Fuel, Festivals, and CD sales

Take some advice from the Grascals and - Keep On WalkinCMT News ran in interesting story yesterday concerning the relationship between fuel costs, festival attendance, and CD sales. The story’s primary focus is the affect on artists’ bottom line produced by increasing fuel costs. The story is primarily based on an interview conducted with Keith Case, but also includes quotes from Ricky Skaggs and Sharon McGraw, managing editor of Bluegrass Unlimited.

Case sees the situation from the perspective of a booking agent trying to book, schedule, and route shows for bluegrass artists. He talked about the increased price of fuel for tour busses, the increased cost of airfare and the decreased availability of flights, and the increased cost of rental vehicles.

Case relates the story of a recent short, three show tour, for Ralph Stanley.

He went from home [in southwest Virginia], played three dates that were all closely routed in Texas. He came back and his [roundtrip] fuel bill was almost $2,000.

Since these dates were all booked a year or more ago, the artists are really feeling the financial crunch from these fuel costs. My own conversations with artists indicate that many acts are unable to increase their asking price for a festival date because the promoters are simply unwilling to invest more in artist fees for next year while uncertain what attendance will look like a year from now.

Case ties a decline in CD sales to the increase fuel costs as well. Indicating that it not only costs the band more to get to the show, it also costs the fans more. Having spent much of their available cash on gas, the fans are buying less once they reach the festival.

…people are spending so much to go to festivals, as far as fuel costs go, that they are not spending as much at the festivals.

Interestingly, the author of the article then converses with a tour buss rental company manager concerning attendance at a couple of country music festivals. He then returns to bluegrass with Skaggs and Sharon McGraw.

Sharon shared that her research indicates no noticeable decline in bluegrass festival attendance, this year.

I think people have been a little more selective in how far they’ve gone [to attend festivals]. But attendance-wise, from what I’ve seen, it seems to be steady.

I think next year is when it’s all going to trickle down, when artists will say, ‘Well, we were just going to bite the bullet. Now we’ve bitten it, and it’s biting us.’ That may be where some of it comes apart.

We’ve run two polls this year, one at the beginning of the festival season, and one just recently, asking our readers if increased fuel costs would have an affect on their festival attendance this year. The results show 60% of readers indicating they are/have attending fewer festivals this year as a result of the increase in fuel costs.

If Ralph Stanley and Ricky Skaggs are feeling a financial crunch, it must be even more difficult for bands with lower booking fees, as fuel costs eat a larger percentage of their revenue. What all this means for he future of bluegrass is yet to be seen. Perhaps more bands and fans will take some advice from the title of the new Grascals CD!

  • While we are attending, to our surprise, more festivals this summer, we’re finding it difficult to find good lineups in the second rank festivals in Florida for the coming winter. Several festivals we might have attended, since we’re going to go down there anyway, either haven’t posted lineups yet or appear to have cancelled their winter event. We have responded by booking more time in state parks and hoping to find local or regional jams in central Florida and south Georgia. – Ted Lehmann

  • I can’t blame driving and distances for declining CD sales, more likely, cheap mp3s, which, really if the listener would wise up, they do not sound very good. Mp3s are at their best, compressed to the hilt versions of CDs and songs, not meant for listening, but for sampling. You are not helping your enjoyment of music by listening to something that you can e-mail to someone and download on a mp3 player to your song list from your computer.
    I would never imagine music would come to this when I was was listening to hi quality LPs 20 years ago
    Jim Moulton