Originally created 09/11/05

Music acts cancel after poor sales



Rapper Young Jeezy and the R&B act Mint Condition and Rene were scheduled to perform at Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center late this summer, but it's likely music fans never knew the performers would be in town.

Promoters for both acts recently canceled the performances after Young Jeezy sold just 11 tickets at $30.50 each and Mint Condition and Rene sold 284 tickets at $30 each, according to the civic center box office.

Earlier in the year, the Super 70's Spectacular concert, scheduled for May 11, also was canceled because of poor ticket sales, civic center officials said.

The civic center booked 13 dates for musical acts this year. To date, four acts have canceled, six performances occurred and three dates are booked for later this year.

Concert attendance is down because people just don't want to buy high-priced tickets, said Larry Rogers, civic center manager.

"I think the economy has a lot to do with the drop in ticket sales," Mr. Rogers said. "We've had several concerts recently that have been canceled because of a lack of ticket sales."

But local critics say the management of the civic center isn't helping ticket sales by failing to attract and retain recognizable acts.

"People don't buy tickets because they end up thinking (performers) are not going to end up playing anyway," said Coco Rubio, the owner of The Soul Bar and a part-time music promoter. "People almost don't have faith in what we have right now. I don't know what the solution is, but maybe it's to start over with a different facility that's run differently."

But Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center isn't the only venue with poor concert attendance. Venues much larger than Augusta's 8,500-seat arena and 2,690-seat William B. Bell Auditorium are facing similar drops in ticket sales, Mr. Rogers said.

North American concert attendance declined nearly 12 percent in the first six months of 2005, but the rest of the year will help make up for it as music legends Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones and U2 tour this month, said Gary Bongiovanni, the editor-in-chief of industry magazine Pollstar.

Although recent attendance figures look bleak, "The actual concert industry is much healthier than it was last year on a national basis," Mr. Bongiovanni said.

In April 2004, concertgoers stopped purchasing tickets for reasons still unknown to promoters. As a result of slow sales, acts delayed tours until later this year, and promoters dropped ticket prices for the first time in 10 years, he said.

Attracting big-name acts isn't impossible for Augusta, Mr. Bongiovanni said.

In February, a sold-out crowd packed Bell Auditorium to see Alicia Keys, one of the biggest musical artists to visit Augusta. Tickets sold between $25 and $50.

"There are a lot of acts at Alicia Keys' level that could come to Augusta if they thought that the market would support the ticket sales," Mr. Bongiovanni said. "You're not going to get the Rolling Stones to play Augusta, but there are a lot of other acts out there that could conceivably play a market that size."

One problem contributing to poor concert attendance in the Garden City is that the public isn't informed about upcoming shows, said Joe Stevenson, the president of Joe Stevenson Music, an Augusta concert promotion business.

"There is a small percentage of music fans that really seek out what's going on," Mr. Stevenson said. "The bulk of people in Augusta, you have to get it in front of them, and it can be challenging. You have to get it in front of them and keep it in front of them."

When advance ticket sales are low, promoters aren't as willing to continue with the show or schedule another performance because they fear they won't make enough money, Mr. Stevenson said.

If the civic center could bring in quality, national acts, Mr. Rubio said, he is sure the public would purchase tickets.

ONE VENUE SLIGHTLY larger than Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center that isn't struggling to attract patrons is Columbus Civic Center in Columbus, Ga.

Also considered a secondary market, Columbus Civic Center has held performances by country singer Gretchen Wilson and Reba McIntyre and was the only venue in Georgia to feature pop star Hilary Duff this month, said J. Dale Hester, the civic center general manager.

Columbus Civic Center also featured nearly two dozen ice hockey and basketball league home games this year, he said.

The civic center arena has 10,000 seats and is part of a major sports complex featuring a football stadium and softball complex, according to the civic center's Web site.

The key to keeping ticket sales up is promotion, explained Mr. Hester.

"You can bring the best entertainment in the world, but if people don't know about it, they ain't coming," he said. "If you wait on the promoter to do all the work, you might as well forget it," he said.

IN THE WAKE OF Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Hester said he contacted promoters with acts scheduled to perform in Biloxi, Miss., and lured two or three shows to Columbus.

Mr. Rogers said his job involves talking to promoters to find which acts are touring, but said "primarily, the promoters call the facility."

Promoters for Ms. Keys contacted him to book the Bell Auditorium, he said, because they were looking for small, intimate venues.

In a Feb. 24 article in The Augusta Chronicle, Mr. Rogers said performers such as Ms. Keys play smaller venues because "they can't sell bigger venues."

Mr. Rogers' comment shocked Mr. Rubio.

When the general manager insults a national star, "That just goes back to (the civic center) not being a very user-friendly venue," he said.

Both Mr. Rubio and Mr. Stevenson said the civic center is too small and in too poor condition to attract national acts. The center might do better with music industry promoters running it instead of the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority, an appointed board, they said.

"I think part of the problem, I guess you could say with the current civic center, besides just the size, is the perception by the public and possibly by other concert promoters that the coliseum authority is not too effective in bringing in other bands," Mr. Rubio said.

MR. ROGERS BELIEVES electronic media also has hurt concert attendance. With the increasing popularity of downloading music and movies, many people prefer to listen to music or watch a taped concert than attend one, he said.

The center's ice hockey team, The Augusta Lynx, also hinders more shows coming to Augusta, he said.

From October through April, "prime concert touring time," Mr. Rogers said, the center has 36 home games, most falling on Thursday and weekend nights.

"It's a little restrictive during that time frame," he said.

Only three weekend nights this year were booked by musical acts, two of which, Mint Condition and Rene and the Southern Gospel Concert, have canceled their performances.

Renovations to the 25-year-old civic center complex would attract patrons, Mr. Rogers said.

Renovations also could improve ticket sales; however, it depends who is buying the tickets, Mr. Bongiovanni said.

"Part of its going to be the local economy and your ability to support the shows that get booked in there," Mr. Bongiovanni said. "If people book shows and they have to cancel because nobody's buying tickets, that's not going to encourage anybody to bring anything else in."

Reach Kate Lewis at (706) 823-3215 or kate.lewis@augustachronicle.com.

Canceled shows

Musical acts canceled in 2005 because of poor ticket sales:

May 11: Super 70's Spectacular concert

Aug. 20: Mint Condition and Rene

Sept. 8: Young Jeezy in concert (postponed until further notice)

Source: Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center



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