BRINGING MUSIC TO THE AREA Concerted efforts
There are several steps involved in bringing a concert to the area, but that hasn't stopped some determined promoters.
By DEBORA SHAULIS
Deciding which musicians to bring to greater Youngstown comes down to simple math for local concert promoters such as Dominic Baragona.
Baragona adds up a show's tab -- artists' fees, advertising bills, facility rental, etc. He divides that figure by the number of seats that can be sold. The quotient is the approximate ticket price. If it's more than local people will spend, Baragona says he won't book that show.
The area has "three tremendous 2,500-seat facilities" in Youngstown's Edward W. Powers and Stambaugh auditoriums and Warren's W.D. Packard Music Hall, Baragona says. He adds: "Book an act for more than $40,000 and you won't make any money, even if you sell it out, once you pay the other costs."
Economics is a key reason why fans must continue to drive to Cleveland and Pittsburgh to see some stars -- 'N Sync, Janet Jackson and Britney Spears among them.
On their way: Still, the five-county area isn't bereft of big concerts. Brooks & amp; Dunn, 98 Degrees, JoDee Messina and Lynyrd Skynyrd are headed here in the next two months.
From Cleveland to Pittsburgh, "This has been an exceptional concert year," said Tom Pappas, program director at WHOT-FM Radio 101.1, where he's worked since 1985.
It's a challenging world in which concert promoters operate. The biggest performers -- Spears, Jackson, etc. -- demand six-figure contracts [or more] per show. New acts such as OTown, the pop group whose story was chronicled last summer on ABC, want $50,000. Even '80s hair-band-era rockers such as Vince Neil, Ratt, Vixen and Slaughter -- touring collectively this summer as "Voices of Metal" -- seek $40,000.
Seats affect prices: The limited number of indoor seats here affects ticket prices. Baragona used pop star Christina Aguilera as an example. Half a million dollars for one of her concerts would be a bargain right now, he said. Additional expenses would raise the tab to about $600,000. The largest local indoor venue is Youngstown State University Beeghly Center, which holds about 6,000 people. That would put tickets at $100 each and doesn't include the promoter's profit, he said.
Independent promoters also compete for artists' attention with entertainment conglomerates such as Clear Channel Entertainment (formerly SFX). "They have the resources of being able to offer the artists multiple dates," said Bob Crosby, producer of concerts at Cafaro Field in Niles.
Then there are blackout clauses with which to contend. An artist who's going to play in Cleveland or Pittsburgh usually can't appear anywhere in between before that show. For huge tours, the blockout covers a 200-mile radius; on other tours, it might be a 100-mile radius, Crosby said.
Nonetheless, promoters here are finding ways to succeed.
Radio stations' help: Baragona says it's the backing of radio stations that makes it possible for him to take risks on concerts. He works with Cumulus Broadcasting, which owns WHOT, country station WQXK-FM 105.1 and others. With Cumulus's promotional support, Baragona says he has leverage to bring Top 40, rock or country concerts here.
"I wouldn't be as confident if I were buying every commercial myself," Baragona said.
WHOT's pop-rock format draws listeners of various ages, so the station is able to promote a wide variety of concerts, Pappas said.
Baragona also produces outdoor rib and music festivals every summer in Niles and Boardman, where he can bring in musicians such as Charlie Daniels Band, Cheap Trick and Eddie Money and sell thousands of tickets for $6 or $7 each.
Big promoters may not bring many shows here, but they try to protect their territory whenever they feel threatened. They have blocked some of Baragona's efforts. "I don't blame them. It's good business," he said.
Baragona's success may bring him more competition from the big firms. "They've taken notice since last year," Baragona said. "They took notice when we drew 8,000 people for Lynyrd Skynyrd" last July at Yankee Lake in Brookfield.
Coming to Cafaro: Cafaro Field also drew about 8,000 people for a Kenny Rogers concert last summer. Artists and patrons may have developed loyalty to Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls and Post-Gazette Pavilion at Star Lake near Pittsburgh, but they are also discovering Cafaro's charms.
"The venue itself has its own attractiveness," Crosby said. "There's no bad seat in the house. It's a real intimate and pleasant environment there. That's a big plus."
There's also the convenience of going a short drive to Cafaro Field to see the same caliber of show as in major cities, Crosby said. Concession, parking and merchandise are "considerably less" at Cafaro, he added.
County fairs are also vying for big-name acts these days, although for different reasons.
"County fairs don't negotiate contracts like a concert promoter does. They don't think about it as a moneymaker," said Steve Vuich of Creative Advertising Consulting in Sharon, who was involved in negotiations last year between Lawrence County Fair and country hotshot Brad Paisley.
"I think most of the fairs around here do look at the concert or performance as a draw to the fair," Vuich said. "It gives them something to hang their advertising on ... they've got star power."
Looking ahead: The local concert scene could take another turn for the better with construction of a federally funded convocation center in Youngstown. Its size has been estimated at up to 10,000 seats.
"A convocation center would be huge. We have some great promoters in the area that would just drool," Pappas said.
Baragona wonders how promoter-friendly the convocation center in Youngstown will be -- whether its own staff will book concerts or let other promoters brings acts there, if promoters will receive a share of concessions income, etc.
"The promoter just can't take the expense for bringing in the show and not have a multiple stream of income coming back," Baragona said.