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First Came the Urban Transplants. Now Come the Concerts

Spritzler announces "Bring out your dead" tour for new concert venues. "I know we can sell out packed houses if we can bring back all the Baby Boomer artists that are popular. Hendricks, Joplin, and just about any other 70s band that's currently on life support".


First Came the Urban Transplants. Now Come the Concerts

Amphitheaters and music clubs are popping up across the U.S., making it easier for fans to see acts near home


The recently opened Orion Amphitheater in Huntsville, Ala., is one of the new concert venues opening in smaller cities across the country.


By Anne Steele, WSJ

July 24, 2022 8:00 am ET


Adam Cantrell is used to driving two or three hours to see a concert.


The 39-year-old live music fan has lived in Huntsville, Ala., his entire life. He has driven to Birmingham, Atlanta and Nashville—just far enough to warrant an overnight stay.


Now the big-name acts are coming to him. He recently saw Kenny Chesney and Dierks Bentley right in Huntsville at the new Orion Amphitheater, and said he plans to see Chris Stapleton there later this month. He might be able to see six shows there for the price of one show further away, he said.


“If you wanted to see one of those top artists, you were gonna have to travel,” said Mr. Cantrell, who operates a forklift for Costco. “Huntsville was just not attracting those kinds of acts.”


After travel, lodging and food, he said, going out of town for a show can put him back $800. “With inflation and everything getting out of hand, it’s hard to spend that kind of money going out of town.”


Popular artists like Josh Groban, seen at the Orion earlier this month, tour in markets like Huntsville, Ala., because of their fast-growing populations, including many big-city transplants.


As the pandemic spurred people to move from big cities to smaller metro areas, a new wave of venues like the Orion, opened in May, are cropping up across the country. Artists are routing tours to play for fans in new markets like Fort Worth, Texas; Colorado Springs, Colo., and Gainesville, Ga.


“I’ve toured so much, and it’s awesome to play for a new city with new fans, their energy was incredible,” said Josh Groban, who played the Orion on Monday night between tour stops in Georgia and Tennessee. He said he admired the “homey and cool” backstage, and said the coliseum-style seating allowed for the band to “feel the audience with us.”


The population of Huntsville has grown about 17% in the past 10 years, according to Federal Reserve data, and it is now the largest city in the state—whereas the U.S. has grown by nearly 6% in the same period and Alabama has grown by just under 5%.


A number of entertainment groups are courting investors as they look to expand.


The Orion’s owner, TVG Hospitality, founded by Ben Lovett of the band Mumford & Sons, has nine more venues in development, in addition to its existing venues in the UK. TVG earlier this year closed on an initial $50 million financing round, led by KKR & Co. Inc. senior adviser and former partner Nat Zilkha, and Gibson Brands, according to the company. Music-industry heavyweights C3 Presents, Irving Azoff, Tom Windish and Coran Capshaw also participated in the funding, along with musicians including Ryan Tedder and Maggie Rogers.


Notes Live Inc., started by JW Roth, founder of prepared-foods company Roth Industries, has one venue up and running and another four in the works, including in the Nashville suburb of Murfreesboro. Mr. Roth said he plans to take Notes Live public next year.


Oak View Group, an entertainment and sports-facilities company backed by private-equity giant Silver Lake, has helped open arenas in Austin, Texas, and Savannah, Ga., and is developing venues in more markets including Palm Springs, Calif.


Music executives say that having more venues is integral to developing artists, who often need to start small—where they can be discovered in a bar or club—and then play increasingly larger buildings as they build a fan base.


“There are new buildings in markets that weren’t tour stops before,” said Omar Al-joulani, Live Nation LYV 0.02%▲ Entertainment Inc.’s vice president of touring. “You’re seeing the average tour longer because it can hit more cities.”


Live Nation, the world’s largest concert promoter, said its show-count was up 44% through April this year compared with 2019.


Even before the pandemic, residents of big cities were moving out. And as music consumption shifts to streaming services like Spotify, artists have more data to help make decisions about where they might perform, TVG’s Mr. Lovett said.


The share of events in smaller cities grew 18% from 2019 to 2022, according to Bandsintown, a site for fans to track where artists are performing.


Smaller cities attracted 13% of all artists on tour in the U.S. so far in 2022, compared with 9.6% in 2019, according to a data analysis requested by The Wall Street Journal, and grew by 28% in their share of engagement, measured by fans who click to buy tickets to events.


Brenda Elliott is warming up families that her real-estate business is helping relocate to Huntsville with a new pitch: Jack White and Chris Stapleton, live in concert.


“People really obviously want areas they can not just live and work in, but they can play in as well,” Ms. Elliott said.


Business has increased, particularly in Southern states where many remote workers have moved to, Live Nation’s Mr. Al-joulani said, especially Florida, Texas, Tennessee and the Carolinas.


Mr. Lovett said that his venues are meant to be additive, and not to displace shows in cities where artists have always gone. In fact, many of these smaller cities help connect the dots between larger tour stops, which can help make tours more cost-effective, concert executives say.


Beyond putting up new buildings in less-populated areas, both TVG and Notes Live also are trying to meet higher-end expectations of transplants from big cities.


Mr. Roth opened Boot Barn Hall, a 14,000-square-foot indoor venue on the same Colorado Springs campus as his restaurant Bourbon Brothers Smokehouse & Tavern. He is in the process of adding an 8,000-seat open-air amphitheater that will offer a view of the sun setting over Pikes Peak behind the stage as concerts begin, and dozens of luxury fire-pit suites.


In Huntsville, the Orion is surrounded by a year-round food-and-beverage hub inside a 40-acre municipal park, and the venue offers concessions from top-shelf liquor to cheap beer. Mr. Lovett said he is developing another indoor venue in the city’s downtown area, along with other restaurants and bars with performance space.


“These people are more demanding,” Mr. Lovett said. “They’re used to having a diverse range of venue options.”


Write to Anne Steele at Anne.Steele@wsj.com

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