• Alison Kartevold / GistSayn.com

Rolling Boom Towns, Coming to a Stadium Near You

I love to see sports stadiums used in the off season. Honestly, looking at those massive structures standing empty in the summer sun, has always struck me as a bit depressing, not to mention wasteful. If I were managing one I’d want to fill it up all the time with music and people. Then we’d all feed off the energy that builds when you bring that many human beings together, for a common, positive, theme. Isn't that what summer stadium concerts are all about?

The trouble is, filling a stadium is no easy task. The reason you don’t see more concerts in your city’s idle venue is at least in part because this is a feat only a few acts can accomplish. It’s rarefied air. Over the past twenty years the average price of a concert ticket has tripled. It takes a massive, dedicated fan base, willing to endure ever growing ticket prices; as well as a not so small army of backstage personnel to pull off just the logistics of caravanning a show from city to city across the country, or world, for months on end. If you can not put butts in each of the 50-thousand plus seats, it's not profitable. But oh, when done right, it is profitable, not just for the musicians, but for the cities they go to.

Kenny Chesney at Heinz Field, June 2018

That’s the topic for this second and last sneak preview of Gist Say’n. It felt like we needed one more lighthearted run through to work out the logistical kinks, before Gist Say’n is officially launched. So here we go, Rolling Boom Towns, what do we get from these summer stadium shows, and is it worth it?

This is the make or break time of year when all big acts hit the road for their summer tours, but only a handful will be filling stadiums. Beyonce and Jay-Z, Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Luke Bryan, and Kenny Chesney are all in this category for 2018.

I am going to use Kenny Chesney as my main example, because I was just at his concert in Pittsburgh, as he played Heinz Field for the 10th time. And full disclosure here, I have seen him there eight of those times. I’ve also seen him once at a smaller venue.

I don’t know how to explain it, I’m not the kind of fan must acts would want, I don’t join clubs, or track what’s going on in their lives, or even buy a bunch of merchandise. The Kenny thing started with a neighborhood bus outing and turned into an annual pilgrimage. We missed a couple years when we moved out of state, but when our kids got old enough, we started doing it with them. They aren’t huge country fans, especially not of the new stuff, but they do love Kenny. His songs are a part of their childhood, summer days around our backyard pool. I like his music, I think, mostly because it’s positive.

And I’m not the only one. When asked why they come, I heard one Chesney fan claim that Kenny’s music fills his soul. That is quite a compliment from a middle aged man. But I do have to agree, that Chesney has a great formula. His music exudes positive energy. It is perfect for the summer. In a recent press release Chesney described his music as medicine, as energy, as fuel. He said,

“All I want any time I get on a stage is to turn peoples’ bad days into something great, and take their great days and make them everything you could ever want.” He says, “That’s what music does: change the moment, and that’s a big part of why I do what I do.”

A big part of his long term success is tied to the fact that Chesney innately gets what his crowd is looking for. In an era inundated by politics and rhetoric, saturated with negativity, his shows have none of it. His music is upbeat, his lyrics hopeful. He says his newest single is about turning negative energy into positive, it’s called “Get Along,” you can listen to the the whole thing on the website. Just go to, G I S T S A Y N .COM and click on the Episode Extras Page. Its embedded in the article.... but here is a quick sample.

Chesney says, “To me, when music is really firing, it can help you do impossible things, lift you out of unthinkable problems and give you a reason to keep going. When people come together in the name of music, then let go, there’s no feeling like it. It’s not the only reason I do this, but it’s a good one.”

I can attest, it is a good feeling. There is nothing quite like the energy of seeing a concert in a packed stadium where everyone is singing along. I guess that is why we will pay so much for those tickets.

Now don’t get me wrong, I will pretty much go to whatever concert I’m invited to, though, then I'm usually surprised when I get there and find out how many songs I know that I hadn’t realize that band played. That’s what happened at the Maroon 5 concert I went to last year.

I like music, I just don’t usually pay attention to who’s playing what. I am not a huge concert goer, except for the whole Kenny thing. I do know the songs when we go to Foo Fighters though, because that is one of my husband’s favorite bands. And since I have two daughters, I have seen Taylor Swift, three times.

The first time was by accident really, she was the opening act at the first indoor concert we took our kids to. While we were going to see Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, my oldest was just as excited to hear this teenage girl my husband and I had not heard of… yet. Then I saw Tay Tay twice more as she crossed over to pop, and grew from that little girl standing alone on the stage strumming a guitar in a skirt and cowboy boots, to the young lady able to act out her most fanciful daydreams with wardrobe changes and backup dancers. Honestly, that transition was pretty fun and interesting to watch. Now this summer, Swift hits the road as a mastermind production diva who is predicted to bring in almost half a billion dollars. More on that later… remind me, I’ll come back to it.

