Q3 Analysis: Emerging From The Anomaly, A Huge Leap Forward

 Luke Bryan,
Ethan Helms / Courtesy KP Ent
– Luke Bryan,
who is Q3’s top touring artist, performing on Aug. 7 at the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion in Gilford, N.H., as part of his “Proud to Be Right Here Tour.”

While the March 2020 outbreak of COVID-19 led to the brutal shuttering of the entire live industry, Q3 2021 has given us more hope for the future than any quarter since. Shows are back at every level of the business – stadiums, arenas, sheds, theaters, clubs and festivals are all safely up and running; fans in primary, secondary and even tertiary markets are going to more shows and have more choices than in 18 months of shutdown; and artists, promoters, venues, agents, crews and fans have formed a general consensus on safety protocols and best practices for live events that are working. 
For a stark reminder of just how far we’ve come, compare Pollstar’s Q3 2020 data with this year’s.  Q3 2020’s recap was basically looking at 2019’s first quarter chart, the last full quarter of data, trapped in amber and which carried through the year. Perennial Q1 holiday juggernaut Trans-Siberian Orchestra, along with Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road Tour” and Celine Dion, were affixed to the top just as they were in Q1. It was an anomaly and sad reminder of when exactly live music died. 
The pathway for our industry’s return this year corresponded directly with vaccinations, safety mandates and other measures that led to the relaxation of venue capacity restrictions. Venues began opening in the spring and summer after being closed for more than a year. The number of tickets available for concerts increased and more and more shows were booked as the year progressed. Even with obstacles that have hampered recovery and led to some postponements and even cancellations, there is still the sense that we are in the process of emerging from the most debilitating era ever for live entertainment.
As early as last year, many voices in the industry were looking to the summer and fall of 2021 as the target for returning to large scale, full capacity events at arenas, stadiums and other major venues in North America. And, as this year has progressed, many of those projections were on point. The Foo Fighters’ much-heralded sellout on June 20 at New York’s Madison Square Garden with 15,371 fans was seen as an arrival – a giant step toward the long-awaited rebound hoped for in the second half of this year.
Along with the Foo’s concert at the Garden, the summer months saw more and more shows at larger venues. Increasingly more arenas, amphitheaters and stadiums appeared on the Pollstar Global Live Boxoffice chart each week, hosting shows with a higher number of tickets with many at full capacity. 
For example, T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas had crowds of more than 15,000 for three different events in July and August: a UFC Fight Night, a boxing match and country legend George Strait’s return to the venue Aug. 13-14 with his “Strait to Vegas” concert series, attended by 28,392 fans.
Eduin Caz and Joaquin Ruiz of Grupo Firme,
Timothy Norris / Getty Images
– Eduin Caz and Joaquin Ruiz of Grupo Firme,
who were sixth on Q3’s Top 100 Tour Chart, perform at Staples Center July 30. The band’s seven shows set a record for the most shows in a single calendar year at Staples by a Latin artist.
Also, Staples Center in Los Angeles, the highest ranked arena on the Q3 charts, sold more than 50,000 tickets for a five-show engagement of Feld Entertainment’s “Monster Jam” in July. Then, one week later, they kicked off a seven-night run of concerts by Mexico’s Grupo Firme that ultimately moved 77,437 tickets for a gross topping $7 million. They are No. 1 on the Top 50 Arenas chart (See page 36) with 128,447 total tickets and $9.5 million in sales.
Another highly ranked arena at No. 3 is Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena that had its own multiple-show stint of “Monster Jam.” The venue also hosted Mike Epps and his multiple-act comedy tour for three shows, a sellout by James Taylor who has been filling arenas since launching his tour in late July, and performances by country greats Alabama and the No. 1 touring artist for Q3 (see page 34): Luke Bryan.
Bryan’s ranking among the year’s top tours was due in part to the timing of his schedule and the fact that he was out on the road earlier than many other top headliners. His first reported date during the Q3 time frame was a sold-out May 29 amphitheater show in Mt. Pleasant, Mich. with 12,500 in attendance, but he launched his “Proud To Be Right Here” tour early in July. After a tour opener in Syracuse, N.Y., at St. Joseph’s Health Amphitheater at Lakeview on July 8, he went on to perform 18 shows at 17 venues prior to the Q3 cut-off date on Aug. 18, racking up a sold-ticket total of 273,478.
