When country concerts are booked in Omaha, Nick Erdman readies himself for a road trip.
The 32-year-old Kearney, Neb., resident has traveled to Omaha for George Strait, Keith Urban, Miranda Lambert and others. It's well worth the nearly three-hour trip, he said.
Carrie Underwood, who plays at CenturyLink Center Omaha on Sunday, is at the top of the list for many country fans, and her success is no fluke.
Country music is a huge segment of the concert business. The industry has lowered ticket prices, increased production values and packaged artists together to keep country tours selling out arenas and stadiums.
On big concert tours, artists on the rise often pair with headliners. Before Kenny Chesney was popular, he opened for Tim McGraw. And prior to topping the charts, Taylor Swift opened for McGraw and Brad Paisley.
“It's a relatively small business (community) in Nashville, and they all communicate,” said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of concert industry publication Pollstar. “Rock acts tend to blaze their own trail, and they end up being the fourth rock show in town that week. (Country artists) tend to stay out of each others' way.”
The CenturyLink Center doesn't try to book country acts any more or less than other genres, a spokeswoman said.
It helps to establish relationships with artists like Swift, who started her last two tours at the arena and sold out all four of her shows there.
“When artists keep bringing their shows back to CenturyLink Center Omaha, it tells us that we are treating them right and that our staff is doing a good job behind-the-scenes,” said spokeswoman Kristi Anderson.
Country fans are also passionate about their favorite artists, which drives ticket sales.
Many, including country fan Erdman, make frequent trips to see country shows. Erdman travels to Cheyenne Frontier Days in Wyoming and Nebraskaland Days in North Platte, and he grew up on country music near Bayard, Neb.
“I grew up on a farm in western Nebraska — AM radio was all we had,” he said. “I really appreciate 'real' country music: Randy Rogers Band, Chancey Williams, George Strait, Jason Boland, Granger Smith are some of my favorites.”
Tony Michaels, program director and DJ at Sioux City country radio station KSUX, frequently heads to Omaha for concerts with fans and fellow hosts.
“We had a limo there for Jason Aldean,” he said. “It's so easy for us to be there, and we're pretty regular travelers to Omaha.”
Almost once a month, he said, there's a good country show going on in Omaha, Sioux City or Des Moines, which he attributed to the large number of country artists that are on tour.
“U2 only tours so much, but there are so many different country acts that do really well,” he said.
Country music also generally appeals to younger audiences. The best-selling rock acts generally appeal to baby boomers and charge a higher ticket price, while country artists are favored by younger generations, Bongiovanni said.
“They're also pretty good at pricing the tickets so that they're affordable for the markets they're playing,” Bongiovanni said. “They're not $600 Rolling Stones tickets.”
Country is most popular in the Midwest and the South, but it's popular enough in other spots to sell out football stadiums. Chesney and Swift, for example, both sold out Gillette Stadium near Boston, and Boston isn't generally considered a big country market.
Big productions with stage lights, pyrotechnics and video screens — long a staple in rock shows — have also fed into country concerts' popularity. Stage shows are more energetic, and fans respond.
“That goes back to Garth Brooks. He injected some rock 'n' roll-flavored theatrics into his performance,” Bongiovanni said. “That was fairly rare at the time for country music.”
Those kind of concerts, more of a celebration than a performance, appeal to fans such as Erdman for three reasons: “Booze and friends,” he said. “And great music.”
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