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Festival producers optimistic despite recession

 A fan enjoys a performance by French singer Manu Chao at the Glastonbury Festival 2008 in Somerset, southwest England, June 28, 2008. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor - Reuters
A fan enjoys a performance by French singer Manu Chao at the Glastonbury Festival 2008 in Somerset, southwest England, June 28, 2008. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor
— image credit: Reuters

By Mitchell Peters

LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - With the summer music festival season just around the corner, leading international festival producers insist that the difficult economic climate isn't putting a serious crimp on business, and key promoters report that ticket sales are on par with years past.

"We're not feeling it yet," says AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips, whose company produces large U.S. festivals like Coachella, Stagecoach, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Mile High and All Points West, among others. "I'm not saying we won't eventually, but the festival business is tremendous value for the money in terms of the show and what you get."

Other major festivals also say they haven't been significantly affected by the recession. The United Kingdom's Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds festivals have all sold out. And ticket sales for Bonnaroo in Tennessee "are looking really good compared with last year," says A.C. Entertainment president Ashley Capps, whose company co-produces Bonnaroo with Superfly Productions. "Two weeks ago we were up 10 percent, and this week we're up 15 percent, so I'm feeling really optimistic."

The 10th annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival will open the 2009 festival season April 17-19 at Empire Polo Field in Indio, California, with headliners Paul McCartney, the Killers and the Cure. Last year, Coachella drew 151,666 people over three days and grossed $13.8 million, according to Billboard Boxscore.

Phillips says this year's Coachella is selling "almost neck and neck with last year," and he expects it to draw between 135,000 and 150,000 festivalgoers. Ticket sales for AEG's third annual Stagecoach Country Music Festival, set for April 25-26 at Empire Polo Field, are exceeding last year's pace, helped by a lower ticket price, Phillips says.

TROUBLING NEWS

Earlier this year, the festival business was shaken after organizers of the Langerado Music Festival in Miami and the Hydro Connect Festival in Scotland called off their events, citing the recession's impact on ticket sales as a major factor. The recession continues to affect smaller fests, prompting some organizers to cut ticket prices or offer other discounts.

To reflect their reduced talent and production budgets for 2009, organizers of the Edgefest, set for June 20 in Toronto, have slashed prices by $38 on early-bird tickets and $33 on regular admission. Elliott Lefko, vice president at Edgefest promoter Goldenvoice, estimates that the event in the city's Downsview Park will sell about 16,000 tickets -- 2,000 more than last year. "I knew I needed a cheap ticket price," Lefko says.

Phillips acknowledges that ticket sales for Michigan's second annual Rothbury Festival are running about 25 percent behind last year. "That's the one we knew was going to struggle, because it's in Michigan and you have so much unemployment," he says. "Even in a tough economy, you're not really going to be able to market your way out of it. It really becomes (a matter) of price sensitivity and the roster."

The United Kingdom's Download Festival in Donington Park, which last year was under-capacity by more than 20,000, has responded by adding a stage and expanding its roster to 125 acts, up from 95 in 2008. "Our bill is strong, we've kept our ticket price reasonable and have added value," says Andy Copping, vice president of music at Live Nation U.K., noting that he expects the event to sell out.

DETAILS UNDER WRAPS

The status of some fests remains uncertain. The Virgin Mobile Festival, which I.M.P. Productions has produced in August for the last two years, hasn't yet announced a lineup or on-sale dates. As to whether it take place this year, I.M.P. president Seth Hurwitz says, "We're working on some very exciting stuff. We're just not ready to talk about it yet."

Representatives from C3 Presents, which produces Chicago's Lollapalooza in August and the Austin City Limits Music Festival in October, declined to comment for this story. Tickets for both events are on sale.

Although San Francisco's second annual Outside Lands Festival hasn't yet released a lineup or on-sale dates, Superfly partner Jonathan Mayers says it's moving forward and that he's "very optimistic" that the event will have a strong year. Outside Lands is produced by Superfly, Another Planet Entertainment and Star Hill Presents, in partnerships with the San Francisco Recreation & Park Department.

"We're setting our expectations where we understand that it's a very challenging economy out there," Mayers says, "so we're not taking anything for granted."

Meanwhile, the Sasquatch Music Festival, scheduled for May 23-25 at the Gorge in Quincy, Washington, has sold a record 65,000 tickets since its February 28 on-sale.

"People are trimming their expenses and faraway vacations and instead doing things like going to concerts and a more reasonable close-by festival like Sasquatch," festival founder/producer Adam Zacks says. "It's not exactly cheap, but it's cheaper than going to Hawaii."

(Editing by Sheri Linden at Reuters)

(please visit our entertainment blog via www.reuters.com or on http://blogs.reuters.com/fanfare/)

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