The Lowdown on Billboard's Touring Awards Finalists -- Taylor Swift, One Direction and More
Illustration by Sean McCabe

The concert industry is arguably the most exciting and robust part of the music ­business, where fans go for experiences no digital stream can duplicate. And they pay for that ­excitement, to the tune of $3.8 billion in ticket sales during a recent 12-month period (a decline over the previous year).

Artists drive that global business. But so do ­promoters, managers, agents, festival ­organizers and venues. The most successful will earn ­recognition for their achievements on Nov. 19 at the 12th annual Billboard Touring Awards.

Billboard's Concert Power Players highlights the finalists in award categories based on the ­attendance and ticket-sales data compiled by Billboard Boxscore. This year's awards recognize achievements for events taking place and reported to Boxscore between Oct. 1, 2014 and Sept. 30, 2015.

Brad Paisley to Deliver Keynote Q&A at Billboard Touring Conference

The Billboard Touring Awards, the culmination of the Billboard Touring Conference on Nov. 18 and 19 at New York's Roosevelt Hotel, also include honors based on industry and career achievement.

Billboard editors choose the recipient of the Concert Marketing & Promotion Award and other honors. The Humanitarian Award will go Hugh Evans, CEO of the Global Poverty Project, ­organizer of the Global Citizen Festival in New York in September. And the Legend of Live Award, which honors ­individuals or bands that have made ­significant and ­lasting ­contributions to live music and the touring ­business, will be presented to ­veteran Detroit rocker Bob Seger.

 

TOP TOUR: The Finalists

One Direction
On the Road Again Tour

An ongoing global stadium swing put 1D in ­competition for the top tour award, bestowed on the highest-grossing concert series during the ­eligibility period. The band's On the Road Again Tour is a continuation of 2014's Where We Are Tour -- which captured both top tour and top draw awards last November. Nowhere was One Direction's global appeal more evident than the band's first-ever shows in Johannesburg on March 28 and 29, where 131,615 came out to FNB Stadium to see the band, for a tour-topping gross of $6.2 million. Richard Griffiths, 1D's manager at Modest Management, calls the South Africa audience "one of the loudest crowds we've ever played to."

The Rolling Stones
Zip Code Tour

The Rolling Stones rolled into the heartland of the United States for their 2015 Zip Code summer tour. The venerable act played venues beyond the usual superstar circuit. It marked the first North American stadium swing for the band since 2007's A Bigger Bang Tour and coincided with the rerelease of the group's classic 1971 album Sticky Fingers. Shows ­outside high-cost major markets allowed the band to offer some of its lowest ticket prices in years (as low as $30) while "flex pricing" for the best seats still yielded some staggering grosses, says John Meglen, co-president with Paul Gongaware of AEG Live's Concerts West division, which promoted the tour. The biggest date of all was a May 30 stop at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, with attendance of 59,038 and a gross that approached $8 million.

Global Poverty Project's Hugh Evans to be Honored at Touring Awards

Taylor Swift
1989 Tour

Swift's switch from the country-rooted style that launched her platinum-lined career to the pure pop of her blockbuster 1989 album was followed by a massive tour that swept through North American venues this past summer before ­venturing into international markets. Swift racked up huge grosses at arenas and stadiums, ­including $12,533,166 for a two-night stand at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., on July 24 and 25. Louis Messina at Messina Touring Group, who, in association with AEG Live, produces Swift's tours in North America, says the artist "owns the ­universe," adding that, whether pop or country, "she's a walking sizzle reel."

 

TOP DRAW: The Finalists

Kenny Chesney
Big Revival Tour

Chesney's return to the road with his Big Revival Tour, in support of his 2014 album of the same name, earned him finalist status for the top draw award, which is ­presented to the artist that sold the ­greatest number of tickets during the ­eligibility period. Chesney played more NFL ­stadiums than ever on this tour, ­breaking records in such storied sports venues as Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia; Heinz Field in Pittsburgh; Target Stadium in Minneapolis; Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.; Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.; MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.; and, ­biggest of all, Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., where he drew a whopping 120,206 fans on Aug. 28 and 29. The tour, produced by Messina Touring Group in association with AEG Live, was Chesney's biggest in a 20-year career.

