By nearly all measures, the touring industry continued to see growth in 2017, with steady increases in ticket sales and attendance adding up to a record $25 billion in spending by year’s end, industry executives estimate. Live Nation’s second-quarter revenue increased 29 percent over 2016, thanks in large part to nine-figure outings for stadium draws like Coldplay, U2 and a reunited Guns N’ Roses, and both Live Nation and AEG logged record ticket sales, fueled by their acquisitions of smaller competitors.
But the past year also saw two horrific attacks at live music events -- the Manchester, England, bombing outside an Ariana Grande show on May 22 and the shooting in Las Vegas at the Route 91 Harvest Festival on Oct. 1. Concerns persist as mass shootings continue to occur in the United States. “The big question is whether people stop going out to concerts,” says Dennis Arfa, booking agent for Billy Joel and Metallica at Artist Group International.
At the annual Billboard Touring Awards on Nov. 14, presented during the Billboard Touring Conference at the Montage in Beverly Hills Nov. 14-15, Everytown for Gun Safety will be recognized for its dedicated efforts to making concerts safer in the wake of such tragedies. And in the 15 other categories outlined here, artists and industry players -- from breakthrough winner Lil Uzi Vert to Legends of Live Tim McGraw and Faith Hill -- will receive honors for their achievements in a qualifying year (Oct. 1, 2016 - Sept. 30, 2017) when demand for live music remained strong. Says I.M.P. promoter Seth Hurwitz, who opened Washington, D.C.’s new Anthem in October, “If you focus on consistently building a connection between the artist and the fan, you’ll do just fine.”
-- Dave Brooks
Phish Madison Square Garden, New York, July 21 - Aug. 6
“It didn’t matter what night it was, how many shows you had been to or whether you had work the next day -- as soon as those lights went down, the energy was palpable,” says Darren Pfeffer, executive vp MSG Live, of Phish’s historic 13-night “Baker’s Dozen” run at the Garden, attended by 227,385 fans. “There are not many bands touring today who could get so many of the same people back into the arena for 13 nights, many of them weeknights. And then compared to the band’s annual New Year’s run, it just felt different. It wasn't tied to a holiday, it was just, ‘Let’s rock the Garden over and over and over again’ -- and the creativity and stamina that the band brought to the stage was just inspiring. The fact that they played 237 songs and never repeated one just shows what a powerhouse they are.” -- Dan Rys
Guns N’ Roses London Stadium, June 16-17
The only U.K. stop on the reunited bad boys’ Not in This Lifetime Tour -- and the only one to offer two consecutive nights of shows to fans -- sold a stunning 139,267 tickets.
U2 Stade de France, Paris, July 25-26
The band’s first shows in France since Dec. 7, 2015 -- when it played just a month after the deadly terrorist attack at the Bataclan nightclub -- was the highest-grossing stop on the Joshua Tree Tour. “Stade de France is one of the great stadiums of the world,” says the band’s promoter, Live Nation’s Arthur Fogel. “French fans were amazing, and the shows were incredible.”
Guns N’ Roses, Not in This Lifetime Tour
For fans who waited decades for a Guns N’ Roses reunion that included Slash, Axl Rose and Duff McKagan, the 2016-17 Not in This Lifetime Tour lived up to its name. “Fans are getting to see something they never thought they would see,” says GNR manager Fernando Lebeis. “There were so many different generations of music fans" waiting for a reunion tour, adds United Talent Agency’s Ken Fermaglich, the band’s agent. After opening the tour in 2016 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and then headlining two nights of Coachella, the band is on track to play 83 shows in 2017, closing out with three arena dates in Los Angeles (Nov. 24, 25 and 29). “We’re not even close to reaching the end,” says Lebeis. “We’re just getting started. The best is yet to come.”
U2, The Joshua Tree Tour
On U2’s trek celebrating the 30th anniversary of its album The Joshua Tree, the band played to over 2.7 million fans at just 51 shows across four continents. Onstage, evocative films by original album photographer Anton Corbijn backed the group on a 200-foot-by-45-foot high-resolution LED screen -- reportedly the largest of its kind ever used on a tour.
Coldplay, A Head Full of Dreams Tour
The British band’s biggest run to date -- 122 stadium and arena shows spread out across five continents, with double nights at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.; Soldier Field in Chicago; and Olympic Stadium in Seoul -- was a dazzling spectacular of lights and visual effects, including a colorful confetti-filled finale for “Fix You.”
