At some point, music fans of a certain age inevitably ask the same question: why do shows have to start so late? Maybe you’re too cool to admit it, but Oscar-nominee Jamie Lee Curtis isn’t. The 64-year-old acting legend recently told The Hollywood Reporter on the Independent Spirit Awards red carpet and the Today show that as an early riser, she’s annoyed that there are no rock show matinees.
“I would love to go see Coldplay. I would love it,” she said. “The problem is, I’m not going to see Coldplay if they start their show at 9 and there’s an opening act. I want to hear Coldplay at 1 p.m.” Coldplay, on break from their mega Music of the Spheres world tour — which, for the record, has them taking the stage around 9 p.m. most nights — could not be reached for comment at press time.
The Halloween star has a point, though. So, since she asked, Billboard reached out to some prominent venue owners and promoters to ask them why JLC can’t sing a “Hymn For the Weekend” and still be home in time for the evening news.
“Just like when Jamie Lee Curtis’ movies play in theaters, they need to sell popcorn. Most of our margin is on drinks,” says Peter Shapiro, owner of Relix magazine, as well as the Brooklyn Bowl venues in New York, Las Vegas and Nashville and a number of other clubs. “It’s hard to sell drinks at 1 p.m.”
Shapiro says with the majority of ticket revenue and service fees going to the band (and ticketing agencies), the headliners take home most of the night’s haul, leaving the venue to live off ancillary revenue, most of which comes from the bar.
And while drinks play a huge part in keeping the lights on, Shapiro says there is another crucial element keeping shows after dark: mystique. “You can see a show in the afternoon, but at the end of the arc of the day it works going to a show in darkness,” he says. “The lights, being indoors… that’s all part of the impact. The lighting just doesn’t work as well at 1 p.m.”
After all, when Curtis is on set, she needs proper lighting to make a scene pop, just like headliners need their strobes and lasers to help amp up that going-out energy. “It’s the arc of the day, the moon… rock n’ roll lives at night. It’s in the DNA of rock n’ roll,” says Shapiro.
In a twist that might make JLC feel Everything Everywhere All At Once, however, that might slowly be changing, according Sound Talent Group agent John Pantle. As artists and their teams increasingly dive into the data behind their audience’s preferences, he says STG has found that some of his clients — and their fans — are into daytime gigs.
“Those shows are easier and cheaper to put together and through the use of metrics and social data, artists are better understanding the psychographics of their fanbases and tailoring performances to where those audiences are,” he says. As an example, he pointed to a recent sold-out show at L.A.’s Echoplex by Japanese metal band Nemophila, at which the headliner promptly started at 8 p.m.
“Younger audiences and teen audiences like that and we do matinee shows as well as headliner shows,” he says. “I have no problem doing an afternoon show because that proves artists are getting smarter about understanding their fanbase,” he says, adding, “it’s not all just working Joes who get off at 7 p.m.”
One of the few upsides of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Pantle, is that there is a greater understanding of the work-from-home atmosphere and how we’ve all gotten a better handle on how we want to spend our time playing. “The days of concerts being solely for an all-night experience and leaving at 1:30 in the morning are over,” he says, noting that by wrapping before 11 or midnight, the bands and their crews can load-out earlier and get on the road at a decent hour.
He’s seen the results by booking a number of earlier gigs for acts such as Japanese rockers Radwimps, virtual pop star Hatsune Miku and singer-songwriter Julieta Venegas. “I know the Hatsune Miku crowd, I know their demos, so not all shows are gonna be starting at 11 p.m. and not all shows are gonna be at 1 p.m. But data reflects audience. And if artist’s actions don’t reflect audience, artists will lose audience.”
That’s all fine and good for shows that might appeal to a younger, less hard-drinking crowd, but what about the midnight marauding EDM audience, who are used to, and expect, the party to go all night long?
Sorry, that’s changing too, according to veteran dance promoter James “Disco” Donnie Estopinal of Disco Donnie Presents. “When I first started doing shows in the ’90s they used to go until 8 a.m. and you can imagine how that looked… it was like The Walking Dead before that show even existed.” Lately, the DDP boss has slowly been moving up the end time of some of his festivals and events to midnight, or even 10 p.m., “depending on what I can get away with.”
Estopinal says so far he hasn’t seen any effect on attendance numbers, and, like Pantle, he also loves getting his team and venue staff home earlier. “Most people know you probably can’t get a venue in the middle of a city that will let you go until 2 a.m.,” he says, noting that there are, of course, exceptions such as Eric Prydz, whose legendarily trippy 3D hologram images just won’t fly at lunchtime.
He also says there is a younger audience of EDM fans who grew up going to Las Vegas daytime pool parties — or as his college-age son has informed him, “dartys” — that are a win-win for artists and crews used to breaking gear down when the sun comes up; the up-charge on drinks at such Vegas events doesn’t hurt the house’s bottom line, either. “I was just in New Orleans for Mardi Gras where we did two shows and I took a nap before both shows so I could make it until 4 a.m. and people made fun of me,” he jokes. “But I told them ‘I’m not gonna make it unless I get that nap.’”
Shapiro is already prepping the next generation of hard-dartyers for their turn with his long-running series called “Rock and Roll Playhouse.” The series has brought the music of Prince, Queen, The Beatles and Taylor Swift to more than two dozen venues around the country for morning and early afternoon shows at 500-1,500-capacity rooms that would otherwise be idle at that time.
“The weekend afternoon shows are a nice augmentation to Saturday night shows and it’s a good intro to cue the next generation into rock n’ roll,” Shapiro says. “But it’s an addition. It can never replace the DNA [of nighttime shows]… people won’t come at 3 and drink a bunch of beers, and that’s the money that powers the venues and the way venues can pay artists more money.”
So, take heart Jamie Lee — you might be getting your darty wish after all.