Hard Economic Times Take The New York State Fair’s Concert Series Down With Them

Nov 11th, 2008 // 7 Comments

The crumbling state of the American economy hadn’t really connected with me until recently–squatters are largely immune to changes in the home-mortgage industry, after all–but today, it finally hit home: The New York State Fair has announced that it’ll be cutting back on big-name acts in 2009. This year’s run–headliners included Jonas Brothers, Daughtry, Def Leppard, Rascal Flatts and Taylor Swift–was competitive with any shed stuck in the suburbs of a major city. Despite record ticket sales, it turns out the big time rock and roll wasn’t much of a draw for the average fair going consumer.

New York State Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker and New York State Fair Director Dan O’Hara today announced a new Request for Proposals (RFP) for entertainment at the 2009 New York State Fair. The RFP requests the booking and promoting of entertainment, as done last year. But in an effort to create even greater value for fairgoers, the State Fair is seeking to increase and diversify its free entertainment offered at Chevy Court, while reducing the nights of national entertainment at the Grandstand.

“The New York State Fair has been one of the few fair venues in the nation to offer eleven consecutive nights of national entertainment,” the Commissioner said. “With only ten percent of fairgoers attending these concerts and the state of the national economy, it makes sense to provide more high quality, free acts at Chevy Court, even if it means offering fewer nights of paid entertainment at the Grandstand. This scenario will create greater value for fairgoers and will enable us to better fulfill our mission of providing a fun and affordable family atmosphere.”…

New York State Fair Director Dan O’Hara said, “Since 2007, we have been looking for ways to streamline costs and reduce financial risks associated with the State Fair’s concert series. Escalating concert costs, and the possibilities of inclement weather, low concert attendance and insurance liabilities all threaten the financial well-being of the State Fair enterprise as a whole. This new RFP reprioritizes funds, which lessens the Fair’s financial exposure, but continues to provide top national acts, as well as more and better free entertainment for the nearly one million people that visit the New York State Fair.”

The only organization to submit a proposal under the previous guidelines was Live Nation, who booked last year’s Fair–although their submission didn’t meet the state’s requirements.

Still, how will this affect state fairs like my own Arizona State Fair, which ended its run last week? The level of talent seemed somewhat off this year, with Weezer and Larry the Cable Guy as the top offerings. Even more daunting, what will this say for the country fair circuit? Will fair staples like “Lowriders Oldies Shows” survive the economic crunch? While it remains to be seen if a budget reduction at one temporary venue means much for the concert biz as a whole, the increase in funding for acts playing for free in the Chevy Court means a welcome boon for New York-area tribute acts. Beginnings, a tribute to Chicago, looks like you got yourself another gig!

2009 Fair: Fewer Grandstand concerts, more free music acts [WSYR]


  1. Chris Molanphy

    The core reason is buried in the middle of that statement:

    “With only ten percent of fairgoers attending these concerts…”

    Read this carefully – people who go to the fair elect not to attend a totally free concert that’s been offered to them. Why? The death of the monoculture.

    I know, this is an old phenomenon, dating back to at least the mid-’90s. But maybe the fair circuit is just now catching onto what Tonight Show bookers have known for a generation: current music is ratings (or attendance) poison. (This is why the musical guest is almost always last on an evening talk show.) You’re guaranteed to lose a sizable chunk of your potential audience, when you put on a country act and the pop fans don’t show, or you put on a hip-hop act and no one over 40 shows, etc.

  2. Halfwit

    @Chris Molanphy: (This is why the musical guest is almost always last on an evening talk show.)

    I always thought that this was to get the fans to sit through 90 minutes of scripted banter and cheap jokes in order to get their ratings up.

  3. T'Challa

    @Halfwit: Ha! I love it. Like you, I used to think that those middle-of-the-road talk shows were sticking my musical heroes at the end of the program to force the “millions” of like-minded fans to watch their show.

    Sadly, the truth of the matter is that there were just enough of us to get said musical acts on the shows in the first place.

    Reality does bite.

  4. Audif Jackson Winters III

    @Chris Molanphy: But I think that cited figure applies to concerts that fairgoers would have to pay extra, on top of their fair admission tickets, to attend. So I think what implictly is being said is, “we book these headlining acts hoping to break even or take a small loss on the concert portion, with the hope that the band draws more people to the fair, boosting sales of fair tickets.”

    So if you are only drawing 10 percent of the fairgoers to pay an additional sum to see one of the headliner concerts, it’s a pretty good sign that the presence of those headliners isn’t having the intended effect.

  5. Mike Barthel

    It should be noted that there was a BIG controversy locally about the Live Nation sponsorship, since previously the booking was done by a state employee, whereas Live Nation was paid millions of dollars. Check the Post-Standard for some of the coverage if you’re interested.

  6. MrStarhead

    At the Oklahoma State Fair, there’s an arena on the grounds that hosts concerts during the fair (I… don’t laugh… saw Jars of Clay and Lifehouse in a double bill about seven years ago), but you have to buy separate tickets to see those shows. Is that not what New York did?

  7. tigerpop

    @Chris Molanphy: The tickets for those shows were extra, on top of fair admission. Otherwise, who in Syracuse wouldn’t go see Def Leppard?!

    I have awfully fond memories of the one and only concert I ever saw at the NYS Fair: Flaming Lips/Ween/Sonic Youth, fall 2006. Holy fuck, what a great bill.

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