Lil Uzi Vert
The Philadelphia rapper, who was announced as the winner of the award on Oct. 24, was a mainstay on summer stages, hitting Coachella, Lollapalooza and Miami’s Rolling Loud festival, where he shot out into the audience in a 20-foot stage dive. But it was his hometown show in late 2016 that stands out for the artist. “Playing Made in America was unreal,” says Uzi. “I’m from Philly, and I got to play down the street from my spot. I had never been before -- the first time I go, I’m performing.”
Milestones like that set Uzi up for a banner qualifying year that included his first album, Luv Is Rage 2, debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, single “XO Tour Llif3” going four-times platinum and a surprise performance of the track alongside Ed Sheeran at the MTV Video Music Awards in August (with Uzi also guesting on Sheeran’s “Shape of You”).
“People just weren’t ready for that,” he says of the televised performance. “But I like to surprise people. I like my music to throw people off their game.”
Currently at work on the follow-up to his freshman album, Montevallo, finalist Hunt has spent most of the year on his own headlining tour, riding the runaway success of single “Body Like a Back Road,” which broke the record for most weeks atop Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart.
There’s nothing holding him back: The young pop troubadour, who’s also a finalist, made the jump to arenas in 2017, capitalizing on the success of second studio album Iluminate. After an extensive North American tour, Mendes is closing out the year with shows in New Zealand, Australia and Asia, including a massive year-end headliner at the Toyko International Forum.
“The water in Flint is actually poisonous. I mean, Hollywood people are like, ‘So what? At least they have water.’”
“Every comedian needs a Leather Special, where they wear all leather -- and regret it later. This is my fucking moment.”
“We grew up like wild dogs in the ’60s. No safety. No seat belts. Anything came to a stop, we just flew through the air.”
Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival
Empire Polo Club, Indio, Calif., April 14-16, 21-23
Coachella boosted its capacity from 99,000 to 125,000 for each of its two weekends and boasted surprise performances by The Weeknd with Nav; Drake, Migos and Ty Dolla $ign with Future; and Lauryn Hill with DJ Snake -- complementing riveting headlining sets from Radiohead, Kendrick Lamar and Lady Gaga, who was booked after a then-pregnant Beyoncé bowed out.
Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival
Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, Aug. 11-13
Metallica, The Who, Lorde and Gorillaz helped Outside Lands celebrate its 10th anniversary along with “the best and most innovative local food and wine artisans,” says promoter Rick Farman of Superfly, which co-created the event with Another Planet Entertainment as a culinary and music showcase.
Empire Polo Club, Indio, Calif., April 28 - 30
An 84th birthday performance by Willie Nelson (with guests Neil Young, Jamey Johnson, Margo Price and John Doe) was a highlight at Stagecoach, which also featured first-time festival appearances by Shania Twain, Jerry Lee Lewis, Tommy James, The Zombies, Cole Swindell and Rhiannon Giddens. It was, says festival director Stacy Vee, “by far our most eclectic lineup to date.”
-- Dean Budnick
Concert Marketing & Promotion
Bruno Mars’ Paint the World Gold Campaign for the 24K Magic Tour
Khalid’s Summer #F21xMusic Digital and We Are Forever campaigns for Forever 21
Lady Gaga’s Dream Ticket promotion with Verizon for her Joanne World Tour
Taylor Swift’s Super Saturday show with AT&T and Swift-curated channel on AT&T’s DirecTV Now streaming-TV service
Foo Fighters’ Cal Jam and North American Concrete and Gold Tour with Capital One
Madison Square Garden, New York
O2 Arena, London
T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
Top Venue Under 10,000 Seats
Auditorio Nacional, Mexico City
The Axis at Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas
Radio City Music Hall, New York
Top Venue Under 5,000 Seats
The Colosseum at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas
Fox Theatre, Atlanta
Orpheum Theatre, Minneapolis
Live Nation Entertainment
Top Independent Promoter Worldwide
Another Planet Entertainment
Paradigm Talent Agency
Creative Artists Agency
The Fillmore, Philadelphia
House of Blues, Boston
9:30 Club, Washington, D.C.
BB&T Pavilion, Camden, N.J.
Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles
Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater, Wantagh, N.Y.
Methodology: Award winners are chosen from among 46 finalists in 15 categories, based on attendance and ticket sales as compiled by Billboard Boxscore for events taking place from Oct. 1, 2016, through Sept. 30, 2017. Boxscore tour totals are not revealed before the awards. The Breakthrough Artist and Humanitarian of the Year honorees, along with the concert marketing and promotion award winner, are chosen by Billboard editors.