First, let’s talk a little more about logistics...

Kenny Chesney overlooking Crowd at Heinz Field, June 2018

Stadiums can hold between 50 and 100-thousand plus people for a concert. To make everyone, even those seated in the rafters, feel like they are a part of the show is a monumental undertaking. For Kenny Chesney’s “Trip Around the Sun” stadium shows, this means moving in; a sound system that can generate 110 decibels, a stage that weighs 360-thousand pounds, a 48 foot video screen, and 404 lighting fixtures. They also lay down 80-thousand square feet of flooring to cover the fields and protect the sacred turf.

Can you imagine putting this all together, just to tear it all down hours later? And this all gets done by 233 people in the morning and then loaded back out by 308 people after the show. 133 of these stage hands travel with the tour, the rest are hired locally. Which is just one of the ways that these concerts impact the local economies of the communities they roll into.

The more theatrical the show, (think Beyonce and Jay-Z, or Taylor Swift) the more equipment and personal there is to move from city to city. Kenny Chesney has no back-up dancers, a five person band, and the self proclaimed “smallest wardrobe” of any performer on the road. This is in stark contrast to these other acts. Still, it takes 28 trucks to haul all the equipment, and 19 buses to travel the band and crew across the country.

You have to spend money to make money...

In 2015, Kenny Chesney, The Rolling Stones, One Direction and Taylor Swift all played Heinz Field. Just those four stadium concerts are reported to have added more than $32-million to the region’s economy. Hotels, bars and restaurants reap a lot of the initial benefits, but other reasons that are a bit harder to measure continue to have a positive impact on the area even after these acts roll out of town. Go to the website and sign into Episode Extras and you can see a link to a story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that talks about this in more detail.

View of Pittsburgh from inside Heinz Field

According to Billboard, last year summer stadium concerts alone grossed $421-million of the $1.8-billion in ticket sales that were generated between Memorial Day and Labor Day in North America. Given this summer’s star studded lineup, Billboard is predicting the stadium shows alone could surpass a billion dollars in 2018.

Taylor Swift Reputation Tour Art

Which brings us back to Taylor Swift. You thought I forgot didn’t you.

Before Swift’s tour launched, she was getting some negative press about sluggish ticket sales, but Billboard says slow and steady now is good. Remember when concerts use to sell out in minutes? This included Swift’s 1989 Tour. Well, it appears those days are gone. This is no longer a measure of success.

There is a new strategy being deployed by bands like the The Rolling Stones, Jay-Z and now Swift. It is called “Slow Ticketing”. It means bigger money for the artists, but that money it is still coming out of your pocket. With this model ticket prices are set higher, especially the premium seats, right from the start. By doing this they hope to cut the resale companies and scalpers out of the equation. Instead of instant sellouts, seats are still available from the primary market on the day of the show, but that’s okay, because with this model the huge revenues are going to the artist, not an outside third party ticket seller. The philosophy is that people are already paying outrageous prices to resellers who snatched up all the tickets with bots and such, the day they went on sale, so why shouldn’t that money go to the artist instead.

So what kind of ticket prices are we talking about...

Concert tickets are now like buying an airline ticket. It all depends on where you are going and how you plan to get there. According to one resale site:

"The average price for a ticket to see Kenny Chesney in Pittsburgh at Heinz field this year was $258.

The current average ticket price for Taylor Swift at the same venue is $304 a ticket. However that date is still a ways off so it is likely to increase. The minimum get-in price for Taylor Swift in Pittsburgh PA is quoted at $18.

Beyonce and Jay-Z are not coming to Pittsburgh, but the first stop on their "On the Run Tour II" is in Cleveland. Their elaborate spectacle will be returning from Europe on July 25th. Right now the average resale price for tickets at First Energy Stadium is $337 with a minimum get in price for said to be $16."

Only time will tell if the fans agree, or if they feel like they’re still being taken advantage of, this time just by their favorite artist. It might also mean that even fewer shows can make it in the stadiums because fans can only afford to go to one. They have to pick and choose. Either way, early indications are that fans are willing to pay, or at least enough of them are, to ensure that these elaborate boom towns will keep rolling into a stadium near you.

So here's the gist, if you get a chance to go see any one of the acts performing in stadiums this year, if you can afford it, I say do it. it is something special, an experience you won't forget, and you'll even be helping your local economy. Until next time, this is Alison Kartevold, and I'm Gist Say’n.

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