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Summer a time vintage acts take to the road

David Hinckley New York Daily News

So much about summer is timeless. Like the smell of burgers sizzling on the grill. Or the wall of warmth that hits you as you walk outside.

Or the lineup of rock stars dusting themselves off to play another round of the hits they recorded 20, 30 or even 40 years ago.

With the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney getting ready to hit the road this summer and Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and U2 already there, it’s as if the plaques at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have busted off the walls, grabbed guitars and come to full-color 3-D life.

But in truth, says Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the concert trade magazine Pollstar, the summer of 2005 isn’t very much different from other summers.

“Except for the fact that two of the highest-profile artists are out this year – McCartney and the Stones – this is a pretty normal summer in terms of vintage acts,” he says.

Robert Plant is coming around. So is Chicago with Earth, Wind and Fire. Santana. The Moody Blues. James Taylor. And what’s billed as the Strange Days tour, featuring current incarnations of the Doors, Steppenwolf, Vanilla Fudge and the Yardbirds.

Don Henley took a break from Eagles tours to team up with Stevie Nicks. John Mellencamp and John Fogerty are rocking together. Brian Wilson’s out there, and so are the Allman Brothers and Journey. Carole King is back, and Loggins & Messina have apparently made up.

“A lot of artists just tour in the summer now,” says industry consultant and analyst Bob Grossweiner.

And it becomes even more of a stampede, he says, “because the amphitheater season is short, so promoters try to pack in as many shows as possible.”

Vintage artists march around this circuit every summer for a simple reason.

“Artists who haven’t had a new song on the radio for years, like Steve Miller, still have a large fan base,” says Bongiovanni. “Their fans haven’t stopped enjoying music, even if they’re not keeping up with top 40 any more. They like what they know.

“It’s one of their rituals of summer to see James Taylor or Jimmy Buffett. They’ll spend the money when they know they’ll have a good time.”

While the concert business is working to rebound from a stagnant 2004, Grossweiner warns that McCartney, the Stones and U2 could take business from other artists.

“The big acts suck a lot of the dollars out of the market,” he says, while gasoline prices and other expenses could also mean some fans “will see three shows this year instead of, say, five.”

The summer circuit remains the backbone of a business whose top 100 tours in 2004 grossed $1.96 billion.

Moreover, Bongiovanni notes, it was vintage acts that held steady last year while Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson and Christina Aguilera were canceling shows.

“The future will be interesting,” says Bongiovanni. “You can’t build a business forever on Rod Stewart and Chicago, because at some point they will retire.

“So the question is whether in 10 or 15 years Green Day will be the next Who and John Mayer will be the next James Taylor. We just don’t know.”

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