Memphis was a great market for concerts once upon a time, you might hear some old timers say of the golden age of arena rock.
But the market has changed dramatically from the time when Bob Kelley’s Mid-South Concerts took out a black and white quarter page ad in The Commercial Appeal’s Playbook section every week to announce his newest booking.
The concertgoers who might be at the Mid-South Coliseum or the Auditorium or the Mud Island Amphitheater for most if not all of that evolving schedule of shows may now go to one show a year – three at the most.
If you’ve got a fistful of ticket stubs from that era, the reason for the change is on there. Just $10 to see The Rolling Stones at the Coliseum in 1978. And at the time, there were questions about whether consumers would be willing to pay that much.
The business of music has changed. It’s changed everywhere, not just here – even if it seems like all the good shows go to Nashville, Atlanta or St. Louis while forgoing the Bluff City.
For decades Midtown was without the kind of showcase music club that now exists with Minglewood Hall and the Hi-Tone Cafe.
The city’s largest venue, FedExForum, within the last few years has drawn everyone from the Stones to the Foo Fighters to Taylor Swift to Usher.
And just last year Led Zeppelin’s legendary frontman Robert Plant launched a national tour at a sold-out Orpheum Theatre.
Meanwhile, the local music scene is as vibrant as ever with a diversity of sounds and an originality that can scarcely be contained in the clubs and similar-sized venues that book live music.
Music has been here before. The difference is the business of music seems in search of a quantifiable stability that has never existed and clinging to a broken business model that it has mistaken for that stability.
The business of concerts has probably never been more calculated and more professional.
It’s thrived, creating a marketplace that has less of the quality control that rested heavily with record labels. The result of the DIY phenomenon can be a larger diaspora with a much more diverse and eccentric fringe.
The music that should be at the heart of the concert business can survive and even thrive in smaller venues. When the business side of the equation figures out how to put music, with all of its grace and volatility, back at the center of the formula the arenas will still be there, maybe this time with new crowds to see new performers and fewer barriers – economic and otherwise – between the two.