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Tuesday, Sep 26, 2023

FAIR—Bob Dylan Appearance at Fair Is Sign of New Clout

Bob Dylan for 30 bucks? It’s no joke, it’s a bargain. The Grammy and recent Academy Award-winning artist has been added to the entertainment lineup for the Antelope Valley Fair in Lancaster later this summer. To some tour promoters, Lancaster may be nothing more than another dot on the map that they’ve never heard of. But even small towns eventually get their share of the routing pie. In fact, Dylan is part of a lineup of highly sought after entertainers scheduled to perform during the 10-day event, which runs Aug. 24 through Sep. 3. Although he was added to the schedule to replace country performer Alan Jackson who canceled out, Dylan is also booked to perform at three other fairs across the country this summer, supporting claims that the fair industry is increasingly becoming more than just an afterthought for high-profile performers. Tickets for Dylan’s show are selling for $20, $25 and $30. By comparison, fair admission (which is included in the price of the concert ticket) is $6 for adults, $3 for seniors and children 16 and under. Country music performer Wynonna Judd is scheduled to perform on the fair’s opening night. Tickets for her show are $15 and $25. Opening for Judd is Dennis Quaid and the Sharks. And on Aug. 29, the Grammy Award-winning Destiny’s Child will hit the stage, with tickets starting at just $20. Other performances include Lonestar, Tracy Byrd and Chubby Checker. What has traditionally served as a standard summer tour route for country music artists, fair officials say, is slowly shifting to include a more diversified lineup, including contemporary rock acts. In addition, ticket prices for these shows are often well below what standard arenas and amphitheaters typically demand for similar performances. And, as is the case with AV Fair, they often include fair admission. For instance, if you want to catch Dylan at the Sundome Center for the Performing Arts in Sun City, Ariz. on Aug. 23, it will cost you anywhere between $25 and $65. And Destiny’s Child in Albany, N.Y. on July 18 will run you $40.75 to $45.75 per ticket. Fairs are being taken more seriously by musicians and the agents who book their tours, and for solid economic reasons. The softening economy means promoters have a harder time securing acceptable fees for their clients at large arenas and concert halls, and they’re looking for alternatives. “I was visiting with some talent agents over the last few weeks and it seems to me that what I’m hearing from them is that the market is definitely softening for them as a result of the economy, so they are looking at more and more fairs for next year,” said Jim Tucker, president of the International Association of Fairs and Expositions. “Yes, I think there is definitely a trend growing here.” To stay competitive, fairs have had to shift their focus to attract new audiences, and that includes taking a look at what they offer for entertainment. Many, because of their agricultural roots and exhibitions, traditionally have had strong ties to country music. But those rural areas with agricultural roots are becoming distant suburbs like the Antelope Valley and fair managers are trying to respond to the new demographics. While there is still somewhat of a “cheesy” stigma attached to the fair circuit for today’s performer, they have long provided a home for classic rock revival acts, said Randall Tierney, a Los Angeles-based editor for Amusement Business, which covers the fair industry. “The big picture is the fairs have long revived a number of acts that have been floundering over the years,” said Tierney. “Today’s artists know that, so there is definitely a trend in shifting from country to more diversity. Of course, it varies from region to region, but more and more fairs are turning away from country and they are managing to secure acts that normally they wouldn’t go after.” Then there are also those artists, country and otherwise, who simply love the genre. According to Rondal Richardson, general manager for Wynonna Inc., Wynonna Judd’s Nashville-based company, California is coveted territory for touring artists. “When you are a country music artist, it’s sort of mandated that you do the fair circuit,” said Richardson. “But she picks and chooses her shows as they come along and this was not a touring year for us. This particular show was one of my favorites from the beginning, and the Antelope Valley fair representatives there are smart, and these guys just came with the most incredible offer on the table.” Dylan was a late addition to the fair’s lineup. Tickets for his show went on sale Saturday, June 16 and, according to Jacobs, fans were camped out on the fairgrounds a week in advance to get their hands on them. But, interestingly enough, Dylan did not sell out. Yet. “That’s not unusual,” said Dan Jacobs, the fair’s general manager. “We have something like 2,700 bleacher tickets for those concerts, so we don’t typically sell out immediately.” Destiny’s Child, on the other hand, has sold out. The AV Fair made an offer to the group after the release of its Grammy Award-winning hit “Say My Name” came out last fall. The AV Fair has an operating budget of roughly $4 million, $810,000 of which is earmarked for entertainment. That figure is on par with the much larger Del Mar (Calif.) Fair, which has an entertainment budget of roughly $950,000. Dylan is the most expensive act booked for the AV fair this year at $110,000 for his one-day performance. He’s followed by Destiny’s Child at $105,000, then Wynonna Judd at $65,000. Dennis Quaid and the Sharks will get $15,000. Those prices are not exorbitant, according to Jacobs. “Traditionally, we have paid anywhere between $100,000 and $125,000 for our grandstand entertainment,” said Jacobs. “So we are within budget.” “We got very lucky this year, no doubt, but it’s also the way we just kind of fit into some of the routes that the performers were making this year,” Jacobs said. “Sometimes it’s a big juggling act for the promoter or the agent and we just seemed to fit in well this time around.” It may be too soon to say how much of an impact Tejano musician Freddy Fender had on the bottom line for the San Fernando Valley Fair, held June 7 to 10 at Hansen Dam Recreation Area. But paid attendance for the four-day event jumped to 13,000 this year, up from 9,800 in 2000. The fair, which had lost money and visitors over the last few years (paid attendance fell by a third in 2000 and the fair took a loss of roughly $180,000), was taken over by the management team of the AV Fair. Gross revenues, including entertainment fees, were $66,000, up roughly $15,000 from 2000.

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