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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Music lovers pack halls, drown the money blues

Great Boston Globe story to pass along. I also listed this on My Facebook page:

Music lovers pack halls, drown the money blues

To save money and make a dent in his debt, Justin Ordman, 26, of Allston is forgoing road trips with friends. Donna Conway, 48, of Malden has put the kibosh on shopping sprees. Cheryl Tong, 51, of Revere is eating out less.

One thing none of them is willing to give up, however, is going to see live music.

"You might not remember a dinner you had two years ago at a restaurant, but you'll remember a good show 20 years from now," Ordman said before heading into the House of Blues recently to check out pop group 3OH!3.

The packed clubs and concert halls across the country make it clear they're not alone. Despite belt-tightening and layoff fears, the live music industry is thriving.

"2008 was a decent year for the concert business despite everything that happened," says Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of concert industry trade publication Pollstar. "What we've found as we've moved through this year is that fans are still buying concert tickets, and the high-profile tours that went on sale early in the year have done fine."

While attendance in North America was down 2 percent in 2008 compared with 2007, it was a much less steep decline than the 20 percent slide that took place between 2007 and 2006. And concert revenues actually increased by 8 percent last year after a 10 percent decline the year before.

Those numbers are practically parade-worthy given the abysmal state of CD sales.

"[Artists are] no longer making money off of records," says Bongiovanni. "Their real income stream is coming from touring, which makes the live show even more important."

"Things are going well," said Don Law, president of New England operations for national concert promoter Live Nation. "[Live Nation overall] has had 20.3 million tickets sold as of the end of April, so that's really on track with last year, so it's quite healthy." And compared to pricier indulgences like vacations, concert tickets, like movie tickets, are "a less expensive alternative for many people," he says.

And now more than ever, it seems, people want to be entertained. Just ask Bruce Springsteen, Brit-pop singer Lily Allen, musical comedy duo the Flight of the Conchords, or indie-rock darling Neko Case, all of whom put on sold-out concerts in Boston in the last month.

"You have to live your life, because if you wallow in pity it doesn't make anything better," says Tong, who attended the sold-out show by Grammy-winning British soul singer Adele at the Orpheum Theatre recently.

Another reason for healthy attendance may be the fact that musicians tour only so often. Films play for several weeks and are available on DVD, paintings hang in galleries for months, but concerts are typically a one-night-only affair. Jessica Jewett, 27, of Allston, went to the House of Blues a few Fridays back because she knew it would be her only chance to see 3OH!3. "If it's somebody you respect and look up to, you want to see them in person," she says.

Concerts also appeal to a broad spectrum of people and income levels - from teens attending $10 club shows to businessmen filling $100 arena seats. For younger concertgoers, a show is often the only form of live entertainment they can afford. Meghan Clancy, an 18-year-old high school senior from Nauset, recently dragged along a friend to see emo rockers Fall Out Boy at the Tsongas Arena in Lowell. "It's the only fun thing I can do outside of classes," she said.

Lauren Gonzalez, a 40-year-old mother from Westborough, was at the Fall Out Boy show with her daughter. Gonzalez was laid off after she bought the tickets but decided not to sell them, noting that they were less expensive than the Jonas Brothers tickets she bought last year.

Layla Hariry, another chaperoning mother in attendance, said the economy hasn't cut into her budget for live entertainment because, like many others, she's finding savings elsewhere. "I'm not going on an expensive vacation this year," the 37-year-old Lexington resident said. "Seeing a show is a little bit like you're tightening your belt, but you don't feel the pinch."

Going to a show is also a healthy distraction from the current gloomy headlines, says Maurice Methot, associate professor of visual and media arts at Emerson College.

"Music is a really good reason to put your logical mind on hold," he says. "It's a form of absolute escape. It may seem that 75 or 100 dollars is a lot of money for a ticket and it is, but I think the experience of live music, of music created before your very eyes and in front of your very ears in the moment is among the highest forms of personal transformation we can get."

On a deeper level, he says, it also helps foster community. "It binds people together and it gives them a sense of shared humanity," he says. "That's very different from listening to music in social isolation with iPod headphones. It's an opening out of one's perspective and perception. I think it's a sign of the more positive side of who we are as human beings that in spite of all of our hardships we will readily get together to listen to live music."

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