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Columns > David Steinberg - Some Are Mathematicians

Published: 2007/02/20
by David Steinberg

Shedding Venues

Much to the surprise of the Nashville music community, Live Nation suddenly
decided to close the Starwood Ampitheatre, canceling all of the scheduled
2007 concerts. Admittedly, I have rather mixed feelings about this. It’s
always sad to lose a venue, especially when it’s going to a real estate
developer, but this venue and I have been arch rivals ever since I was
escorted off of the property by policemen in 1993 for the horrible sin of
selling sodas in the lot after a Phish show. If this were a solitary event,
personal matters could trump the larger issues but Deer Creek is also now
for sale.
Why are popular venues closing? The answer is greed. Money makes its
presence known on three levels, the corporate, the local, and from the music
business itself.
Let’s first look at the conspiracy theory. Most of the major venues in the
country were run by two companies: Clear Channel and House of Blues. Clear
Channel split off Live Nation and called it an independent company. Since
it is not part of Clear Channel, it could then buy House of Blues without
raising any concerns about monopolies. If you look at the Live Nation board
of directors though, it’s a little more suspicious. Over a third of the
Live Nation board are high-ranking members of Clear Channel. If there are
fewer venues left, the remaining ones have more of an advantage for booking
As much fun as it can be to research boards and create conspiracy theories
around their composition, that by itself wouldn’t be enough to explain this
trend. There has to be some reasonable business model coming into play too.
The United States is constantly in a state of increasing sprawl. Woods are
becoming farmland, farmland is turning into outer rim suburbs, and land
values are increasing. When I first attended Deer Creek in 1993, all of the
land surrounding the venue was farmland. By Phish’s final run there, the
condo invasion was making its presence known. Increased population raises
land values, which increases property taxes, makes it harder to expand, and
provides an additional temptation to sell. When there are more people
around, you’re more likely to encounter those who hate the idea of increased
traffic and loud music. As Bob Horning could tell you, it just takes one
disgruntled person to make it impossible to stage events.
As the land that venues sit on get more profitable, the venue itself becomes
less so. At the same time that skyrocketing ticket prices – not to mention
every expanding Ticketmaster service charges – made people less willing to
go to shows on a whim, it seems to have become the policy of most concert
venues to try to extract every last penny from their customers.
You can get away with charging more to receive less if you have a really
compelling product. With the stratification of musical tastes, that becomes
harder. More and more, large venues are the province of the nostalgia acts.
The sheer number of bands available to seekers makes it harder for new bands
to become ubiquitous. You might be selling the same number of tickets, but
splitting it up between twice as many bands. This is great if you’re a
musician, but not so nice if you’re running a 20,000 seat ampitheatre.
The end of sheds wouldn’t mean the end of large concerts. There will always
be basketball arenas to play in; The Police’s tour is almost exclusively in
sports arenas. There’s something special about the ampitheatre experience.
While the arenas have the advantage of concentrating the energy, sheds make
you part of outside world. In Phoenix you can experience mist tents where
the water evaporates before hitting the ground. The Gorge has the blessed
relief when the sun finally dips behind the ridge. Columbus and Raleigh
were witness to tremendous rainstorms. There’s something about the
combination of music and nature that can make the experience that much more
powerful. If we are in fact seeing the start of a movement, I know that I
for one would shed some tears.
David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live music at the Capitol Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His Phish stats website is at
He is the stats section editor for The Phish Companion and is on the board of directors for the Netspace Foundation. You can read more of his thoughts at

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