BootLeg Betty

BetteBack January 1, 1995: The Year In Concerts

The Boston Globe (Boston, MA)
January 1, 1995 | Steve Morse, Globe Staff

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Pinch yourself, because ’94 was a year the likes of which we may never see again. Everything was bigger, crazier — and more profitable — in the pop realm. Superstars were on the move, from Pink Floyd to the Rolling Stones, Billy Joel and Elton John. Younger acts also stepped up the ladder, from Pearl Jam to Stone Temple Pilots. And Woodstock ’94 drew 350,000 mud-sliding adventurers to Saugerties, N.Y. The amount of total business proved that the economy had bounced back — and showed that fans still crave live music, despite all the cable channels and high-tech toys available at home.

There were more stadium shows (eight in all at Foxboro Stadium, setting a record). There was also a record attendance at Great Woods Center for the Performing Arts, where renovations boosted the capacity to 20,000 (from 15,000) and helped the Jimmy Buffetts and James Taylors of the world bring even more fans under their spell. More than 70 shows came to Great Woods.

“The single most remarkable thing about the past year was the unprecedented number of major, major, major shows. And there were unprecedented ticket prices as well,” says Dave Marsden, director of events for the Don Law Agency, which booked acts into Foxboro Stadium, Great Woods and the new Harborlights Pavilion. The latter is a stunning, acoustically impressive new tent on Boston Harbor that took many shows away from the still-plucky South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset (which looks to bounce back next summer).

This year’s 10 top-selling rock tours, according to the Hollywood Reporter, sold 10 million tickets — compared to 6 million for the top 10 North American tours last year. As for ticket prices, they reached a lofty $97 to see the Eagles at Great Woods; $85 to see Joel and Elton John at Foxboro; and ditto to see Pink Floyd at the stadium.

But without a doubt, these acts delivered. The Eagles, in the year’s most celebrated reunion, were exquisite at Great Woods, playing five sellout nights, three-plus hours per show. Pink Floyd mixed musical craft with an otherworldly light show keyed by a mirror ball that opened over the crowd like a rising sun. And Joel and John merged their piano showmanship — and voices — for unforgettable, modern-minstrel theater.

Fortunately, those high ticket prices aren’t expected to last in ’95. “The Eagles, Pink Floyd and Billy and Elton reflected unique entertainment events, rather than a trend in the concert business,” says Marsden. “We’re not going to see those ticket prices next summer.”

The quality of shows was also unprecedented this year. The Stones came back rocking, though their song list wasn’t as tight as their prior “Steel Wheels” tour. Veterans Bob Dylan, Bo Diddley and Little Richard also revived their images. And Great Woods saw peak shows by Buffett (his best tour ever, in this writer’s opinion), Taylor, Bette Midler, Aerosmith, Stevie Nicks, the Moody Blues, Phil Collins, Steve Miller and Peter Gabriel (at the WOMAD Festival).

The act of the year, though, was Pearl Jam, the crusading Seattle band that not only stood up to Ticketmaster in a lawsuit (charging an unfair monopoly) but played two blissful Boston Garden shows that rocked with abandon.

When it came to trends, many critics made a big deal of pitting neo-hippies against neo-punks, but it seemed as if the two sides were together more often than not. Both camps took in Woodstock (a feast of 15 hours of music a day, from every rock genre). And both were at the aborted Hatch Shell show by Green Day and even the weeklong Garden stay by the Grateful Dead. (By the way, the Dead played more consistently than in years.)

Country music scored with superb shows by Reba McEntire at the Worcester Centrum, Vince Gill at Great Woods, Wynonna Judd and the Mavericks at Foxboro, Nanci Griffith at Harborlights, Pam Tillis at Avalon, Tanya Tucker at the South Shore Music Circus, Travis Tritt at Great Woods and the poetic Mary Chapin Carpenter (playing acoustically) at the Wang Center.

Boston rock also soared. Aerosmith had a career year, while the band Boston launched a skilled comeback at the House of Blues. Also, Letters to Cleo demonstrated its improvement — and the budding stardom of singer Kay Hanley — at Avalon.

There were some sad losses in ’94 — Kurt Cobain, Reeve Little, Danny Gatton, Nicky Hopkins, Albert Collins, Sonny Chillingworth, Fred (Sonic) Smith, Papa John Creach, Harry Nilsson and Major Lance.

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