Big bands bypass Buckeye State this concert season

The Killers have been everywhere since they hit it big: “Saturday Night Live,” “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” even the MTV Europe awards. But fans of the band in Ohio will have to plan carefully if they want to see them on their tour this summer: The closest city they’re coming to is Detroit.

The Killers aren’t the only band skipping out on Ohio this summer. The tour schedules of Modest Mouse, Elvis Costello and Tool have them in Ohio just long enough to pass through to another state.

“This is kind of their way of creating hype,” explained Jonathan Anderson of Verso Group Enterprises, the company responsible for concert promotion in Toledo.

“A band never wants to over-saturate themselves,” Anderson said. If fans of bands like Arcade Fire have to travel a distance to see them – the closest cities they’re coming to are Chicago and New York – it makes the shows even more exciting, thus adding to the band’s word-of-mouth reputation.

Even if some bands are avoiding Ohio, local promoters are still doing what they can to get them to come.

Jim Gavarone, owner of Howard’s Club H in downtown Bowling Green, is “constantly pursuing bands” to play his club, he said. He stays up to date on what bands are touring and where through various media, including Pollstar, a publication that, “… provide[s] music business professionals with the most reliable and accurate source of worldwide concert tour [information],” according to its Web site.

Gavarone likes to give lesser-known bands a chance to perform, but he also has to pay the bills. “I try to get bands that are just underneath the top, but it’s really about the stuff that sells,” he said.

Unfortunately for Gavarone and for many small-venue owners across the Midwest, finding the stuff that sells isn’t the problem – it’s having the money to pay for them to play in the first place.

A few years ago the White Stripes were booked to play Howard’s. A deal on their payment was reached early on, but in the time between that agreement and the show, the band hit fame. The next thing Gavarone knew, their manager called asking for $10,000, a significant amount more than the original agreement. Gavarone couldn’t afford to pay them that much and the White Stripes ended up skipping Howard’s.

“It’s all about the cold hard cash,” Gavarone said.

Anderson has had similar difficulties booking shows at Headliner’s in Toledo. Even though the city has a much larger population than Bowling Green, its venues can still only afford bands up to a certain price range.

“We had Panic! at the Disco play their second show ever for $50, now we can’t get them for $150,000,” Anderson said. Similar to Gavarone, he had wanted to book an up-and-coming band a couple years ago but they hit it big right before the Toledo show. Incidentally, that band was the Killers.

“Every band has a bottom line, and we have to find a happy medium because it’s going to affect us as well,” Anderson said.

Anderson explained that along with finances, part of the problem of booking shows in Northwest Ohio is its proximity to Detroit. Bands would rather go there because it is a larger city, with more bodies to pull from to fill venues.

“Detroit is 8th in the general music market, and Toledo is 78th,” he said. “But 30 percent of the people at those Detroit shows are from Toledo.”

The trek to Michigan might not be hard from this part of the state, but people living in other parts of Ohio have a longer way to travel when the closest performances are there:

Detroit is three hours from Cleveland, three and a half hours from Columbus and four hours from Cincinnati.

The situation isn’t hopeless in this area, however. Famous bands have been known to stop here along their way across the country. Gavarone convinced Method Man to play last fall, a “tough sell,” he said, and he’s hoping to plan another Andrew WK show, his first in BG since 2003, in the near future.

BGSU has its own big show coming up on April 18 with O.A.R. playing at the annual University Activities Organization concert.

UAO President Raquel Dalton said she had the same kinds of complications as Gavarone and Anderson, mostly involving money. “Some of [the bands we want to play] ask for $150,000 to $200,000. That’s our budget for the year,” she said.

Dalton said another problem she’s come across in her four years in UAO is finding a band that would rather play at another venue on the same date.

Country singer Dierks Bentley was one choice for this spring’s concert, but he said he wanted to play a show in Texas on that day instead.

Because so much money is needed to bring big names to campus, Dalton said UAO was thinking of changing their concert schedule.

“The issue has been brought up on doing a few smaller events instead of spending a big chunk of money on a big show,” she said. “But that [big show] is what students look for.”

Despite the challenges, Ohio venues at all levels are doing what they can to get bands to come to the state and keep them coming back in the future.

Ohio is even joining in with the festival craze: Cleveland was home to the multi-act Kuyahoga Fest last August, and a slew of heavy rock bands will join up for the first-ever Rock on the Range festival in Columbus on May 19.

Even though fans of bands like the Killers will have to plan for extra travel time to see them play live, local promoters will still do what they can to keep that from happening.

“Live music is having a tough go out there,” Gavarone said. “There’s way too much money involved ” but I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing, and keep trying to get bands to come.”