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Favorable Climate in Music Industry Promises Plethora of Summer Concerts

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Buoyed by a resuscitated national record industry, the recent opening of two mid-size venues and the return of a veteran local promoter, the San Diego concert market is gearing up for its busiest summer ever.

More than 150 big-name pop, rock, jazz, soul and country acts, including superstars Bob Dylan and Sting, are expected to perform locally between May and October--at least one-third more shows than last summer. Accordingly, promoters of San Diego’s two largest annual concert series are each predicting a record number of shows.

“It’s really amazing,” said Kenny Weissberg, who books the Concerts by the Bay series at Humphrey’s on Shelter Island, a 1,000-seat outdoor facility established in 1982. “Already, we have 37 shows on sale, and the season won’t start for another month. That’s by far the most bookings we’ve ever had at this point.”

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David Swift of Avalon Attractions said, “Last summer, we had a total of 32 concerts, but this year we’re looking at as many as 40.” The Los Angeles promoting giant is producing the 12th annual summer concert series at San Diego State University’s 4,250-seat Open Air Theater.

“We feel very positive about the local concert market this year,” he said. “A lot of the acts that are going on the road this summer, like Belinda Carlisle and Echo and the Bunnymen, have traditionally been very strong down here. As a result, we’re planning on booking the venue more aggressively than we ever have before.”

One reason for the dramatic surge in San Diego concert activity is that the national record industry’s decade-long slump is finally over, thanks to the proliferation of music-video television and the phenomenal success of the compact disc.

“Record sales are booming right now, which means record companies have a lot more money to spend on new bands and new product,” said Susan Levy, West Coast publicity manager for MCA Records. “And, since one of the best ways to promote new bands and new product is through touring, we’re seeing a lot more artists on the road this summer than in previous summers.”

Swift agrees. “The compact disc was a huge boon to the record industry. And, if record sales are healthy, that generally trickles down to the live concert market.”

Soaring record sales have also brought good tidings to local nightclubs that regularly showcase touring acts, like the 600-capacity Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach.

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“Because the record industry is doing so well, the number of bands on tour this summer has multiplied,” booker Malcolm Falk said. “A lot of newer acts can finally afford to hit the road, and a lot of oldies acts are coming out of retirement. So, while we expect to do about the same number of shows as we did last year--an average of two or three each week--we’re finding much more of a selection out there from which to choose.”

Also boosting San Diego concert activity is the opening, for summer pop shows, of the 7,100-seat Nautilus Amphitheater at Sea World and the 1,800-seat California Theater downtown.

“The more places there are to play, the more acts touring the West Coast will stop in San Diego,” Levy said. “In the past, there simply weren’t enough venues to accommodate all the acts on the road during the summer, and San Diegans would often have to travel as far north as Orange County or Los Angeles to see their favorite acts.

“But now the situation is changing, and every one of our acts scheduled to tour this summer--including Gladys Knight, Belinda Carlisle and Tiffany--will be appearing in San Diego.”

Having a local promoter around doesn’t hurt, either. Last fall, Bill Silva, who had worked out of San Diego since 1980, returned after a year with Avalon Attractions in Los Angeles.

Topping the list of more than 15 big-ticket acts he’s planning to bring to town this summer are Sting, July 31 at Southwestern College, and Bob Dylan with the Alarm, Aug. 6, also at Southwestern.

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“Ever since I left, San Diego has been dominated by promoters from Los Angeles, and that’s definitely hurt the local concert market,” Silva said. “L.A. promoters generally tend to steer acts playing around Southern California to Los Angeles instead of San Diego because that’s where it best benefits them.

“But if there’s a strong San Diego promoter whose primary concern is doing shows down here, he’s going to try much harder to convince agents that San Diego is a separate and distinct market from Los Angeles.”

MCA’s Levy concurred.

“It always helps to have a promoter based right there in the town where the concert takes place, instead of having someone try to cover that particular market from somewhere else,” she said. “Hometown promoters are in a much better position to know their audiences and determine which acts will go over and which ones won’t.”

Still, San Diego has a long way to go before it becomes a true pop-concert mecca, according to Silva.

“This summer’s biggest stadium tour is the Monsters of Rock package, which includes Van Halen, the Scorpions, Metallica and several other heavy metal acts,” he said. “But the tour is bypassing San Diego because the only local facility big enough to handle such an event, San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, is unavailable--just as it was last year for summer stadium dates by David Bowie, U2 and Pink Floyd.”

Another chilling effect on the local concert market, Silva added, is that in the eyes of the music business, San Diego is still considered a suburb of Los Angeles.

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“When record company branches report their weekly sales figures, all of Southern California comes out of their L.A. branches, and San Diego isn’t broken out the way it should be,” he said. “As a result, a lot of agents still believe that, by having their acts play in Los Angeles, they can cover the entire Southern California region--which is a bunch of nonsense.”

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