Look Who's Coming This Season... and Who's Not Concert schedule lacks star power of summer of '94

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Last summer, all the stars came out.

Barbra Streisand, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones, the Eagles, Aerosmith, Metallica, Meat Loaf, Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston were on tour. Add Woodstock and such package tours as Lollapalooza and the H.O.R.D.E., and it's easy to understand why 1994 was a record-breaking year for the concert industry, with a total of $1.4 billion in ticket sales nationwide.

This summer won't be quite so star-studded. Although some big-name performers are hitting the road as the weather warms up, most are season perennials -- Bonnie Raitt (who will perform at the Merriweather Post Pavilion tonight), Jimmy Buffett, Elton John and the Grateful Dead. Everyone else, it seems, is either arriving in the fall or staying home altogether.

Bruce Springsteen, for example, decided against hitting the road with the reunited E Street Band, choosing instead to work on a new solo album. Rod Stewart will be touring behind his new album but won't arrive in this country until the fall. And even though R.E.M. has resumed its tour after drummer Bill Berry underwent brain surgery in Switzerland, the group isn't due in this area until Oct. 16, when it will play the USAir Arena.

As a result, things will be a lot quieter in the summer of '95.

"Fewer of the big names are working this year," says Dave Williams, president of Virginia-based Cellar Door Productions. "It's not the greatest year for touring talent. I guess last year becomes the barometer for all future years, and last year was a great year. Everybody worked."

"Last year was definitely an anomaly as far as the number of superstar artists and stadium tours that came into all of the big markets," agrees Jean Parker, general manager at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia.

So are the promoters quaking in their boots? Hardly.

"As far as the quality goes, this is probably the best season that we've had in the last four or five years," says Parker. "There aren't as many shows, but what's touring is definitely of a quality nature."

"A lot of the new stuff is working," adds Williams. "The Cranberries, the H.O.R.D.E. [festival] and Lollapalooza -- that type of stuff will all do business. Overall, it should be an OK year."

Especially for Cellar Door, whose share of the area's summer concert market should increase dramatically with the opening of the Nissan Pavilion at Stone Ridge in Bristow, Va., on Saturday. ++ As Williams points out, "Everything [in the concert business] is moving to the summertime. Everything is moving to the shed-type of venue. Merriweather has kicked my [posterior] for the last 20 years; I wanted to have an opportunity to compete. So we found the land and built the venue."

Given that Merriweather and the Nissan Pavilion are roughly 90 minutes apart -- and that Philadelphia is closer than Bristow for many in the Baltimore area -- will the two venues really be in competition?

"It's limited, but certainly there's some competition," says Williams. "A Jimmy Buffett can certainly play both venues without any problem. He's proved that. He's playing Merriweather, he's playing my venue, they all sold out."

The big fights are likely to occur when an act decides it will play only one show in the Baltimore/Washington area. "Then we both compete for it," says Williams, who thinks his venue has the advantage.

"People that come to my place aren't going to go back to Merriweather if they have a choice," he says. "I'm new, I'm spiffy, I've got great sound, I've got great video, the ambience is much better. Merriweather was a great venue 25 years ago, [but now] it's old and it's tired. My place is much more user-friendly. I've got more parking. I've got more seats under the roof. It's just more comfortable."

Capacity at the Nissan Pavilion is 25,000, while Merriweather holds only 15,000 -- the size of the Nissan Pavilion's lawn audience. That's one reason the Nissan Pavilion has attracted some big names that aren't on the Merriweather schedule, including the Cranberries (Aug. 9), Melissa Etheridge (June 25), Michael Bolton (July 15) and Luther Vandross (June 28).

All that competition doesn't worry the folks at Merriweather.

"If anything, it's helping us better define our market," says Parker. "In the past, we've strictly been a Washington/Baltimore area venue. Now, they've got -- or they should have -- the majority of the Virginia audience. We will still pull from Washington metropolitan area toward Baltimore, and also into Baltimore.

"But it's helped us better focus on the Baltimore market, which has become our audience base. Over the last 12-15 years, our audiences have become more predominantly from the Baltimore market."

Among the acts booked at Merriweather and currently missing from the Nissan Pavilion lineup are Hootie & the Blowfish (June 23), Sarah McLachlan (July 19) and Tom Petty (Aug. 24). Acts playing both venues include Jimmy Buffett (June 13-14 at Merriweather, Aug. 11 at Nissan) and Van Halen (Aug. 4 at Nissan, Aug. 29 at Merriweather).

Still, several big shows remain unconfirmed at both venues, including a probable Elton John show at Merriweather, and a likely Lollapalooza stop -- with Sonic Youth, Hole, Cypress Hill, Pavement, Sinead O'Connor, Beck, the Jesus Lizard and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones -- in Bristow. (Although the Nissan date is listed on the official Lollapalooza tour schedule, Williams says, "It has not been confirmed to me. I truly do not know if I'm going to get the date or not.")

Things will be on a much smaller scale elsewhere. At this point, it looks like there will be just four shows at RFK Stadium: Saturday's sold-out HFS-tival (with Soul Asylum, Mike Watt, Primus and several other rock acts); the Grateful Dead/Bob Dylan double bill (June 24-25), and an unconfirmed Budweiser Superfest package with Boyz II Men, TLC, Mary J. Blige and Montell Jordan (tentatively scheduled for July 22).

There will also be as many as 30 shows at Pier Six this summer. Although at this point the schedule seems heavy on nostalgia -- with shows by the Duke Ellington Orchestra (June 9); War, the Average White Band and the Ohio Players (June 11); and Rosemary Clooney (July 23) -- shows featuring a few more modern artists are reportedly in the offing.

"Within the next two weeks, we're hoping to have five new shows booked," says press officer Tracy Baskerville. "We wanted to do a mix of music, but we definitely want to hit a younger crowd, too."

Conspicuously missing from the forecast at this point is Pearl Jam, which has yet to announce East Coast dates for its current tour. "We're holding dates," says Williams. "But there's a serious question whether there's a second leg to that tour, and I think everybody's waiting for [the band] to decide."

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