Uncertain season for rock fests

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The summer season of touring rock festivals goes into full swing this week as Lollapalooza (with headliners Jane’s Addiction, Audioslave and Queens of the Stone Age) and Summer Sanitorium (led by Metallica, Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit) both kick off in Michigan, while Ozzfest (led by, of course, Ozzy Osbourne as well as Korn and Disturbed) comes to the Hyundai Pavilion of Glen Helen in Devore and the Van’s Warped Tour (with low ticket prices and a vast cast of dedicated fan favorites, among them AFI, Bowling for Soup and Less Than Jake) winds its way through the Midwest.

There is a sense that this summer is somewhat a season of uncertainty for the festivals -- there is a clutter of tours and the concert industry is still in a slump due to the now-familiar reasons (soft economy, drooping recorded music sales, steep ticket prices, etc.).

“It’s a crowded market,” says Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of Pollstar, the concert industry trade publication. “Even the strongest shows see their sales vary market by market. Everyone seems to have a soft spot.”


Lollapalooza is the most intriguing of the question marks. It’s the tour that more or less crated the modern template for touring rock festivals in the United States, but after a six-year hiatus, there are plenty of young fans who can’t be counted as slam-dunk attendees.

“I remember Lollapalooza once sold out in Chicago before they even announced the bill; that’s how strong the name was. They can’t count on that anymore, and the new Jane’s Addiction album didn’t come out in time to help with the build-up sales,” Bongiovanni says.

The waning of youth pop and the rise of guitar bands does offer reason for optimism for the festival chiefs, and many in the industry say they are expecting strong walk-up sales at the shows.

Ozzfest on Saturday isn’t sold out yet, but production manager Dale Skjerseth says there is plenty of excitement in the air. They’ve added more bands, a haunted house, batting cages and some surprises from Osbourne (expect more Black Sabbath nuggets in his set, for instance).

“It’s to take everything up a notch,” he said. “In all honesty, there’s a lot of things for the fans to spend money on, and we know some kids will be deciding between filling up their gas tank or coming to the show. We have to make it worth their while.”