Kenny Chesney

Chesney is a finalist in three categories including top package - which he has won in seven previous years. Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Kenny Chesney

One Direction
On the Road Again Tour

Contributing to One Direction's tally toward a top draw award was the band's biggest ticket-selling show on its U.S. stadium tour, an Aug. 5 return to MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., where 56,159 tickets were sold. It was the second consecutive summer stop for 1D at the ­stadium, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan. "Not many acts get to return a year later to play MetLife, and the fans were even more enthusiastic than the year before," says manager Griffiths.

Taylor Swift
1989 Tour

In North America during the award ­eligibility period, Swift's highest ticket-selling dates drew 116,849 to two shows on July 24 and 25 at Gillette Stadium, where she continued her presentation of special guests, bringing out Walk the Moon the first night and duo MKTO the second. While the cutoff for Boxscore data to count toward the Billboard Touring Awards was Sept. 30, Swift's actual ­biggest ­attendance so far for the 1989 Tour's North American run was 62,630 at AT&T Stadium in Dallas on Oct. 17. Such crowds have not been unusual on the trek. Swift launched this tour at the 55,000-capacity Tokyodome in Japan in May and played for 65,000 fans at London's Hyde Park on June 27 as part of the British Summertime series.

 

TOP PACKAGE: The Finalists

Luke Bryan
Kick the Dust Up Tour

In just three years as a headliner, Bryan has emerged as one of country music's most successful touring acts, with his Live Nation-produced Kick Up the Dust Tour reaching stadium-filling status. Bryan's tour with Randy Houser and Dustin Lynch makes him eligible for the top package award, which goes to the artist with the highest-grossing tour ­featuring three or more acts. Among the highlights of the ­outing: performances at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. (Aug. 29), which ­generated a tour-best gross of $3.8 million, and at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati (July 18), with an attendance of 52,019 -- the ­highest of the tour.

Kenny Chesney
Big Revival Tour

Chesney is a seven-time winner of the top package award and earned finalist status again with two moves. On his own Big Revival Tour, he shared concert bills with Eric Church (also billed as co-headliner), Chase Rice, Jake Owen, Brantley Gilbert, and Miranda Lambert. Also, he combined his own run with Jason Aldean's Burnin' It Down Tour for 10 co-headlining stadium dates. During the Big Revival Tour, his highest gate came with two August nights at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., that grossed $11.6 million.

OCESA-CIE

Ocesa-CIE, based in Mexico City, had a strong year with multiple-night stands by Latin giants like Chayanne, Juan Gabriel, Luis Miguel and Alejandro Fernandez. But Ocesa head promoter Guillermo "Memo" Parra says the year's main high note was the growth of the company's festival ­business in Mexico, including Corona Capital, Vive Latino and Coordenada. "Mexicans are really asking for festivals; there's a stronger demand," says Parra, noting that Ocesa-CIE will launch five more festivals in 2016. He also was pleased by a successful four-night stand by the Backstreet Boys at Mexico City's Auditorio Nacional in June. "It's unusual for an Anglo act to do that many nights at Auditorio Nacional," he says, ­adding that the group averaged 9,500 fans per concert.

 

TOP AGENCY: The Finalists

Artist Group International

Billy Joel's residency at Madison Square Garden in New York concluded its second year with a total attendance of 460,000, 24 sellouts and a gross of $50 million, but he wasn't the only star shining for Artist Group International, which is in contention for the top agency award, determined by gross ticket sales. Rush's 40th-anniversary tour sold out in 30 cities, while Motley Crue's farewell outing already has played more than 130 dates. And AGI continued to benefit acts brought to the company by former ICM booker Marsha Vlasic, who became AGI president in 2014. "We're proud to [now] have such artists as Neil Young and Elvis Costello," says AGI CEO Dennis Arfa. "They complement our roster and philosophy."

Creative Artists Agency

Booking North American tours by The Eagles, One Direction, Shania Twain, Tim McGraw, Zac Brown Band, Pitbull & Enrique Iglesias and Maroon 5, while also expanding further into the EDM market, Creative Artists Agency easily ranked among the year's top three agencies. The company's success ranged from "stadium headliners and huge amphitheater tours to an array of new artists who are sure to dominate the awards season," says Rob Light, CAA managing partner/head of music. "Our team philosophy continues to deliver great strategy, follow-through and passion on behalf of amazingly talented artists."

