Monday, Aug. 13, 2012

Attendance Hasn't Been Great at the BMO Harris Pavilion

By Evan Rytlewski
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Some concertgoers had expected a bigger turnout for Saturday's My Morning Jacket/Band of Horses show at the BMO Harris Pavilion, but compared to recent concerts at the venue, the roughly half-capacity audience was downright impressive. Last month Counting Crows played to a disconcertingly small crowd at the Pavilion; a last-minute $5 ticket fire sale did little to juice attendance. Tickets weren't much harder to come by for this month's Boston performance; Groupon was selling them at 58% off face value days before the show. And we can only guess what attendance would have been at this month's Daughtry show, which was canceled on short notice due to "scheduling conflicts"—disingenuous industry speak for low ticket sales. Discounted tickets had been widely available for that concert, too, and Summerfest had sweetened the deal by including free parking with each ticket.

So what's going on here? Is the $13.5 million amphitheater, which Summerfest constructed to double as a stand-alone venue, a bust? It's far too soon to jump to that conclusion, of course. The BMO Harris Pavilion is still new, and plenty of Milwaukeeans aren't even aware of it yet. It will take some time for concertgoers to warm to it as a destination, and to learn to seek out its listings. The stage should also benefit from good word-of-mouth—its sound, by most accounts, has been excellent—and by lowered attendance expectations. In truth, few of the acts the Pavilion books could ever fill the 10,000 capacity venue, so empty bleacher seats will always be the norm. (For context: When My Morning Jacket last played Milwaukee, they headlined the 2,500-seat Riverside Theater. Their audience may have grown since then, but it hasn't quadrupled.)

But there are challenges, too. The Pavilion isn't booking Marcus Amphitheater-sized acts, and its ticket prices need to reflect that, lest the venue take on the stigma of being overpriced—a kiss of death in the notoriously frugal Milwaukee market. Kevin Mueller, who reviewed Saturday's show for the Shepherd, notes that between the $47 ticket price, Ticketmaster fees, parking, and $6.50 Miller Lites, Saturday's My Morning Jacket show was more expensive than local audiences weaned on Pabst/Turner/Riverside prices have come to expect. "Since mid-level drawing acts attract more of the regular music-going public than, like, a Katy Perry show where parents are willing to shell out cash for the once-a-year experience for their children, the Pavilion can't act like a mini-Amphitheater," Mueller says. The disappointing attendance at the venue so far, and Summerfest's desperate last-minute ticket deals, suggest that at least for the time being, its starting ticket prices are too high.


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