The Hodgepodge: The Decline of Country Festivals

With the rise of bro-country from virtually every male artist in country music came the rise of country festivals across the nation to capitalize on the hot trend. The goal was to put Florida Georgia Line or Luke Bryan on stage in a field surrounded by beer tents where hundreds of college students and recent graduates will congregate and get drunk while crappy, corporate country music blasted through the speakers encouraging the concert goers to continue getting drunk. These country festivals are basically a glorified frat party.

As quickly as the bro-country trend sky rocketed, it’s free-falling at the same rate. This year, over 20 country music festivals have cancelled shows due to a lack of interest and ticket sales. The Bayou Country Superfest saw a drop in ticket sales for the block of shows last weekend. The most likely case for these plummeting attendance numbers could be due to the fact that there’s simply way too many shows and festivals out there.

“Several shows have been downsized, canceled or just decided to skip this year. We may have reached the saturation point given the current talent pool,” – Pollstar’s editor-in-chief, Gary Bongiovanni

“There is an oversaturation in the market. … You’ve got a festival on every corner,”– Nash FM and Classic Hits 103.3 DJ Scott Innes

Another theory Innes states for the sudden evaporation of the festivals is that artists aren’t making money. “The only one that’s making money is the artist. … It’s a cross-your-fingers deal (for promoters to turn a profit).” Innes points out that top acts at these festivals could walk away with upwards of $1 million per show. A majority of these festivals have tickets that are purchased as an all day pass or gate admission for the whole day. So a $40 admission fee grants you access to see every show scheduled that day, and many festivals will have a bundle discount option for multiple days. That’s unlike a show at an arena or stadium where $60 buys your nosebleed seat for an opener or two plus the headliner.

So why are artists demanding so much money? Because concerts and live shows are what bring the majority of profit. We’ve detailed several times how streaming’s payouts are ridiculously low for artists and songwriters. However, as streaming continues to grow and modern radio continues to decline, artists and labels need to find other ways to bring in money. The concert and tour therefore become the focal point for the artist or band. That’s why albums are built with a high number of ready-made singles. Producers and labels want an album with five or six singles to sustain a long tour. They want more money for these shows because it’s essentially all they have for profit. But at festivals with multiple days and headliners, no one gets paid if fans aren’t there to buy drinks and merchandise.

One reason why I think attendance numbers are lower this year is due to the fact that bro-country is virtually dead. Many of the biggest names in bro-country have moved on with songs about heartbreak or spiritual inspired love song. Florida Georgia Line has “H.O.L.Y.”, Blake Shelton has “She’s Got a Way With Words”, Luke Bryan has “Huntin’ Fishin’….” which reverts back to his country checklist lifestyle and not a bro party. The point is, for many of these artists, the party has ended for now.

How many fans of bro-country were fans of the actual artist vs. simply fans of the trend and songs? I can’t tell you how many of my own friends despised country music until bro-country took off, then they became big fans of Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line. Boston is a city that traditionally didn’t value country music, but once bro-country became popular, Boston became a hot spot for mainstream country concerts. I’d be willing to bet that a good chunk of bro-country fans were only fans of bro-country, and don’t care for “Confession” or “H.O.L.Y.”

How will the Adult Contemporary influence on so many recent mainstream releases bring a big change to concert culture? The songs don’t ignite the party like bro-country did. And probably a better question for the concert goer, is how will the lack of extra profit from the festivals effect ticket prices for normal tour shows? Several artists like Eric Church and Kip Moore have tried to fight off scalpers, so that their fans wanting to attend shows are ripped off with ticket prices. There are singers out there who understand that for some fans, a concert ticket may be a tall order for some of the fans in attendance. This all ties back to streaming’s payouts. If streaming services can’t pay artists, songwriters, et. al. in a fair amount as the number of users grow, artists and managers will make money other ways, at the cost of the fans who only want to see their favorite band live in concert.

