Sunday, January 21, 2007

Cruising With Kenny Chesney (Last Year) And, Now, Tim McGraw

Chesney capped a four-night cruise to the Bahamas last winter that included a private, beach-side performance by Chesney, Dierks Bentley and "Big Kenny" Alphin of Big & Rich).

This year, Tim McGraw (will board a cruise ship in Nassau where he'll perform two shows and do a Q&A with passengers).

"It's the ultimate VIP ticket. Anyone with a dedicated, loyal fan base is fair game for this." -- Ray Waddell, who covers the concert industry for Billboard magazine.

What's different now is that top-shelf acts are hopping aboard. Besides McGraw and Chesney, the Dave Matthews Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Sammy Hagar and the Barenaked Ladies all have set sail recently. The artists get a guaranteed take, and a cruise to boot.

"It's a low-pressure gig. I'm used to doing a big production. To do some small intimate shows is appealing. "We'll talk back and forth, maybe throw a request out every now and then." -- Tim McGraw

While McGraw declined to divulge how much he will make from the cruise, he said it's comparable to what he'd make for an arena concert. He'll bring his band with him and try out some new songs. Industry experts say the trend is driven by concert promoters, who are attracted to a new niche market: hardcore fanswilling to shell out for a vacation package built around their favorite musical acts. For the
Country Cruise Getaway with McGraw, Live Nation, one of the country's largest promoters, chartered the 2,974-passenger Carnival Liberty. The three-night cruise departs Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Jan. 28, and also features Little Big Town, Cagle, Jamie O' Neil, the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, Jypsi and the Nashville Hitmakers. Tickets start about $1,100 per person and top out at $2,100.

"It's still on a small scale because chartering a ship takes a lot of moxieand money. You have to have a big name to get top dollar for tickets and draw people." -- Jay Shapiro, owner of Five Star Travel in Fort Lauderdale and a member of the Cruise Line International Association

The cruises come at an unsteady time for the concert business. Attendance was up 14 percent last year, but that followed years of decline, including a 3.8 percent decrease in 2005. Billboard writer Waddell said concert cruises are yet another way promoters are tapping the discretionary income of hardcore fans.
"Fan club entry, special merchandise and ticket deals, all these things they do to capture the really hardcore,super-dedicated fan has increased a lot and these cruises are an extension of that."

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