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Forecasting The 2024 Grandstand Entertainment Season for Fairs & Festivals: New Country, More Latin, Higher Costs & TikTok
CarnivalWarehouse Interviews Todd Boltin, President & CEO, Variety Attractions & Clay Campbell, President, Triangle Talent
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First the bad news for fairs and fairgoers: get ready to pay. Grandstand entertainment, like everything else one buys, comes at a higher price in 2024. Now the good news:  headline entertainment for fairs has begun to thrive again. COVID-related restrictions are in the rearview, and grandstand entertainment retains an essential role for fairs, who are booking talent at a faster pace than pre-pandemic, with contracts stretching out to next year and beyond.

But before we find out the acts filling the 2024 grandstands, Carnival Warehouse conducted a two-handed interview with the two of the leading promoters in the fair and outdoor entertainment market: Todd Boltin, President & CEO, Variety Attractions, and Clay Campbell, President, Triangle Talent. In this candid roundtable-like discussion these fair industry stalwarts not only forecast the season ahead, but the market conditions and emerging trends impacting fair entertainment in 2024 and beyond.

Carnival Warehouse: What can fairs and fairgoers expect for the 2024 season when it comes to grandstand concert entertainment?  

Todd Boltin: I think fairgoers will see more diversity in the line ups with the fair as they expand into more genres of music.

Clay Campbell: It is a challenging year. It is definitely a seller's market with lots of competition for artists. There are new festivals, and more fairs adding shows. With festivals, amphitheaters, casinos, fairs and others having shows, and adding shows, it has made the “inventory” for acts really limited. With that, and the rising costs of touring, act pricing is really increasing. Fair entertainment budgets have had to be increased, or the fairs are using lesser acts than they would have in the past. What that means for fairgoers is an increase in ticket prices – or B level acts on the stages.

CW: What acts are you most excited about this year?

Campbell: The newer country acts are really doing well – HARDY, Jelly Roll, Lainey Wilson, Bailey Zimmerman, Megan Moroney, Warren Zeiders are all doing well. Stephan Sanchez has a good buzz. And we are seeing positive responses for the Rap/R&B shows like Ludacris, Bryson Tiller, and Ne-Yo. I think the shows that have a niche but are affordable will do well this summer. And the Heart / Cheap Trick show has been strong.

Boltin: Lainey Wilson, who in 2023 sold out every fair she was playing and has done the same months in advance for the 2024 fairs. Riley Green as he continues to grow “under the radar” with his ticket selling on fairs.

CW: Has the touring business fully come back from the lockdown? How has the pandemic changed grandstand entertainment and routing?  

Campbell: Yes, I think it has come back.

Boltin: It has come back 125 percent. There are more traffic, tours, venues booking shows than ever before. A lot of saturation in some markets will force concert goers to pick and choose who they want to see, because they won't be able to go to all of the shows

CW: How much higher are costs this year compared to 2023? Has inflation in your industry stabilized or are further increases expected?  

Boltin: Artist costs and expenses are up as bus leases are in high demand, fuel is up again, labor is up to get and keep quality band and crew members. This just pushes the artist cost up across the board to the fairs.

Campbell: Entertainment costs are like health care – it is double digit increases. It costs more for the artists to tour. It costs more for fairs to promote a show. There is more competition for acts. So, prices keep going up. David Snowden and I keep saying there is no way that this can keep going but it does. Acts that were $50,000 just a couple of years ago are now $100,000. And $1,000,000 for a top headliner is not unusual. Five years ago, that was an exception. Until consumers stop paying ticket prices needed to cover act costs, it will keep going up.

CW: Are fairs booking earlier or later than the previous season? Is there a trend either way and if so, why?

Campbell: Fairs are booking earlier. If you don't start 18 months out, then the choices for acts are pretty limited six months before the fair.
Boltin: It is insane at this point. We are well into 2025 with offers for fairs and festivals and have been for months. It is supply and demand. You have 3 times the venues than there are artist to play them. Everyone wants to be early to try and get their first choice of artists.