Upcoming/Recent Country and Americana Releases

  • Due out tomorrow:
    • Maren Morris’ debut album Hero.
    • Robert Ellis’ self titled album.
    • Jackson Taylor’s Which Way Is Up.
    • Wade Bowen & Randy Rogers’ live acoustic album Watch This.
  • On June 10th, Brandy Clark will release her second album, Big Day in a Small Town.
  • Frankie Ballard will release his newest album, El Rio, on June 10th.
  • Luke Bell will release his self titled album on June 17th.
  • Also on June 17th, Jon Pardi will release his newest album, California Sunrise.

Throwback Thursday Song

Josh Turner “Long Black Train” Ten years ago yesterday, this song was certified Gold by the RIAA. With the religious-themed lyrics and Turner’s baritone, “Long Black Train” epitomizes country music as much as cheating and drinking songs do. This is one of the best songs released in the first decade of the 2000s, in my opinion.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Eric Johnson “Cliffs of Dover.” A throwback as well, but my friend and I were sharing some of our favorite guitar solos with one another this weekend, and he sent me this song. I had never heard of Eric Johnson before then, and will accept any hate that admission warrants. Johnson is a hell of a guitarist, and this solo is awesome.

Tweet of the Week

A promotional photo used for the televised CMA Fest as they announce that Brett Eldredge and Thomas Rhett will host the ABC special. Hooray for short jokes (or any kind of joke for that matter) against Thomas Rhett!

Two iTunes Reviews for Old Dominion

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Below isn’t a direct response to the dumb review above, but it works.

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14 thoughts on “The Hodgepodge: The Decline of Country Festivals

  1. Raymond June 2, 2016 / 1:17 pm

    I will say that if there is one thing that the bro-country thing brought was a sudden surge in popularity for country music which was welcoming since it led to more people discovering the independent scene.

    Oh yeah Dan + Shay are also releasing their sophomore album Friday too, although I’m not expecting much. I have too say though I am so excited for Maren Morris’s album as all the songs on her EP were great and her song she released “Rich” is also really great.

    Also are you going to review the new Mickey Guyton song, it isn’t good somehow, at least for me it isn’t. It’s actually funny both her and Cassadee Pope, Joe Nichols and a bunch of other mainstream artists have release new songs, like Parmalee, and Thompson Square which both songs are really solid, especially Parmalee song.

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  2. Josh Schott June 2, 2016 / 5:28 pm

    The big thing that usually keeps me away from concerts is how it’s all spread out over four or more days. Like I’ll see ahead of time a festival will have three artists I like. Then the schedule comes out and they’re all each on separate days paired up with terrible artists or artists I have no interest in. So I do really want to pay $75 to sit through Toby Keith, Brett Eldredge and some no name wannabe act along with their drunken fans to hear Alan Jackson? No I do not.

    I think it would be wise for concerts in the future to keep it two days or three at most. This cuts down at cost and you don’t need as many artists. It makes it more affordable and enjoyable for everyone involved.

    Liked by 1 person

    • darkhornetlsu June 2, 2016 / 6:50 pm

      Not usually a big fan of festivals, as I don’t really do all day outdoor concerts. However, a couple of years ago I had the pleasure of seeing both George Strait AND Reba McEntire on the same night at Bayou Country Superfest in what would be George’s second to last show. That was a great line-up! Now, Bayou Country Superfest is just filled with the same, boring bro acts that dominate the radio today.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Derek Hudgin June 2, 2016 / 9:59 pm

      I agree. I usually look at festivals and see how I can maximize my enjoyment for one day. I think a long weekend festival works the best, or a Thurs-Sat. If there are good acts spread out and available each day, you can usually snag a 3 day ticket/pass for a reasonable rate.

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    • southtexaspistolero June 3, 2016 / 12:08 pm

      So I do really want to pay $75 to sit through Toby Keith, Brett Eldredge and some no name wannabe act along with their drunken fans to hear Alan Jackson?

      Used to, it wasn’t like this. Or maybe I’m just going off my limited experience. The only festivals I ever went to were the ones that George Strait did from 1998 to 2001, and I saw some great artists, among them Asleep at the Wheel, Lee Ann Womack, the Dixie Chicks, and Alan Jackson. I don’t know if that was a reflection of how much better country music was then, or George Strait’s high standards, or both. But there wasn’t an artist at any of those festivals that I wasn’t willing to see. I sort of remember that John Michael Montgomery was kinda meh, but that was about it.

