Country Acts Top Tour Grossers

Nominee Kenny Chesney performs during the 38th annual Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas, Wednesday, May 21, 2003.
Country music acts are one of the few highlights in an off year for concert tours. At least seven of the 25 top grossing tours this year are likely to be country artists — up from five last year and only two a few years ago, according to the industry trade magazine Billboard.

Among the hot tickets — Kenny Chesney, Shania Twain, Toby Keith and Tim McGraw.

Chesney's "Guitars, Tiki Bars and Whole Lot of Love" tour grossed about $50 million, ranking it among the most lucrative in any genre, Billboard reports. Twain's "Up" tour grossed $80 million, though about $25 million of that was in 2003. And Keith is predicted to top the $40 million he grossed last year.

McGraw, who had the biggest single of his career this year with "Live Like You Were Dying," is on pace to gross $50 million in 2004, his manager, Scott Siman, said Tuesday.

"Tim always looks at a show as if he were a fan sitting in the audience," Siman said. "He wants it to be fun, he wants it to be entertaining."

McGraw's ticket prices range from about $25 to $65, which is cheaper than many rock and pop acts and among the reasons for country's strong showing, according to Siman and others.

"I think the economy still is a huge factor," Siman said. "The pundits say it's getting better, but it's not getting better everywhere. We certainly notice it in certain markets where unemployment is higher."

Other reasons cited for the spike include the emergence of Chesney and Keith as superstars, the quality of the live shows, the loyalty of country fans, and the music itself.

"Don't discount the fact that our music speaks to people's core values and feelings," Siman said. "There was strong patriotism after 9/11 and the music reflected that. Now, people are more reflective as we approach the election and consider how to deal with the war, and our music is reflecting that."

With big tours by Alan Jackson and Martina McBride (who are on the same bill), Brooks & Dunn, George Strait, Alabama, Mark Urban, Rascal Flatts, Gretchen Wilson and Big & Rich (also on the same bill), the year is expected to finish strong with momentum into 2005.

Meanwhile, the rest of the industry has struggled. The concert industry trade magazine Pollstar reported in its midyear analysis that the nation's top 50 summer amphitheaters suffered a 35 percent decline in ticket sales.

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which began 35 years ago, has seen attendance decline since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The Lollapalooza music festival tour, which was to feature Morrissey, Sonic Youth and The Flaming Lips, was canceled this summer because of poor ticket sales. And tours by popular acts including Incubus, the Dead, Gloria Estefan, Fleetwood Mac, Van Halen and Aerosmith have drawn smaller crowds than expected.