The Shed’s Not Dead

Amphitheatres: They’re disappearing, new ones are scaled down, and tours are being redirected into four-walled venues. So says the conventional wisdom. But that’s apparently not the case for four sheds Pollstar compared.

Pollstar asked representatives from five venues – The Greek Theatre (L.A.), Merriweather Post Pavilion, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, DTE Energy Music Theatre and Tweeter Center at the Waterfront – to compare last season to this one. Four returned our calls and three said they had more shows this year than last.

In some cases that agreed with our numbers and in other cases it didn’t but, granted, there are several intangibles – like unreported shows and different accounting methods – that could explain the discrepancies. Global warming even played a part.

The Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, which has the advantage of being in a famously important live music market, obviously fared well. The 5,801-capacity venue has had one of its biggest seasons in recent years, despite facing a fire in the hills above the shed in Griffith Park in May (during which three concerts were moved to the nearby, indoor Gibson Amphitheatre).

The Greek will host 73 shows by the end of the season, November 10th, which is 20 more concerts than the shed hosted in 2006, Nederlander Concerts COO Alex Hodges told Pollstar.

The venue’s size and seating configuration make it a "sweet spot" for artists, and Hodges said the fact that the stage can handle most productions in a mid-sized venue also adds to its appeal.

"It’s just a fabulous year and it’s been more than a decade since we’ve had that many shows and that kind of amazing attendance," he said.

The Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md., also fared well.

While the venue hosted 29 concerts (up from 26) and sold more tickets in 2007 than any year in the last decade, I.M.P. chief Seth Hurwitz said the key has been concentrating on quality versus quantity.

"We pass on a ton of shows," he told Pollstar. "I have never and will never measure success by the number of shows."

He said he looks for concerts that make sense for the 19,316-capacity venue, which, because of its unique configuration, can host smaller shows and still look full.

And thanks to rising temperatures, the shed’s season was even extended through October 22nd.

"One of the positive effects of global warming is a longer amphitheatre season," Hurwitz said.

While chilly weather kept Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Denver from its typical Easter Sunday opener, the venue still managed to host 85 concerts through the end of its 2007 season, on September 30th, topping last year’s 58 concerts. Director Jack Finlaw estimated attendance numbers were around 534,000 this year, versus 393,000 last year.

He attributed some of the season’s success to the fact that Denver now has Live Nation and AEG offices actively booking in the city.

The 9,600-seat shed’s variety of programming, natural beauty and configuration are also factors in its appeal, he said.

"There’s an intimacy," he told Pollstar. "Even if you only sell 6,000 seats or so, it still feels full because people spread out."

DTE Energy Music Theatre in Auburn Hills, Mich., hosted 61 concerts in 2007, down from 77 in 2006, but the senior VP of booking/marketing, Marilyn Hauser, explained that attendance numbers have been consistent with past years.

The Detroit market has been flooded by free events, concerts and festivals, she said, but by changing its model a bit, the 15,202-capacity shed was able to meet and exceed its goal of 60 shows for the year.

"Despite all of the traffic and the economy our average was over 10,000, which is consistent with what it was in the past," she told Pollstar.

Hauser said by offering special ticket packages, $10 lawn seats, ticket upgrading and a 48-hour blitz where people can purchase tickets at reduced rates, the venue was able to keep per-show attendance levels up.