On an October evening in 2016, some 80,000 enthralled concertgoers at Indio, Calif.’s Empire Polo Grounds gazed upward. As Roger Waters churned through “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” onstage, a giant, inflatable swine floated over the crowd. Waters’ performance was an anti-Trump declaration -- one he has said he may incorporate into his 2017 Us + Them Tour. But there was another way to look at the scene at the Desert Trip festival: as a fitting summation of the global concert industry in 2016, a business rising high above uncertainty on the ground, with fans (many of them still hungry for classic rock) more than willing to pay for memorable music and theatrics.
“Live music continues to be the engine driving the business, across all genres, demos and venues,” says Rob Light, managing partner for Creative Artists Agency. And though the post-recession years remain a fresh memory -- necessitating refined marketing, creative booking and constant re-examinations of pricing dynamics -- the global industry (estimated at $25 billion in 2016) is up by nearly every metric, powered by an economic tail wind, a consumer trend toward “experiences” (like Desert Trip) and some of its most popular stars, from Beyoncé to Bruce Springsteen, on the road.
“In general, the market has been stronger than the economy,” says Rich Tullo, who tracks live entertainment as director of research for stock market analysts Albert Fried & Co. “There have been a number of studies that show consumers, especially younger consumers, prefer to spend money on experiences rather than products.”