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Hitting the old dusty touring trail

Jeffrey Remz  |  April 8, 2011

Tim McGraw starts his Emotional Traffic tour tonight, the first of several big tours on tap this summer. Kenny Chesney resurfaces after taking a year off, and Taylor Swift, of course, goes onto launch the U.S. portion of her "Speak Now" tour at the end of May.

An article in the Wall Street Journal today said that artists of all genres were making changes in their touring schedules. Mumford & Sons, for example, my favorite new band of 2010 and referred to as the British Avett Brothers by some, is launching a short railroad tour.

2010 was not a good year for the tour industry. In North America, the 50 top-grossing tours fell 15 percent to $1.7 billion, according to the trade magazine Pollstar. Chesney manager Clint Higham told the Journal, "We chose the right year to take off because it was brutal." P>And the changes also include ticket prices. It seemed last year that so many tours were put into venues too large for them with the artist having no chance of selling out.

Chesney cut prices this year with the cheapo lawn seats at about $30, down from $40 in 2009. Chesney will also be playing 60 dates, instead of the 45 from 2 years ago.

Higham told the Journal that Chesney's sales were up 15 percent this year. Staying off the road can have that affect where it creates a vacuum for the audience. Chesney was an artist who was on the summer tour circuit year after year, while continuing to put music with great frequency. Take away the chance to see him, while still recording and getting hits, and you have a recipe for a well-attended tour. Of course, the country crowd tends to be very loyal, and Chesney puts on a good show.

"Country acts tend to work every year and ride the horse down til it's more or less in the ground," Higham told the Journal. He also said Chesney may tour with less frequency.

The acts in the middle face the toughest struggles. The high end acts - Chesney, McGraw, Paisley - tend to do well because they've been around awhile and have a strong fan base. Miranda Lambert seems to be developing one quickly.

Artists like Trace Adkins and Josh Turner have history, but neither shows signs of truly breaking out big time. They're the type of folks in the middle, who the Journal said face a difficult time going from 3,000-seat venues to 15,000.

It's not easy out there with Cd sales down, radio not doing so great and Joe Q. Public tight on money. But even in bad times, fans seem to show up - perhaps not as often - to support their favorite artists. The musicians must be real careful not to price gouge or else fans won't go.

The tours of Chesney and others prove that, and the artists also have to be smart and provide value (that does not mean pyrotechnics ad nauseum!) and quality music.

With a few tours just starting, signs point to a better 2011 than '10, but this is no time for anyone to rest on their laurels.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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