for other venues.
"We saw in mid-April a pretty significant decline in ticket sales," Bongiovanni says. "It was a tough year for amphitheaters, there's no doubt about that, but you can only theorize why."
Indeed, Bongiovanni has a few theories, since attendance began to fall just as gas prices rose and as the death toll in Iraq began to mount.
"Something changed in the American psyche that made people want to hold on to their money more," he says. "Nobody is going to describe this economy as robust."
In addition, ticket prices for the top 50 acts have increased by about $7 apiece, and Bongiovanni believes older fans are less likely to spend hefty sums for distant lawn seats in order to watch pixelated cinematography of a favorite artist projected onto a screen.
The closest tours nipping at the heels of the Charlottesville-based quintet, according to Pollstar, have been the tours staged by classic rock icons Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, and Van Halen, all of which grossed less than DMB despite ticket prices topping $70.
DMB's sales might have been marginally better had it not been for the latest in their incessant barrage of live albums. The June 29 release of The Gorge brought the running total to 12 discs– and that's not counting any DVDs, or the six-disc set chronicling the entire three-night fling with the famed Colorado stage.
The Gorge hasn't been the only high-profile show of late. A free September 12 performance at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park was hyped by Budweiser as part of its "True Music" advertising campaign. Attendees were asked for voluntary donations, and the proceeds were then donated to Bay area charities and non-profit organizations. A similar model was used for last year's Central Park performance in New York and its subsequent double live album, of which Charlottesville's own Music Resource Center was one of the prime beneficiaries.
The most daring of DMB's activities this season, however, was undoubtedly an early October interstate rampage sponsored by the liberal political crusaders behind MoveOn.org. After first playing a benefit for Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry at Radio City Music Hall in early July, Dave announced that– along with Americana idol Bruce Springsteen– he would be leading the "Vote For Change" tour.
The exceedingly leftist concert series also featured grunge rock luminaries Pearl Jam, who recently led some concert-goers to walk out mid-show after lead singer Eddie Vedder stomped on a George W. Bush mask, as well as the Dixie Chicks, who were blasted by country audiences after one Chick chastised the president in early 2003.
In an effort to push Kerry into the lead, the extensive Vote For Change roster was split into smaller two- and three-group contingents, so four or five simultaneous shows could rock "swing states" on any given day. Ticket sales even counted as donations to the political action group's fundraising efforts, a striking contrast to the presence of the nonpartisan voter registration initiative Headcount at earlier DMB shows. Dave performed alongside Jurassic 5, patron saints of postmodern hip-hop, and ATO Records artist My Morning Jacket until the October 11 finale in Florida, perennial epicenter of electoral dysfunction.
"A vote for change is a vote for a stronger, safer, healthier America; a vote for Bush is a vote for a divided, unstable, paranoid America," said the Dave upon the tour's announcement.
"They probably took a little less risk compared to Bruce Springsteen as far as potentially alienating their fans," says Bongiovanni. Jam band audiences, he suspects, are likely to be considerably more liberal than fans of Springsteen or fellow roots-rock Movers John Fogerty and John Mellencamp.
Dave's anti-Bush rigidity seemed to have tempered somewhat by the time the curtains opened.
"You probably know why I'm here and who I'm going to vote for, but democracy depends on whole participation," he said at one of the Vote For Change shows. "So please vote, whoever you're voting for. Now we'll play. That's what we came for."
FILE PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO