Yesterday, Chris Stapleton and Willie Nelson’s Saturday co-headline bill at Arlington’s Globe Life Field fell victim to the coronavirus and was postponed.
That show wasn’t the only casualty. Thursday morning, Billboard reported that Live Nation is suspending all its tours because of the pandemic. In the afternoon, The New York Times reported that competing promoter AEG Presents is following suit.
If you’re not in the music industry, you probably have a vague recognition of these two companies at best, but make no mistake: This signifies the most severe economic devastation the music industry has incurred since the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001. DFW is truly taking the brunt of it.
To understand why this is, it’s important to understand that Live Nation and AEG have unbridled control over the corporate faction of the concert business. The former owns subsidiaries such as Ticketmaster, House of Blues and C3 Presents (the promoter behind festivals such as Austin City Limits and Lollapalooza), while the latter holds ownership in AXS (both the TV channel and ticketing website), Walden Media and Goldenvoice (the promoter behind festivals such as Coachella and Stagecoach).
Live Nation and AEG both have exclusive booking rights at various venues across the country. In Dallas, Live Nation owns and operates venues such as House of Blues, The Pavilion at Toyota Music Factory, South Side Ballroom and Dos Equis Pavilion. The company also owns Scoremore Shows, the promoter behind festivals such as JMBLYA. Meanwhile, AEG has exclusives at rooms such as the Bomb Factory, Canton Hall, Trees and the Theatre at Grand Prairie.
Now, both companies are reportedly keeping all tours off the road through March and are expected to evaluate the situation in April, but this move alone has massive repercussions. Live Nation had to cancel or postpone shows from the likes of The Eagles, Dan + Shay, Big Gigantic, Carrie Underwood, Stormy Daniels, Brad Paisley and Killswitch Engage. Some of AEG’s affected shows include those by Alan Parsons, Young Nudy, Tanya Tucker, Sturgill Simpson, Colter Wall, Dance Gavin Dance and Orville Peck. If this situation persists through April, it would implicate concerts such as Aventura, NBA Youngboy, Kesha, Ween, Michael Buble and others. If it continues through May, that means we won’t get to see the Rolling Stones, BTS, Kirk Franklin and Jimmy Buffett.
To most people, these prospects simply entail a minor change of leisure plans, but touring is the economic bedrock of the music industry. In the age of streaming, the most reliable revenue sources for artists are merch sales and the guarantee-plus-back-end that’s paid to them by promoters. Booking agents get roughly 10% of an artist’s box office earnings in exchange for routing and organizing their tours, so with dozens of tours canceled, these agents are essentially working for free. Tour managers, crew members, merch sellers and tour photographers also get paid thanks to this revenue, which mean they are increasingly being deprived of work opportunities.
These cancellations and postponements also have a substantial impact on the community. Toyota Music Factory brings up to 8,000 people to Irving on a given night. Dos Equis Pavilion brings up to 20,000 to Fair Park. Dickies Arena brings up to 13,000 to Fort Worth. These canceled shows entail lost opportunities for communities to rake in more funds via sales taxes. When a show of this scale gets canceled, that means nearby bars and restaurants will see a decline in business.
This domino effect is frightening, but not nearly as frightening as the canary-in-a-coalmine that Live Nation lost $1.8 billion in one day and suffered a 50% loss in stock value over the last month. If the world’s largest concert promoter is having a rough go at it, imagine what independent promoters are going through.
That “absentee concert goer” skit on Portlandia suddenly doesn’t seem so ridiculous.