Both the November and December issues of Prog magazine had interesting articles dealing with the lack of young people at progressive rock concerts. Polly Glass argued that this happens for a few reasons:
- Millennials think of prog as an old man’s genre.
- Prog doesn’t get support from big labels.
- Tickets are expensive.
Polly also noted that younger prog fans tend to like heavier bands such as Haken or Opeth. In the December issue, the great Jerry Ewing shared a recent experience he had at a live show. He said that on the same night, at the same venue, two different prog shows were going on at the same time in different rooms. Essentially, he blamed the promoters for booking two prog shows at the same time, with the younger crowd choosing to go to the heavier of the shows. He said the difference in age between the two groups was staggering.
Polly and Jerry make excellent points, and they have shed some light on a topic I believe deserves more attention. As a millennial myself (although I am radically different than probably 99% of people in my generation) I’d like to talk about some of my reasons for not going to as many live shows as I would like.
Last night, the Neal Morse Band played a live show at the Arcada Theater in St. Charles, IL, a venue where I saw Flying Colors play a few years ago. The venue is great, and its owner/promoter, Ron Onesti, is fantastic. So, why didn’t I go to the show last night? After all, writers for Progarchy and the DPRP have written rave reviews of their concerts on this tour. I probably would have loved the show.
One of the biggest reasons I didn’t go is St. Charles is a royal pain to get to from where I live. It is 34 miles away if I take the back roads through stoplight hell. It is over 50 miles if I take the highway/tollway, yet both routes take an hour to get to, as long as there is no traffic. St. Charles is also pretty far from the highway, so it is easy to get lost if you aren’t paying attention.
I wouldn’t mind those above issues if I had someone to go with me – someone who could be a navigator, since driving around while staring at the GPS on your phone is really stupid and dangerous. However, the only people I know who would probably go with me to a prog show live hundreds or thousands of miles away.
Going alone isn’t just a pain when you’re trying to find someplace you’ve never been, though. It is unpleasant once you get to the venue. There is usually a lot of downtime when you go to a concert – waiting to get to your seats, sitting waiting for the show to start, intermission, etc. Being an introvert, standing around awkwardly for possibly hours is not fun at all.
This past summer, Haken played a show in downtown Chicago. If you know anything about the city of Chicago, you might know why I didn’t go. This particular venue is about two blocks west of the McCormick Center, which is in a fairly nasty area. In addition to crime, parking will likely cost $40 or more. I recently graduated from college, I haven’t found a full-time job, and I just applied to grad school. There is no way I’m going near a ghetto to pay high prices for the joy of parking my car in an area where it could get riddled with bullets. The sad part is this venue is really the only other one in Chicagoland that ever hosts prog bands.
Also, for bands out there: don’t plan a tour that includes playing in Chicagoland in the winter. I’m not buying tickets months in advance for a show in January when I live far away from the venue. I’m going to wait until the last minute to make sure the weather is ok, and when I wait that long, I’m probably not going to bother going at all.
The curmudgeon in me is showing.
Another problem is ticket prices. They’re so expensive! When Rush played their last
show in Chicago, back row tickets were going for over $500 because of jerks buying tickets and re-selling them. I only paid $950 for my car. I’m sure as heck not paying $500 to see a concert. Even tickets with decent seats to last night’s Neal Morse Band concert were $50 or $60. When my Dad was in college, he paid $13 for a third row seat at a Journey concert on their Escape tour – arguably their peak as a band. Even if there are $20 tickets in the last row, do I really want to drive all that distance just to sit in the back? No I don’t. Maybe if I lived a block away I would.
It is pretty clear that prog bands are trying to reach listeners who have plenty of expendable income. Those people tend to be older. It is true that the prog audience tends to be older, which means that us younger listeners are left out in the cold when it comes to live shows. What is really funny is that a large number of younger bands are made up of millennial musicians. Sadly, most of those bands can’t afford to tour.
Another more American problem is this country is really big. In England, a prog fan could probably see at least one prog concert a month without driving all that far. In America, there’s no way you could do that. Not that many bands tour here, and listeners will often have to drive a long way to get to a show. Even mainland Europe tends to have a high density of prog shows.
It is hard for a small band to travel over to America and make any money, and maybe the only way it is possible is if they play at a prog music festival. Those also aren’t very common in America, while they are quite common in Europe. Many millennials actually prefer to go to music festivals, since you get a lot more music for your money. For prog fans, the only real festivals are ROSfest, in Pennsylvania, or Morsefest, in Nashville, TN. There are also a few prog metal festivals elsewhere, but they are very far away, further demonstrating how hard it can be to get to a prog show.
I think Polly and Jerry are both spot on in their analysis of the prog gap, as I call it. Additionally, how many millennials do you know that want to go to a concert filled with people old enough to be their dad or grandpa? Probably not all that many. Plus, how many older people want a bunch of young people at a concert, if we are truly honest with ourselves.
Let us also not forget the gap between prog fans who only listen to classic 70’s prog bands and those of us that listen to a mixture of new and old. We’ve all heard somebody who likes Yes, Rush, Jethro Tull, etc. exclaim, “The music today sucks, and there are no good bands anymore.” Many times, those folks won’t even give the new bands a chance! If some of the older bands toured with new bands, maybe the prog audience would grow to include the old grumps who currently refuse to listen to the new bands.
Maybe this is just the way things are. Prog is for old rich people, prog metal is for young people, and the only ones who get to see their favorite bands play live are those who happen to live near a prog-friendly venue. It doesn’t have to be this way, though. Prog bands could tour with other prog bands that tend to attract a younger audience. For instance, Transatlantic could tour with Haken, or Yes could tour with Dream the Electric Sleep. If you bill the show as a double headliner, you’ll get a good mixture of young and old. This solution may also solve the problem of empty seats. One prog band may not have enough of a following in a certain area to sell out a decent sized venue, but multiple bands with different target audiences might. This might also widen the horizons of millennial listeners to more traditional prog bands, as well as open the eyes of the old grumps to the new bands making outstanding music.
I think there are ways the genre as a whole can work together to improve their appeal to a younger audience. After all, that is the only way this music will be sustainable. Thanks to Prog magazine for starting this conversation. I hope this gets bands and promoters thinking creatively about how to book shows. Watching music live is incredibly rewarding, and the more people we can get watching live music the better. Prog on!