A New Breed of Classic Rock Festivals?

Desert Trip and now The Classic look like the start of a new trend in the concert business: The mega rock festival targeting an older fan base with money to spend.

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Last year’s Desert Trip was a dream come true for every classic rock fan, who had the time and money to get to Southern California’s Coachella Valley. I recall reading accounts on Facebook from people who were there and absolutely blown away – if time and money wouldn’t have been an issue, I would have been there as well, no question! With ticket sales totaling $160 million, the festival was also quite lucrative. So it’s perhaps not surprising that it was not the last of its kind.

Over two weekends in October 2016, which amounted to six days altogether, Desert Trip had a spectacular line-up: The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Roger Waters and The Who. And so will The Classic West in Los Angeles and The Classic East in New York City. Each of the two-day weekend concerts this July will feature Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers, Journey and Earth, Wind and Fire.

Music festivals in and of itself obviously have been around for a long time. What seems to be different about this new breed of rock spectacle is that it exclusively features big-name music artists who have come of age. Many of them no longer record new music, or if they do, release new material at a much slower pace. Recently, I saw Stevie Nicks quoted in what I believe was a Rolling Stone story, who said the reward from recording a new album in this day and age is simply no longer worth the effort to spend endless hours in the studio. It’s a pretty sad statement, but there is evidence to back it up.

Last July, Billboard reported U.S. album sales during the first half of 2016 were the worst since 1991, falling by more than 13% year-over-year. Over the same period, music streaming was up close to 60%. But that’s not much of consolation for most artists who hardly make any money from streaming. By comparison, concerts are much more lucrative, especially when you appeal to an older audience that generally has more money to spend than young people. Classic rock is one of the music genres that is popular among more mature audiences.

In a New York Times story about the upcoming The Classic music events, Irving Azoff, who represents all of the six performing acts in full or in part, put it as follows: “Classic-rock radio listeners have been underserved by current festival lineups.” The big event that comes to my mind in this context is the iHeart Radio Festival, for which Azoff’s observation is certainly true.

Tickets for The Classic are only available for both days, with regular admissions ranging between $150 and $950 plus fees. According to the Los Angeles Times, there are also various VIP packages, with the most expensive one topping out at a whopping $2,750. Live Nation, the promoter for The Classic, clearly must be convinced that the feeling of having been underserved will open some wallets big time!

I have mixed feelings about the commercial aspects of the shows. Every artist deserves to earn a reasonable living, and it’s certainly true that with all the changes in the music business that has become a lot harder. On the other hand, I have to believe the artists performing at Desert Trip and The Classic already made their money when records were still selling well and are not exactly living in poverty.

Another way to look at this new breed of rock festival is to consider how much it would cost to see the artists in separate shows. Through that lens, a ticket price of $150, $300 and even $600 doesn’t look that outrageous. It translates to $25, $50 and $100 per act based on six artists. Most people would consider a price of $50 to see the Eagles as a bargain. In fact, when I saw them in Atlantic City in 2015, I had to dole out a lot more cash – though I have to add it was one of the most amazing shows I have seen and as such worth every cent! And that sentiment brings me to the next point.

A big part of going to see your rock & roll heroes in concert is emotional. From a strictly rational perspective it’s hard to justify spending hundreds of dollars. But there is just nothing like being in a stadium seeing Paul McCartney or Bruce Springsteen, and screaming from the top of your lungs together with thousands of other fans. It’s rock & roll!

And as long as great rock music exists, people will keep spending a lot of money on concerts. I also have no doubt that the new breed of rock festival will continue. In fact, I just saw this story about Desert Trip 2017. The second installment will be bigger than its debut and feature 21 artists. The headliners are REO Speedwagon, .38 Special, Kansas, Blue Öyster Cult, Styx and Supertramp. Some of the other artists include James Taylor, Foreigner and Chicago.