William Morris Endeavor

What happens when the frontman of one of your hottest bands breaks his leg ahead of a sold-out tour? For Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters, the show rolled on, with Grohl positioned onstage in a custom-made "throne." The Foos were among more than three dozen top William Morris Endeavor acts ­traversing North America, including Blake Shelton, Eric Church, Sam Smith, Florida Georgia Line, Barry Manilow (on his farewell ­outing), The Weeknd, Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga and Janet Jackson. "It has been an ­incredibly robust year [with] the growth of the ­festival market, ­international expansion, the arrival of many highly anticipated albums and the breakthrough of ­tastemaker artists," says Marc Geiger, WME head of music, citing the ­development of Selena Gomez, James Bay, ASAP Rocky and FKA Twigs.

 

TOP BOXSCORE: The Finalists

The Grateful Dead
Soldier Field, Chicago

Peter Shapiro, co-producer of The Grateful Dead's Fare Thee Well concerts, knew the 50th-anniversary run at Chicago's Soldier Field during the Fourth of July weekend (July 3-5) would do well. But even he was surprised by the demand. "We could've sold millions of tickets that day," says Shapiro of the on-sale. A lifelong Deadhead, he spent about a year organizing the record-breaking shows, which drew more than 210,000 fans, making the Chicago event a contender for the top Boxscore award, recognizing the highest-grossing single engagement during the eligibility period. Shapiro says the Windy City -- where The Dead played its last concert with Jerry Garcia in 1995 -- helped make the run special. "I don't know if any other city could've embraced it like Chicago did."

The Grateful Dead
Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.

After witnessing the overwhelming demand for Dead tickets in Chicago, organizers added two shows to precede the Soldier Field dates at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on June 27 and 28. "We had to give people another chance to see them, and it made sense to go to their hometown," says Shapiro. He jokes that the dates were the "biggest warm-up shows ever," attracting some 76,000 fans per night. The opener couldn't have been more perfect, he says, recalling the rainbow that arched over the stadium. "I turned to Jerry [Garcia's] daughter Trixie and said, 'That was your dad, right?' She said, 'Yup.'"

U2
Madison Square Garden, New York

The North American leg of U2's Innocence + Experience Tour -- which found the band scaling down its stage production from stadiums to arenas for the first time in a decade -- wrapped in stunning fashion with an eight-night stand in late July at Madison Square Garden that drew nearly 150,000 fans. Produced by Live Nation global touring president Arthur Fogel and his Toronto-based team, the run featured special appearances by Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga, Jimmy Fallon and others. "Truthfully, that eight-show run at MSG was one of the great runs ever," says Fogel, noting that U2 could have added even more shows. The tour is in support of U2's latest album, Songs of Innocence.

TOP FESTIVAL: The Finalists

Austin City Limits Music Festival
Austin

Ladies ruled the 2014 edition of the 13-year-old festival, with Lana Del Rey, Iggy Azalea and Lorde reigning over the Austin City Limits Music Festival in its ­second year of back-to-back weekends (Oct. 3-5, 10-12). (The 2015 event will be ­eligible for the 2016 award.) A ­finalist for the top festival award, Austin City Limits drew crowds of 450,000 to Zilker Park to see headliners Eminem, Pearl Jam, Outkast, Skrillex, Beck and Calvin Harris. "The most anticipated set came from Lorde, who performed only on weekend two," says promoter Amy Corbin of C3 Presents. "She delivered an incredible ­performance that blew everyone away."

Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival
Indio, Calif.

This was Coachella's fourth year of ­staging two consecutive weekends with the same lineup of acts. The 2015 headliners included Jack White, AC/DC, Alabama Shakes, Drake and The Weeknd. That bill led to a record-setting attendance of 99,000 each weekend (April 10-12, 17-19). Coachella, named top festival at the 2014 Billboard Touring Awards, also set a box-office record with tickets ranging from $375 to $899. "If we sell those tickets," says Coachella founder Paul Tollett, "we have to make sure we come through for people with a good time." Fans trust Coachella to deliver: Tickets sold out 11 months in advance for the 2015 edition.

Florence & The Machine

Florence Welch of Florence & The Machine performed in April at Coachella, a finalist in the top festival category. Chelsea Lauren/WireImage

Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival
San Francisco

In its eighth year, the culinary music festival, held Aug. 7 to 9 at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, featured an ­eclectic lineup ranging from veterans Elton John, Billy Idol and D'Angelo to newer stars Sam Smith and Kendrick Lamar, as well as an expanded bill of comedy acts. This year's multi-­generational festival drew 212,024 fans and took its first steps toward becoming a cashless event, with ­attendees wearing wristbands on which they could preload money for wine purchases. The new technology, which has been used at only a handful of other major events, promises to improve the festival ­experience from entry to ­concessions. "In the short run," says Gregg Perloff of Another Planet Entertainment, which promotes Outside Lands, "we want to use wristbands not only for entry, which cuts down on counterfeit tickets, [but for] ­people to buy all their food and merchandise."

