What year is it again? Hard telling from the headliners this summer. The Beach Boys drew 1,300 people to the Deep Water Amphitheater last month — one of the strongest crowds yet of seven classic rock shows booked there. The Creedence Clearwater show Saturday is on track to bring 1,000 people. At the Town Toyota Center, more than 1,200 raised their Alefest glasses to Kansas. Heart’s October show is half sold already.
So what’s with all the nostalgia? The area’s two biggest venues say it’s a numbers game that drives the season’s bookings, and classic rock is usually a good bet. The cost of booking is usually low enough to set decent ticket prices, and classic rock appeals to a wide enough audience to fill the house.
When Mill Bay opened its 1,600-seat venue three years ago, it booked more shows that spanned several genres, including R&B, blues and pop. But of the casino’s nine shows this summer, seven were of the classic rock vein.
“As time has gone by, we’ve paid more attention to what people respond to, and we found that it’s the classic rock shows that are attracting the most interest,” said Bill Black, marketing manager for Colville Tribal Casinos. “We thought it would be more country acts that were the big draw, but that hasn’t proven to be the case based on ticket sales.”
Gretchen Wilson didn’t crack 1,000 in the 1,600-seat venue. Ticket sales have been slow so far for The Eli Young Band Sept. 13, although the group was nominated for a Grammy and three Academy of Country Music awards this year. Part of the issue is competition, Black said. About 30 percent of Deep Water’s customer base comes from the Seattle area. Wilson played at Tulalip Casino’s Amphitheater in Marysville the day after her Manson show. The Eli Young Band is scheduled to play the Spokane Fair and a Shelton casino the same weekend.
“We tried to do the routed acts,” Black said. “You can get better pricing, maybe $10,000 to $15,000 off their normal asking prices, but we suffer on the ticket sales.”
Meanwhile artists like Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga sweep past our region on their way to Tacoma or Seattle. Even the biggest venues here aren’t big enough to pay the big-name artist fees and still make a profit.
“From our standpoint, the math just doesn’t work out,” Black said. “Even our bad seats would be exorbitantly expensive. Plus, that’s really not the age group that works for our business model. If we were strictly a concert venue, we would have a different perspective.”
The casino’s strategy has shifted to focus on an older crowd — one more likely to stop by the slot machines or card tables.
“We’ve found that particularly the classic rock shows tend to perform well that way,” Black said.
That’s not to say that Deep Water Amphitheater will stay predominately classic rock. Black said they’re also watching what happens at Northern Quest Casino in Spokane, where the Sept. 21 show with Kid Rock sold out.
Ticket sales are a bigger factor at the Town Toyota Center, where there’s no casino arm to help cushion a loss.
General Manager Mark Miller says he’ll bring in any genre that will appeal to the masses. Miller figures he needs to appeal to at least 3,000 people — whether the show is country, classic rock, comedy or something more modern.
Classic rock has turned out to be a reliable genre for the TTC, in its periodic surveys and concert attendance. Styx nearly sold out with 2,300 tickets. Lynyrd Skynyrd sold 2,000. Kansas, the headliner for the TTC’s first Alefest, drew in 1,200.
“It’s definitely an older crowd, 40-plus, that come out for the reunion bands. Artists like Kelly Clarkson really run the gamut, 10- to 80-year-olds,” Miller said. “They’re pretty much equal in trying to get to that 3,000 mark.”