After a poor performance in 2004, the concert business is showing a continued downward trend but promoters are still cautiously optimistic for a mid-summer rebound.

After a poor performance in 2004, the concert business is showing a continued downward trend but promoters are still cautiously optimistic for a mid-summer rebound. Early numbers reported to Billboard Boxscore for January through May are certainly less than encouraging compared with the same period last year: total dollars down 19%, total attendance down 22%, number of shows down only 10%.

Recognizing that a lot of numbers haven't come in yet, average figures aren't much better -- average gross per show is down 9.8%, average attendance is down 13%.

But some say comparing '04 to '05 at this stage does not paint a clear picture. "January-to-May numbers are misleading for 2005, because numbers for 2004 January/May were unusually high. We started 2004 with one of our strongest quarters in years, then in June the bottom fell out." says Michael Rapino, chairman of Clear Channel Music Group, the world's largest promoter, who admits CCMG numbers are down at this point. "But we expected that when we built a budget last fall," he adds. "We knew the real test would be the summer numbers."

Others find themselves a little ahead of the game. "Actually, things are better for House of Blues Concerts than a year ago," HOB Concerts executive VP Alex Hodges observes. "We may not be back to some great days yet, and there are always going to be some surprises up and down, some bumps in the road. But it's a different day today than a year ago, much healthier."

At this point in the game, there are some clear home runs. Paul McCartney, U2, the Rolling Stones, Kenny Chesney, Coldplay, Dave Matthews Band, Jimmy Buffett, Oasis, Ozzfest, Toby Keith, the Warped tour, the Eagles and Motley Crue are all strong, based on concerts already played or ticket sales from upcoming shows. And there are even some breakout successes, with such acts as Green Day and Rascal Flatts taking their touring game to new levels.

But the normally reliable jam band genre is experiencing some softness (as evidenced by the cancellation of the Zooma tour and lower-than-expected sales for such bands as Widespread Panic), and some classic rock and hip-hop tours have been a struggle, insiders say. "As with any year, we have some shows that are not performing to expectations," Rapino says, "but that is what a promoter gets paid to do: create demand innovatively."

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