Country music fans are likely to see empty seats at Tiger Stadium when Luke Bryan, Eric Church and Jason Aldean visit for Bayou Country Superfest over Memorial Day weekend.
Tickets are still available all three days of the show — in fact, fans with the cash could still buy a 40-seat block for each day as of Tuesday afternoon. Online scalpers are asking for less than face value for already purchased tickets, though prices haven’t dropped as much as last year, when some sellers were willing to part with their seats for less than half of what they paid.
Industry professionals say the market for live country music is just too crowded, and several promoters have canceled or suspended shows this summer, including Festival Productions Inc., which puts on Superfest. The company planned a festival at the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama over the Fourth of July weekend. But in February, “Dega Jam” was canceled before it began. A track spokesman told The Anniston Star only that it was “a business decision.”
“There is an oversaturation in the market. ... You’ve got a festival on every corner,” said Nash FM and Classic Hits 103.3 DJ Scott Innes, who is producing this summer’s Cajun Country Jam at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales around Independence Day.
“It’s mass hysteria. I’m in radio and I can’t fathom all that’s going on. ... I know that people are struggling to sell tickets.”
Last month, concert trade publication Pollstar wrote that 23 “major” 2016 festivals had been canceled. Except for a few in Australia and Asia, all were country music shows.
“In general, we have seen some weakness in the country festival market this year, and several shows have been downsized, canceled or just decided to skip this year. We may have reached the saturation point given the current talent pool,” Pollstar’s editor-in-chief, Gary Bongiovanni, wrote in an email.
It’s hard to tell what that will mean for Bayou Country Superfest, which receives some taxpayer subsidies. Visit Baton Rouge provides $200,000 and the state’s provides $100,000, while the city-parish rebates sales taxes on ticket sales.
Producer Quint Davis declined through a spokeswoman to comment for this article. Unlike some other concerts, his company — which also produces the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival — doesn’t provide attendance or sales data to Pollstar, Bongiovanni said.
Davis has said 125,000 people attended last year, although that number included a Friday night Taylor Swift show that was part of her “1989” tour, not Superfest, and that opened up more seating areas in Tiger Stadium, according to an LSU official.
Visit Baton Rouge, which is both a tourism office and a Superfest sponsor, doesn’t receive attendance information until after the curtains close, said President Paul Arrigo. However, he noted that after seven years, the show has established itself in the community.
“I don’t know why we would not expect it next year,” he said.
He’s also waiting to hear back from local hotels who cater to country music fans. Tuesday afternoon, local hotels’ websites were mixed — variously advertising vacancies, some rooms for rent on some days or full occupancy.
In addition to the Baton Rouge Superfest and the canceled Dega Jam, Festival Productions will put on Buckeye Country Superfest in Columbus, Ohio, next month. The concert promoters once held the Florida Country Superfest in Jacksonville but have moved to the infield of the Daytona International Speedway this year, rebranding it as the Country 500.
Local media reported that the production company had committed to performing the Jacksonville show for three years but moved out after two, saying it struck a new deal to perform at International Speedway Corporation Tracks.
Though the Daytona and Baton Rouge events occur the same weekend and both feature Aldean and Bryan, the venues are different — single-day tickets in Florida are all $75 general admission and were still available Tuesday for each day of the show.
Bayou Country Superfest does have some advantages over festivals that have fizzled out this summer. According to Pollstar, many of those that canceled were new or had trouble securing the right acts or venue, while Superfest has been in the same location for years and has attracted A-list performers.
But Innes, the local DJ and producer, said those bands are one of the factors causing festivals to sink. If Swift or Bryan came up 20 years ago, they might be able to demand $90,000 or $100,000 per show, but now, the top acts can walk away with $1 million, he said.
“The only one that’s making money is the artist. ... It’s a cross-your-fingers deal (for promoters to turn a profit),” he said, remarking that he’s not sure when the system will change.
In addition to money from sales, the Superfest does have one other source of funding — the government.
In addition to the city tourism office, the state’s economic development office, city-parish government and Louisiana tourism office all sponsor Superfest.
The city rebates the sales tax on ticket sales, said Chief Administrative Officer William Daniel.
The city-parish used to offer a $300,000 subsidy, but the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council halted the arrangement in 2010.
Louisiana Economic Development is listed as a sponsor, though it hasn’t directly provided any funding, said spokesman Joe Coussan. However, if a performer launches into a tour after the Superfest, he or she may apply to the state for entertainment economic incentives.
Editor’s note: This article was changed on May 25, 2016, to note that Scott Innes is a DJ at Nash FM and Classic Hits 103.3 and to note that this year’s Cajun Country Jam will be held at the Lamar Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales.
Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.