In the wake of the recent swine flu outbreak, Ticketmaster's Mexican Web site resembled an airport departure screen during a snow storm, with rows of concert listings followed by the same word: "Cancelado."
To help contain the outbreak, the Mexican government banned public events in Mexico City, issued advisories against gatherings in other parts of the country and closed schools nationwide. That left promoters and managers scrambling to postpone shows to after May 6, when schools are scheduled to reopen. Alejandro Fernandez, Marco Antonio Solís, Los Lobos and Alejandra Guzman are just a few of the acts that have been affected by the cancellations of cultural festivals, theater and sports events. The Jonas Brothers and Metallica are still scheduled to perform sold-out shows in Monterrey and Mexico City, respectively, in the coming weeks.
Though suspected swine flu cases have been reported as far away as New Zealand, the higher number of deaths attributed to the disease in Mexico set off a swift reaction by the live entertainment industry.
An April 24 show by the Finnish group the Rasmus at Mexico City's Auditorio Nacional was canceled, while an April 25 concert by the Mexican pop act Ha-Ash at the same venue was rescheduled for May 7.
"We will be working normally once the health authorities confirm that this warning has been released," says Francisco Serrano Carreto, director of the Auditorio's sister venue Lunario.
While others in the live industry also expressed optimism that things would return to normal after May 6, some on both sides of the border were developing alternatives in case health fears don't subside by then.
John Frias, whose company is promoting a May 9 triple bill of the regional Mexican acts Los Temerarios, K-Paz de la Sierra and Pancho Barraza in Anaheim, Calif., said tickets had been moving briskly as of last weekend.
Still, Frias says he'd be taking note of attendance at Cinco de Mayo celebrations to assess whether he should reschedule his concert, given his target audience of Mexican immigrants and Mexican-Americans, many of whom may have recently traveled south of the border.
"That's going to be a huge indication for us...if we haven't made a decision by then," Frias says.
At press time, top regional Mexican act Banda el Recodo was still expecting to make a scheduled May 3 performance at a festival in San Diego but had canceled its Mexico appearances through May 8. The band's booker Pepe Serrano says his company, which also manages several acts, would likely lose about $250,000 in May due to canceled dates. "The uncertainty is killing us," he says, adding that one way to mitigate the losses would be to book more stateside shows.
Promoters tend to carry expensive cancellation insurance for large international tours, while they don't for most other shows. Still, "there are always clauses in the contracts for unforeseen events," says Pablo Vega, manager of the Chilean pop group Kudai, which plans to reschedule some upcoming dates in Cancun. Vega notes that promoters take the biggest hit with cancellations and postponements, having already put up money to promote the original dates.
Chris del Rey, producer of a May 3 Cinco de Mayo music festival in South El Monte, Calif., sponsored by KBUE/KBUA (La Que Buena) Los Angeles was heartened by the strong turnout at L.A.'s Fiesta Broadway a week earlier. Del Rey noted that a free all-day concert featuring top acts and full-size product samples from grocery sponsors may attract more families than ever in an economic crisis.
"If anything," del Rey says, "they need an outlet with all this bad news."