CW: Touring costs – like the cost of nearly everything – have risen post lockdown at the same time when more artists rely on live shows for revenue to compensate for the low rates paid by streaming services. What kind of pressures does this put on promoters and talent buyers for fairs? Is the relationship between artists and venues more contentious because of this reality?

Campbell: I think everyone understands increased costs, so I wouldn't say contentious. But it does make it a challenge for promoters and acts to both come out of shows with a fair amount. Hopefully consumers will continue to support the industry. Because when that stops, the shake out will be significant.

CW: Will country still be king for fairs in 2024? What strengths or weaknesses are emerging in the different genres -- country, rock. hip-hop, tribute bands, EDM?

Campbell: Country is still strong with fairs because it is a strong overall format. But Triangle Talent has always encouraged a diverse line up with our clients. Pop music is dominated by Rap and Hip Hop. If a fair wants to attract a young audience, then programming that type of music will help attract an audience. Latin is a strong format. We have had success with comedy and even celebrity chefs.

CW: How will comedy do in 2024? Are there enough big names to headline at grandstands? Has comedy gotten too woke for the fair audience?

Campbell: Comedy has always done well for our fairs. The challenge is finding comedy acts that can 1) work “clean” and 2) are willing to play a fair venue. Fairs can be a “hard room” to play.

Boltin: There are not enough headliners in comedy. Jeff Dunham and Gabriel Iglesias and Jim Gaffigan are probably the most played headliners at fairs. They understand the fair market, keep the show clean, and sell tickets. There is a major shortage of comics. When the Blue Collar Tour was hot with Foxworthy, Cable Guy & Bill Engvall we played a lot of fairs, then Larry The Cable Guy did a lot of fairs and did great business.

CW: Is Latin music a staple for fairs or is there more room for growth?

Boltin: Latin has not touched the surface yet and you will see tremendous growth in the next few years. It is territorial , but the fairs that have been doing Latin have seen huge success. “if” they do their research and book the appropriate artist for their area.

 Room for growth.

CW: What role is TikTok playing in the 2024 fair entertainment season?  

Boltin: You are going to have fairs who have no idea of what TikTok is other than hearing about it on the news. We went through this when websites started to become a thing, then platforms like Facebook, etc. Most fairs are not into TikTok, and the IAFE offers many webinars and workshops about social media trends, etc.

Campbell: Just like Artists are more aware of how TikTok can impact their careers, fairs are seeing its potential too. It is a way to reach a young audience. And it is breaking artists that are potential draws for the fair. We saw that with Yung Gravy last year. And Stephen Sanchez this year.

CW: So many traditional fair acts are getting near retirement age. How much of a challenge has it been to find younger acts that can both attract young adults and fill a grandstand?

Campbell: It really is a matter of fairs adjusting their thought process. There are acts that can sell – fairs just need to be willing to pay for them and understand changing demographics.

CW: What advertising vehicles are working best for grandstand entertainment? Is terrestrial radio as dead as print? What is needed to make social media more effective for marketing grandstand shows in 2024?

Campbell: I don't think it is as much choosing one over the other, as it is realizing there is another tool for advertising a show. An oldies show still needs terrestrial radio. A young rap act is better on social media. A comedy show or contemporary Christian show has different marketing needs than say classic rock or country. That is why it helps to have a local professional handling the advertising/marketing.

Boltin: Who listens to terrestrial radio these days ? We have hired 2 digital marketing people who help us navigate the new trends of TikTok, Spotify, Instagram and other social media marketing platforms for concert advertising.

CW: What is the most challenging part of today's booking climate and the work that you wish fairs better understood?

Boltin:I think you would have to reach out to our clients to see what they appreciate most. I can't answer that questions. The most challenging part is the offer process to an artist and getting an answer is not fast. Depending on the size of the artist it could take 3-4 weeks or more to get an answer, and then it may not be the answer you want. But you start over with a new artist.

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