John beat the Dave Matthews Band, one of the few artists to play stadium shows this year, for the top spot with $46.2 million. Three country acts earned a place among the top 10 money-earners of the year, the concert business trade publication Pollstar reported this week.
Consumers spent an estimated $1.3 billion on concerts in 1998, about the same as in 1997, Pollstar said. The industry record of $1.4 billion was set in 1994.
"Promoters in general weren't crowing about how terrific business was, nor were they crying loudly about how bad it was," said Gary Bongiovanni, Pollstar's editor.
It was the first time John topped the list, and his finish was something of a surprise. He wasn't even among Pollstar's five nominees for its honorary distinction as the year's top concert tour. But interest in John's shows has revived since he sang a reworked version of Candle in the Wind at Princess Diana's funeral, Bongiovanni said.
Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, and George Strait all were among the year's top 10 money-earners. Strait's Country Music Festival, which also featured John Michael Montgomery and Tim McGraw, was a notable success.
Celine Dion, riding the wave of her Titanic soundtrack and Let's Talk About Love successes, and New Age artist Yanni were both in the top 10.
Last year's winners, the Rolling Stones, earned $31.8 million in just 20 U.S. shows. The venerable rockers spent most of their time overseas, where they earned an estimated $161 million during 1998. The Stones are coming back to the U.S. for more concert dates early next year.
The Lilith Fair tour, led by Sarah McLachlan and Natalie Merchant, is well on its way to establishing itself as a summer staple. The show earned $28.3 million in its second year, up from $16.4 million last year.
The Dave Matthews Band showed real strength as a concert draw, particularly since its ticket prices were lower than any other act in the top 10. Acts continued to embrace multiple-tiered pricing structures this year, with top prices of $50 and $60 becoming more common, he said.
Among the artists who had a tough year were Kiss, 1996's top money earner, and the double bill of Reba McEntire and Brooks & Dunn, who failed to meet promoters' expectations.
Promoters are optimistic about 1999, particularly with Bruce Springsteen set to hit the road with his E Street Band. Madonna and Barbra Streisand are also expected to perform next year.
By DAVID BAUDER