Monday, October 12, 2009

ArtsPreview 2009-10: The season in pop music

Brad Paisley, who plays the Cruzan on Oct. 17.

By Thom Smith

The Allman Brothers Band, Steve Miller, Roger Daltrey, Miley Cyrus, Leonard Cohen, and Lady Gaga.

Those are some of the pop acts that will grace South Florida before the new year. Only one problem: All are playing in Broward County or way down in Miami.

By comparison, the musical calendar in Palm Beach County is dotted with entertainers who can still remember when their fans played phonograph records -- with big holes in the middle, and that lasted only 3 minutes. Even now, in the age of iPods and MP3 recordings, the area's major venues are bringing in the likes of Tony Bennett and the Lettermen and, still going strong in their 61st year, The Four Freshmen.

And they're selling.

“It's amazing how well we're doing,” said Lee Bell, who books the Kravis Center. “We actually have more celebrities on the tour this year, and our Broadway Series is going gangbusters. This year we have 6,700 subscribers already [as of mid-September]. Last year we had 4,150 total. And we still have a month to go.”

Of course, the Kravis's audience skews a bit older than the typical crowd at Cruzan Amphitheatre, but with the likes of Jerry Seinfeld, Billy Crystal and Pink Floyd Experience on the bill, some younger fans will give up beer and tailgating for wine and valet parking.

However, should the opportunity arise to book a younger act, Bell wouldn't slam the door. Performers who've been regulars at major amphitheaters are beginning coming in out of the heat. Bonnie Raitt, who plays Pompano Beach Amphitheatre Oct. 23, is turning an eye toward performing arts centers, Bell said, and had the night not already been taken, he could have booked James Taylor.

“We've not had a problem booking acts,” Bell said. “They all want to work. They're all calling me. Rock acts, on the other hand, don't decide to tour and book until later and by that time all our dates are usually taken. Pop and middle-of-the-road acts are a little more predictable. Performing arts centers usually aren't on rock groups’ radar."

An equally busy and perhaps more diverse house is the Lyric Theatre in Stuart with more than 130 performances into early May. It got started Oct. 9 with jazz flutist Nestor Torres, and continues with the funky Neville Brothers Oct. 16, 10 days of Three Redneck Tenors (Oct. 28-Nov. 8), West Side Story (Nov. 13-15), rock legend Dave Mason (Nov. 17) and on to Lily Tomlin (Jan. 11, 12), Woodstock star Richie Havens (Jan. 14,15), animal expert Jack Hanna (Feb. 9,10), and finally to Australia's Thunder From Down Under (April 17) and classical guitarist Constantinos Jaferis' salute to mom on May 9. That's Variety with a capital V.
The booking success of the Kravis and the Lyric is indicative of change in the business.

Despite his legendary status, Bruce Springsteen, who recently breezed through South Florida, didn't sell out. Even his most devoted fans are choosing not to spend $500 of their dwindling salaries for two tickets. By comparison, Taylor Swift, the hottest star in the country music sky, keeps prices below $100.

“The audience is getting more picky,” AEG Live Vice President John Valentino said. “How many 18-year-olds can pay $100 a show?”

Rockers and country stars, old and new, continue to play Cruzan Amphitheatre: Brad Paisley, Oct. 17, and REO Speedwagon, Styx and Night Ranger, Oct. 31. Add the more spiritual Wayfest, with BarlowGirl, Superchick and Sevenglory on Nov. 14 and the edgier Rise Against Dec. 5. After that, however, who knows? The shed shows no listings into the new year.

Cruzan, however, isn't the only amphitheater in town. Sunset Cove is the new shed on the block, so new that it's virtually unknown. Tucked into a county park next to the Everglades at the end of Glades Road in Boca Raton, it has hosted only a couple of shows.

AEG Live, barely into its second year as a promoter, will present George Thorogood and the Destroyers on Nov. 13 and the new, hot Zac Brown a night later.

The biggest problem with Sunset Cove is its newness, Valentino said. Once the fans discover it, he's convinced it will become as popular as Pompano and not a day too soon, because he expects 2010 to be a big year.

“Touring has become so important to artists because recording income has dropped so much,” Valentino said. “Bands used to tour to promote a new record; now they tour to make income. The biggest thrill for us this year for us was probably Kings of Leon. Last year they were a club band occasionally playing small theaters, but as they came through Florida they moved into medium-sized arenas and they started getting radio airplay. It was exciting to see them make it.”

After seeing their cash cows dry up, record companies are adjusting, Valentino said. They've realized that if they want to survive, they have to develop new artists, not wait for them to make it on their own and then jump in with a fat contract.

The big acts will return, as will Zac Brown and Kings of Leon, as well as the next phenomenon.

The rumors for 2010 include the usual suspects: Billy Joel, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Black-Eyed Peas, John Mayer. Promoters are hoping that Mariah Carey will hit the road, and if they are similarly inclined, the Jacksons could attract some big cash.

No matter what, says Valentino, “There will be an abundance of bands on the

Thom Smith is a freelance writer based in South Florida.

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