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Curtain falling on some concert amphitheaters

By John Gerome
Associated Press Writer

NASHVILLE — It doesn’t take a second for David Kells to recall the first concert he ever saw: Aerosmith with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Starwood Amphitheater, 1990.

Over the next 16 years, few summers passed without Kells catching at least one show from the grassy slope at Starwood. Not this year, though. The 22-year-old Nashville amphitheater was sold for $4.2 million to a developer who plans to level it and build homes where Kells and his buddies once partied under the stars.

Amphitheaters in at least four other markets — Columbus, Ohio; Sacramento, Calif.; Indianapolis; and San Antonio — are up for sale and at risk of closing.

People who monitor the concert industry say the outdoor venues, known as “sheds” in the business, aren’t as financially feasible as they once were. Arenas can bring in more revenue with tiered ticket pricing, and the land where many amphitheaters were built 20 years ago has become prime residential property with enticing real-estate values.

“It’s similar to what happened with drive-in movie theaters. You couldn’t justify using that much land for that purpose,” remarked Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of the concert industry publication Pollstar.

Concert revenue

Los Angeles-based promoter Live Nation, which sold the 65-acre Starwood and owns the four other amphitheaters on the market, said the divestiture is part of the company’s plan to maximize the value of its real-estate portfolio.

“The venues targeted for sale are either in small, noncore markets or larger markets where the alternative-purpose value of the real estate is greater than the value to us as a music venue,” the company said in its 2006 third-quarter earnings report.

Live Nation declined to comment specifically for this story.

When it opened in 1985, Starwood was considered a prototype. Owned by PACE Concerts, it seated about 17,000 and had a covered pavilion with reserved seating and a large grassy area for general admission. It cost far less to build and operate than a covered sports arena.

Several other amphitheaters followed as promoters saw an opportunity to capture a larger share of the concert revenue stream.

The sheds became a summer favorite for concertgoers who pile in each year for acts like Jimmy Buffett and the Dave Matthews Band.

“Growing up in Nashville, I had experiences there and good times there,” the 31-year-old Kells said. “It’s no different than it would be for a baseball park or any place where there’s an emotional attachment. When things change, there’s a little sadness.”

Tiered ticket pricing

Bongiovanni said the concert industry shifted in the mid-’90s when top touring groups like the Rolling Stones began using tiered ticket pricing, allowing them to charge higher rates for better seats. Amphitheaters, with most of their seating in open-air general admission, had a harder time competing. Weather, too, is always an issue, limiting use and stifling attendance when conditions are poor.

Still, the outdoor venues remain a staple of the summer touring season. Gwen Stefani, Rascal Flatts, Kenny Chesney, John Mayer and Ozzy Osbourne’s Ozzfest are some of the major tours playing them this year. In many cities, they routinely sell out.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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