Erika Goldring/Getty Images – Steve Earle & The Dukes
Steve Earle & The Dukes ramble through Tipitina
While the question of “What is Americana?” hovers over any discussion about the genre’s business, a glance at various artists under the wide umbrella indicate there is clearly a market for the songwriting and musicianship the roots-inspired style is known for.
A good place to start when trying to define Americana is the radio format. The Americana Music Association’s Radio Albums Chart had artists like Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Boz Scaggs, Trampled By Turtles, Iron & Wine, Amanda Shires, Leftover Salmon and Elvis Costello & The Imposters on its list for the week of Sept. 4, showing just how many different styles fit into the classification.
“The label means you’re getting play on that format, but to me it’s more about the style of music,” Joshua Knight of Paradigm, who represents Trampled By Turtles, Leftover Salmon, The Infamous Stringdusters, J.J. Grey & Mofro and Los Lobos, told Pollstar.
“It encompasses a lot of music that is organically American, whether it be the blues, folk or rock. Los Lobos is a very Latin-oriented band from East L.A. that grew up in the rock and punk world, but they are very Americana in what they do. To me it’s about representing the melting pot that is America and the music that started here.
“[Also], musicianship defines an artist in this category. You don’t find an Americana artist that can’t play, that can’t sing, that can’t write great songs. It’s not over-produced music.”
Los Lobos won the Americana Music Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Performance in 2015, and its members have been road warriors for decades, touring in the U.S. and abroad, hitting theatres and PACs regularly. Since 1999 the band has reported 439,542 headline tickets sold and grossed almost $15.1 million. Considering that the band has done that with an average attendance of 1,278, and an average gross of $43,867, Los Lobos provides an example of the hard-working approach that has come to characterize Americana touring.
Interest in Americana music has surged in recent years as folk rock acts like Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers have brought the genre’s influences to a wider audience. Both of those acts made the 2017 Top 200 North American Tours chart, with The Lumineers coming in at No. 94 and Mumford & Sons at the lucky No. 200 spot.
The Lumineers grossed $15.2 million on 34 shows last year. Their average ticket price was $46, moving about 10,675 tickets per market. They were also an international presence, playing South Africa, Australia and Japan.
Mumford & Sons grossed $4.9 million in 2017, with an average ticket price hovering around $44. The band had a great run in Florida, Sept. 19-21, filling Miami’s AmericanAirlines Arena; Tampa’s Amalie Arena; and Orlando’s Amway Center, moving more than 10,500 tickets and grossing more than $575,000 in each market.
Americana may be enjoying crossover success in rock, but it is undeniable that country music is also starting to catch the wave. Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson are names that come up when discussing Americana bleeding into country, with Stapleton having opened a lane for genre enthusiasts into arenas.
Stapleton is certainly onto something, as he reached No. 53 on the 2017 Top 100 Worldwide Tours chart, grossing an impressive $38.3 million on 822,417 tickets. He was a workhorse that year, playing in 63 markets and his average ticket price hovered right around the sweet spot of $46.
Now a bona-fide arena headliner, Stapleton’s biggest reported paydays in 2018 include a $912,884 gross at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas March 23 and $681,154 at Laughlin Event Center in Laughlin, Nev., March 24.
“You won’t find a ton of Americana artists in the arenas of the world, but I think that’s changing,” Knight said, adding that the emergence of the “new country” sound heavily influenced by Americana has given clients like The Infamous Stringdusters and J.J. Grey & Mofro a boost.
Trampled By Turtles, another Knight act, seems to be enjoying that effect as well, with multiple nights at Thalia Hall in Chicago; 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.; and Palace Theatre in St. Paul all sold out this year. The run at Palace Theatre May 4-5 grossed $110,856 on 4,768 tickets, some serious growth, even when compared with its co-headline tour with Lord Huron just two years ago. The only place the band regularly outdoes those kind of numbers is at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, which it has sold out three times since 2014, each time grossing more than $340,000.
Yet despite some bands’ arena aspirations, the stories of Americana’s most beloved artists are generally told in theatres and PACs.
Steve Earle & The Dukes, Emmylou Harris, and Alison Krauss all still regularly play medium-sized venues along with occasional package tours or festivals.
Harris has reported 435,053 headline tickets since 1999 and grossed $21.2 million.
She got there the old-fashioned way, with an average attendance of 1,925, approximately the size of a large theater.
Steve Earle, one of the genre’s longtime enthusiasts, still keeps the workman-like attitude, as Steve Earle & The Dukes has logged an average headline attendance of 729 since 2016, grossing an average of $31,252 per market.
While Americana may be a genre on the upswing, the business of its artists seems to mirror common themes in its songs: Hard work, travel, and real dedication to the music.