Aside from the one show at the Nashville arena, Bryan’s tour was booked exclusively in outdoor venues. That was also the case for almost half of the 25 highest-ranked treks on the Top 100 Tours chart. Twelve of them played primarily outdoors, while eight only performed indoors. Then, five of the tours were booked in both. But since the beginning of the pandemic, outdoor settings have often been the chosen option for performers. 
Early in the pandemic, socially distanced spacing between ticket holders and pod seating were seen as beneficial safety protocols for live audiences. This summer, however, with full crowds in attendance, outdoors has been the preference for many artists and fans with COVIDstill a factor in making choices for live entertainment.
Country music is well represented on the Top 100 Tours, accounting for over one-fifth of the entire list. Among just The Top 10, half of them are country artists. Bryan leads the pack, but hot on his heels is superstar Garth Brooks who ranks a close second with a total ticket count about 3,000 less. Both are the only headliners with ticket sales over the 200,000 mark. Brooks’ totals come from concerts at four stadiums in U.S. cities, two in July and two in August.
Chris Stapleton ranks fourth with nine shows at six amphitheaters on his long running “All-American Road Show” tour that resumed this summer on July 28. His ticket total was 133,450. Warner Music Nashville recording artist Cody Johnson earns his No. 5 ranking with a string of 28 concerts dating back to mid-December when he sold out three shows at Billy Bob’s Texas in Fort Worth. His overall ticket count is 109,645 from both indoor and outdoor concerts. Also playing both venue types was country’s Jamey Johnson, who lands at No. 9 with an 83,656-ticket total from 21 performances between June 10 and Aug. 8.
The remainder of the Top 10 includes bands from two countries outside the U.S. (New Zealand and Mexico), an American band that first came to fame over three decades ago (The Black Crowes), a Christian music concert series staged in drive-ins by Awakening Events and a Chicagoland comedian (Sebastian Maniscalco).
Six60 from New Zealand, No. 3, played outdoor stadium dates in their home country in January and February due to practically nonexistent active COVID cases at the time. They were basically an anomaly within an anomaly as the only headliner able to perform for full-capacity stadium crowds at that point during the pandemic. With their concerts early in 2021 – months before the stadium shows this summer in North America – they were ranked No. 1 in both Q1 and Q2.
Regional Mexican band Grupo Firme played four other arenas after their monumental seven-show engagement at L.A.’s Staples Center, July 30-Aug. 8. Altogether through Aug. 15, they moved 108,400 tickets to take the sixth ranking among the Top 100 Tours. They are followed at No. 7 by The Black Crowes with a 107,437-ticket tally from 16 performances at 15 sheds on their “Shake Your Money Maker” reunion tour that launched with two shows in Nashville July 20-21.
At No. 8, promoter Awakening Events’ “Drive-In Theater Tour Series” had a total ticket count of 100,291 from four drive-in tours presented from late March through June. Solo headliners were Christian music artists Skillet, TobyMac and Zach Williams. The fourth tour featured co-headliners Steven Curtis Chapman and Big Daddy Weave. Finally, Maniscalco’s No. 10 ranking comes from 34 shows from June 12 through Aug. 8 with a ticket total of 78,363.
While our industry is clearly not yet back at pre-pandemic levels, we are getting closer. In the coming weeks, major tours hit the road or continue by artists including The Rolling Stones, Eric Church, J. Cole, Harry Styles, Enrique Iglesias (see cover story, page 18) and Ricky Martin, Twenty One Pilots, Maluma and Andrea Bocelli, among many others. This upcoming weekend are two major fests in Governors Ball and Firefly Festival; and October boasts Austin City Limits, EDC Las Vegas and Outside Lands. After 18 months, it feels incredible just to be able to say all that. And chronicling these dates for Pollstar’s Year-End tally for Q4 will be a privilege and honor.