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      • Josh Schott June 3, 2016 / 12:41 pm

        I would say it’s both. I’m sure Strait and revered artists had more control back then compared to today. I would gladly watch all of those artists because they’re great. But my Alan Jackson example is based off a real example of festival near me this year: http://www.jamboreeinthehills.com/schedule-2016

        I still might go on Friday because I can tolerate Billy Currington. But then again this festival is infamous for the drunken morons that heavily populate it. And obviously I would leave right after Jackson.

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      • Frank the Tank June 4, 2016 / 5:24 pm

        When I attended multi-day festivals back in the late 90s, the crappy act was the exception, not the rule (and they were still much better than most of today’s mainstream artists).

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  3. Raymond June 2, 2016 / 11:29 pm

    I know that this is a random question but I want your guys honest opinion on this song. Reba McEntire & Kelly Clarkson “Because Of You”, the song just came on the radio tonight and I’ve never heard your guys opinion on that song so I’d love if you guys would reply (sorry for being off topic).

    Also I am so excited for Maren Morris’s album if the previews are any indication this will be a good album.

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    • Ron June 3, 2016 / 3:03 pm

      It was a good song but a bit of an odd choice for a duet since Kelly had just had a huge pop hit with the year before. I guess it was her testing out the waters of country radio and who better than to help out than future MIL Reba

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  4. OlaR June 3, 2016 / 6:47 am

    There a handful of (smaller) festivals here in the middle of Europe. In Germany we have “Trucker”-festivals or “Country & Western”-festivals with a very predictable line-up: Truck Stop, Linda Feller, Tom Astor & 1001 bands with the word “Country” in the band name. The one & only highlight: Texas Lightning (“No, No Never”) will be back on the stage. A new festival is called “Bull & Bandits Open Air”. Since i am not a fan of the trucker or western-lifestyle, i don’t attend festivals or concerts. Looks like Line-Dance is still popular here.

    New Ep: State Line Drive – “Crushin’ On You” (Seedhouse Records)
    2nd ep, 5 guys, 6 tracks. The first ep was released in 2015 (“Stay Green”) & was better. Fine harmony vocals meets country-pop. Very polished sound. Very safe production. There is no best track. All songs are ok. 7/10.

    New Album: Scotty Alexander – “Walla Walla” (VVM Records)
    From his bio: “based in Nashville, country-singer/songwriter, guitar & fiddle slinger, produced by Brian Willis, opened for Neal McCoy, Wayne Newton, Bryan White, Lucy Hale & Jessica Simpson.” Bryan White, Point of Grace among others have recorded his songs & he produced music for CSI Las Vegas, Letterman & Oprah.
    First single is “You Make Pretty Look Easy”. The 14 tracks are a good mix of country styles. Ballads, a country-rocker & radio-friendly material. Why not give the album a 9/10 or a 10/10? Because it all sounds so predictable. 7/10.

    …well…mmpf…i…ok…ilikethenewolddominionsingle…*runs fast*…

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    • Derek Hudgin June 3, 2016 / 8:58 am

      OD’s new single is definitely more tolerable than “Snapback” or “Break Up With Him.” But it’s too listy with all the name drops, and it clogs up whatever hint of a heartbreak story they’re trying to tell with it, despite what Billy Dukes at ToC says.

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      • Raymond June 3, 2016 / 9:57 am

        I’ll register it as a guilty pleasure. It’s still not good but it’ll make Old Dominion tolerable so that’s progress right?

        Like

    • Frank the Tank June 4, 2016 / 5:28 pm

      OlaR – I spent some time in Germany in the late 90s and I discovered Tom Astor then. I really enjoyed what I heard. He had a really good duets album with a number of American country singers. What are your thoughts on his music? I believe he is/was quite a big star in Germany.

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  5. Frank the Tank June 4, 2016 / 5:32 pm

    Brandy Clark’s album is now streaming on NPR First Listen. The first half of the album is very uneven, but the last four songs are quite good. Definitely nowhere near as good as 12 Stories.

    I’m really looking forward to the Luke Bell album – I really like his sound.

    And I agree that “Long Blabk Train” is simply excellent!

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