Here is the official video teaser for The Classic. I’m very tempted. I’ve been to great shows with all performers, except for Steely Dan, which I would love to see.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, Billboard, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, YouTube

9 thoughts on “A New Breed of Classic Rock Festivals?”

  1. I saw the ad for this show and thought, uh-oh, the Desert thing has caught on. I have very mixed feelings about these shows. On the one hand I would love to see all these bands together, minus Journey which would be my hot dog break.

    On the other hand, I’m just starting to feel gouged. I’m a baby boomer and contrary to popular belief, boomer does not necessarily (or even) mean rich. All this VIP stuff is such a turnoff. I’m no longer even sure I want to go to any show other than small clubs. Never thought I’d say that but there it is.

    BTW, the original Woodstock cost $18 for three days ($120 in today’s dollars.) For that you saw 32 acts.

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    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I think you’re right the notion that all baby boomers somehow have the means to spend a boatload of cash on concerts or other things for that matter is a cliche – though it’s amazing to me how many marketers seem to believe it!

      I also agree prices for these VIP packages are completely over the top and look like a money grab.

      As for clubs, I like the idea of a more intimate setting. I guess it’s hard to find bands of The Classics’ caliber to play such venues. Some like The Stones do it occasionally ahead of a big tour, but oftentimes these gigs aren’t even announced, or if they are, it’s typically last minute, so pretty much impossible to get tickets!

      I respectfully disagree about Journey. In fact, I saw them last year and thought it was a great show. Okay, not quite as cool as the Classic Santana Band, which was also on the ticket. In fact, as you may know, part of the original Journey (Neal Schon and Gregg Rolie) were members of the original Santana lineup. Anyway, it’s great not all folks love the same music – the world would be a boring place!

      Last but not least Woodstock. I was barely out of diapers and not even living in the U.S. back then. Were you there? In any case, $18 or a whooping 56 cents per act – wow, you certainly can’t beat that,
      both in terms of the cost and even more so when it comes to the music! As one rock poet, who perhaps in typical fashion didn’t play Woodstock, said: “The times they are a-changin’!”

      Thanks for reading and thanks again for your thoughts!

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      1. Actually, there’s a good reason marketers believe boomers have money – the shows sell out! So my guess is they don’t think ALL of us have it. Just so long as enough of us have it to pay their rip-off prices, that’s sufficient. The bands, of course, are not blameless. Bob Dylan got paid $7M for that Desert thing. Would it have made that much difference to him (or any of the others) if they got paid $1M? I don’t think so. But I think they all stopped really caring about their fans a long time ago.

        I can also see that a fair number of people might well make this their year’s vacation. Hell, despite my reservations I’d consider it. Not sure my wife would, though, so there’s that.

        As to classic bands playing small clubs, well certainly these bands won’t. But there are a fair number of bands from that era who never made it to the heights of these bands but are still touring, still quite good. In the past year, I’ve seen Savoy Brown, John Mayall, Coco Montoya, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Albert Lee and Rickie Lee Jones, all in a small club 40 miles NW of Boston. All bands from the 60’s and or ’70’s, all of whom still sound great. So for about 35 bucks per show, I’m seeing some quality stuff close up without the massive crowds.

        As to Journey, yeah I know they’re ex-Santana but that doesn’t – at least in my mind – make them equal. Santana is as far as I’m concerned, one of the greatest bands of this or any era. Journey? Shrug. That said, I know they have tons of fans and the fact that I’m not into them or won’t blog about them isn’t going to cause them to lose any sleep. 😀 To each his own as you say.

        I was a little too young for Woodstock. My sister, however, went and to this day it is probably the most magical thing she’s ever experienced. Everything you’ve ever read about it (on the positive side) is true as far as she’s concerned. I blogged about the festival last year. For all the concerts I’ve been to, I’ve never actually been to a rock festival. At this point, it doesn’t seem very likely.

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      2. Hey, your comment never showed up. I checked my spam and pending folders. Nada. Try again? It should send me an email to approve it but that never happened.

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