The way things are going, the summer of 2010 might be remembered more for the concerts that didn't happen than the ones that actually did.
U2 and Christina Aguilera both postponed their U.S. tours. So did Limp Bizkit, which was to play Charlotte's Road Runner Mobile Amphitheatre this week. Santana at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre later this month? Axed. Sarah McLachlan's Lilith Tour in August? Not happening.
Even the Jonas Brothers, who sold 20,000 tickets here in 2009 and had one of the nation's hottest tours, bailed last week on plans to play a September show at Verizon.
Although promoters rarely admit postponements and cancellations are a result of poor sales, the struggling economy is a key factor. People have less money to spend, and there are more choices than ever.
When ticket sales for a particular show don't meet a particular level by a particular time, the plug can get pulled. Late last week, in a span of 14 hours, that's what happened with the Charlotte dates for the Lilith Tour and the Jonas Brothers.
"It seems like there are more cancellations this summer than most," says Glenn Peoples, an analyst at Billboard. "It's not like there's a single database that you can tally up all the cancellations and compare it to previous years. But the news that we've seen points to this being a worse problem than any typical year."
It's not just Charlotte
The Lilith Tour ditched 10 shows altogether, including dates in Dallas, Houston, Montreal, Salt Lake City and Raleigh. ("We are in the midst of one of the most challenging summer concert seasons with many tours being cancelled outright," Lilith co-founder Terry McBride said in a press release.)
The Jonas Brothers announcement cited "recent changes in (their) schedule and the addition of several international tour markets on their upcoming Live in Concert world tour." In addition to Charlotte, they dropped Denver, Nashville, Orlando and St. Louis, among other cities.
One of the key miscalculations by Live Nation - the No. 1 concert promoter in the U.S., handler of those two shows as well as Limp Bizkit and Santana - might have been oversaturating the market. Live Nation's website lists 37 shows for Charlotte between now and summer's end. That's one almost every other day, and it doesn't include the dozens of concerts booked by rival promoters or at music clubs.
"In today's world, your average fan only goes to one or two shows a year," says Gary Bongiovanni, editor of concert-tracking trade journal Pollstar. "It's just too many shows, and even in the best of economic times, there are gonna be a significant number of tours that don't do the kind of business that people expected, and we're obviously not in the best of economic times."
Yet on paper, it can be hard to tell there's a problem: Pollstar estimates the industry sold $4.6 billion worth of tickets last year, an 11.5 percent increase over 2008.
Bongiovanni says several summer tours are enjoying great success: "If you're trying to sell Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift, you're not having any problem selling tickets. Bon Jovi's had a very successful tour. James Taylor. Sugarland's doing fine. Michael Bublé. Carrie Underwood's been doing fine.
"It depends on what you're selling. There's a lot of moving parts to all of that, and it's real easy to misguess on what the market is willing to pay in any given situation."
The local perspective
Representatives for Live Nation declined to comment. But local club owners have suggested the promotion behemoth might be cannibalizing itself.
"Summer is always slower at Amos' because of all of the outdoor concerts," says Amos' Southend owner John Ellison, whose bookings include Matisyahu and Public Enemy. "But I think it's slower than usual because with the Fillmore and (Road Runner Mobile) amphitheater, there are a lot more shows and not enough people - at least enough people with jobs - to support all of the shows."
Although attendance and the number of bookings are down, Ellison says he hasn't canceled any shows. Neither has Zach McNabb of Neighborhood Theatre, which this summer is hosting acts such as Leon Russell and Michael Franti. "It all comes down to ticket prices and value of the shows," McNabb says. "The larger venues just don't get it, unfortunately, as they have to answer to shareholders."
Douglas Young, who books shows for Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, says it's normal to see some concerts struggle while others succeed. He points to PAC shows that have underperformed, but notes that Harry Connick Jr.'s recent concert at 2,097-seat Belk Theater was a sellout.
"Things are not as bad as they look," Young says. "Charlotte audiences still love a good concert, but I think they are more carefully making buying decisions based on artists that are relevant to them."