Package tours look for the perfect combination
It’s time again for classic rock Rubik’s Cube, as promoters try to twist a finite number of vintage acts into new configurations to lure concertgoers.
Most of the acts that headlined the outdoor amphitheaters in the ’70s and ’80s can’t sell 10,000 or more tickets on their own these days. Their fan bases are older and go to fewer shows, and they’ve oversaturated the market.
There may have been a longer hiatus that I don’t remember, but a band like REO Speedwagon hasn’t gone more than a year or two without touring since the mid- ’70s. That means a 55-to-65-year-old classic rock fan in the Mahoning Valley has had more than 50 opportunities to see the band in Youngstown, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and points in between in their lifetime. The number of opportunities probably is closer to 100.
The same is true of Styx, Kansas, Cheap Trick, Ted Nugent and a host of other road warriors who’ve spent their careers criss-crossing the Midwest.
There’s a rabid core who will make an effort to see their favorite act every time it comes to town, but how many times does the average classic rock radio listeners need to hear “Roll with the Changes” live?
There are only so many gimmicks in the arsenal — reuniting with former bandmates, playing a classic album in its entirety, another “farewell” tour. Package tours with like-minded acts is the one option with multiple possibilities.
Styx and REO Speedwagon have co-headlined a few tours together in the last decade. In 2016, REO played sheds with Def Leppard, which probably made fans of “Ridin’ the Storm Out” happy. This summer, REO is touring with Chicago, a pairing that will play to the power ballad contingent of its fanbase.
This week, Styx announced it is touring with Joan Jett & the Blackhearts (who toured with Heart and Cheap Trick in 2016) and Tesla (the opening act on those 2016 Def Leppard / REO Speedwagon tours). A pairing of the Steve Miller Band and Peter Frampton also was announced this week.
They join Foreigner / Whitesnake / Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Evening, Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers, Poison / Cheap Trick / Pop Evil and Lynyrd Skynyrd with assorted Southern rockers among the packages on the road this year.
Some of those pairings make little sense. I love Cheap Trick, but I have no desire to see Poison or deal with Poison fans in order to see Trick this summer at Blossom Music Center. There may be a little overlap in Foreigner’s and Whitesnake’s fan bases, but not enough to goose ticket sales.
Steely Dan and Doobie Brothers could work, although it would be a better pairing if Michael McDonald still was one of the brothers. The current lineup avoids the “Minute by Minute”-era Doobies sound for the “Listen to the Music” / “China Grove” portion of the catalog.
For concertgoers who still have free ticket vouchers in their Ticketmaster account from the Schlesinger vs. Ticketmaster lawsuit settlement, don’t be surprised if most or all of these shows end up being eligible for the free vouchers. I can’t imagine any of them will come close to selling out their area dates.
One of the reasons the packages seem a little weak is that two of the more reliable draws on the classic rock circuit are teaming up.
Instead of Journey and Def Leppard topping separate packages, the two acts are playing a co-headlining tour this summer. And they’re skipping Blossom and KeyBank Pavilion for arena shows at Quicken Loans Arena on May 28 and PPG Paints Arena on June 2.
If they played the amphitheaters, two-thirds of the tickets would be general admission lawn and probably couldn’t be priced higher than $60. In the arenas, about half of the seats are selling for nearly three times that amount. At those prices, Journey and Def Leppard can gross as much playing together as they could touring separately with lesser support acts.
And that leaves those support acts scrambling to find the right combination to lure the faithful one more time.
Andy Gray is the entertainment writer for the Tribune Chronicle. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org