BREAKTHROUGH AWARD: The Finalists

Eric Church

Church topped the bill in arenas for the first time on his Outsiders Tour in 2014 and 2015, putting him in contention for the Breakthrough Award, presented to an artist in his or her first decade of touring who moves up to headlining status in major venues. Church's double play at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. (Oct. 24-25, 2014) was his highest gross of the period, with $1.2 million, while the Allstate Arena show in Rosemont, Ill., on March 31 drew 18,626 fans -- the tour's largest attendance. Louis Messina, producer of Church's Outsiders Tour, quips, "We should call it the 'Insiders Tour' because everybody in the towns we play are always inside the arena."

5 Seconds of Summer

5 Seconds of Summer rose to fame as a support act on One Direction's 2014 summer tour and quickly became an arena-headlining powerhouse. The highest gross of the year for 5SOS was at SSE Arena (formerly Wembley) in London, where the band grossed $1.6 million from a total attendance of 31,211 on June 12, 13 and 14. "Every band in the world wants to play Wembley Arena," says manager Griffiths, "and 5SOS playing three nights there on their first arena tour was pretty surreal." 5SOS also was a winner in North America, where the Aussie band grossed $1.4 ­million at the Nikon at Jones Beach Theater in Wantagh N.Y., on Sept. 1 and 2, the top gross on the tour. The group's highest attendance came in August at Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre in Tinley Park, Ill., where the act played for 30,609 fans.

Ed Sheeran

For Sheeran, 2015 was indeed a breakthrough year. The singer-songwriter packed in 162,208 fans at Dublin's Croke Park on July 24 and 25, grossing $11.6 million. And a two-night stand on Sept. 22 and 23 at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., racked up $1.5 million in gross and 23,484 in attendance for Sheeran's biggest stateside gig. Messina credits Taylor Swift with urging him to work with Sheeran, and the veteran promoter acknowledges his admiration for the singer. "The guy played three [dates at] Wembley Stadium by himself. They were saying, 'He can't do it by himself on an acoustic guitar.' He did it three times, and two Dublin stadium shows, selling out night after night."

TOP COMEDY TOUR: The Finalists

Jeff Dunham

After touring nonstop for seven years, comic-ventriloquist Jeff Dunham set up shop in Las Vegas for a 10-month ­residency at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino. That strategy put him in the running for top comedy tour, which is determined by the total gross in ticket sales during the eligibility period. "This was the first time he had ever been in one place like that," says Dunham's longtime promoter Robin Tate, noting that the comedian averages about 120 shows annually. While at the 1,500-capacity theater at Planet Hollywood, Dunham wrote material for his latest TV comedy special, Jeff Dunham: Unhinged in Hollywood, which premiered on NBC in September.

Kevin Hart

"This is the biggest comedy tour in history," agent Mike Berkowitz of APA declares of Hart's latest arena trek. "It's like Joe DiMaggio's streak -- one for the records." Confirmation of that bold claim will come with a tally of Hart's final ticket grosses. But it's true that no other comic in years has sold out a stadium show, as Hart did on Aug. 30 for a homecoming ­performance at Lincoln Financial Field in his native Philadelphia. Berkowitz, who books Hart worldwide, attributes much of the comedian's success to his recent appearances in such films as Ride AlongThe Wedding Ringer and Get Hard.

Kevin Hart

Kevin Hart is a finalist for top comedy tour.Jeff Vespa/Getty Images for Hilarity for Charity

Russell Peters

After performing across 26 countries in 2012 and 2013, Peters didn't waste much time getting back on the road with new material. The Canadian comedian's ­latest worldwide arena trek, Almost Famous, launched in September 2014 and will continue through March 2016. His ticket grosses during the eligibility period count toward his award status. "It has been a very successful tour fiscally and in terms of fan response and turnouts," says the comic's manager and older brother Clayton Peters, who oversees his sibling's ­bookings in conjunction with William Morris Endeavor. Part of the comedian's success and ­growing fan base can be attributed to Netflix. "We've seen great results from the specials we've done," says Clayton, noting that Russell's next special will be based on his Almost Famous Tour.

Reporting by Melinda Newman, Mitchell Peters and Ray Waddell.

This article was originally published in the Nov. 21 issue of Billboard.