Why We Might Not Get What We Want At Next Year’s Missouri State Fair (Or At Least Partially)
The other day, I asked a question on social media about next year's Missouri State Fair. We all have some capital O Opinions on it, which was fun to read. It's something I like to do every now and then, just to kind of engage with you and hear back about what you think. Makes me feel less like I'm talking into a void, you know what I mean? Sure you do. I asked you guys what you would like to see come to next year's Fair. I deliberately worded it so it could mean anything at the Fair, but you guys were focused. Most of you talked about the concerts - what you liked and didn't like.
For those of us that live in Sedalia and see the Fair every year, it's easy for us to get a little cynical about it. It's natural. I know I do it. And I know it's super easy for us to judge the people who make the decisions about the shows at the Grandstand. I mean, we're all armchair quarterbacks to some extent, right? But, it's not like your opinion isn't important, because it is - especially if they want your money out on the grounds.
So I saw a lot of the comments wanted to see acts like Rick Springfield, Kid Rock, Zach Williams (had to look him up, he's a Christian singer), metal bands, red dirt country bands, etc. All valid ideas, sure! However, it might just be harder than it looks for us to get shows like that at our State Fair for a few reasons - and it's not just about money. I mean, most of it is about money, but maybe not for the reasons you're thinking.
I wanna take a minute here to say that I'm not employed by the Fair at all, nor do they consult with me in any way about what they bring every year. I have no say in what comes or doesn't at all, in any capacity. What I'm bringing here is my opinion, my observations from being around concerts, radio, and the music industry for a few years. But I'm certainly not an expert, I'm not in on the conversations had by the organizers, and I'm sure there's a LOT more to it than anybody who doesn't work that job could possibly know.
What concerts come to the Grandstand every year are based on a few factors that I'm sure you're aware of... can we afford the act, do people want to see this act, is the act even on tour, will they be on tour in this region, are they already booked, would they even accept the offer if we can make one?
There could, after all, be a perfect storm of problems. Reality says that the pandemic is still an issue for some acts. After all, this year the Fair asked us at the stations not to introduce any shows on the Grandstand because the acts wanted to limit the number of people backstage as much as possible. Some acts that are getting up there in age might not want to go on tour right now if they're vulnerable.
Maybe the band is on tour this summer, but not in the Midwest. After all, as much as they might want to, Maroon 5 can't make it to Missouri if they're already booked in Australia for the next month. And yeah, an act might be available that day, but can they get to us on time? If they're booked on a Wednesday night in Nebraska, the people who schedule these things might not think it's worth it to go to Sedalia for a show on Friday when their next show Saturday is in Phoenix, for example. Sure, we might want Train for example, and they might be willing to come here, but they're not going to drop everything and bring their whole tour to us just because the band doesn't have a show that night. An act like ZZ Top made it to the Iowa State Fair.... on a Tuesday night. Which is why they were able to get to us on Wednesday night. And they were on the road for more right afterwards. Also, for some tours it's not just the band, it's their lighting people, their sound guys, security, the managers, the truck drivers, etc etc etc. Sure, there are local people that work at the Fair every night on the concerts, but that's not all. There are a lot of cogs in that wheel that have to turn to get them here.
Some big shows can adapt, however. Let's take an example from an act that played the Iowa State Fair this year - Keith Urban. Keith Urban's tour played at the Fair in Iowa, but it's also playing club shows in Chicago. That's a difference of about 13,000 attendees, so really, that's two different shows in terms of scale (comparing the ISF with about 14,500 people versus 1,000 people in the Metro in Chicago). Now this bit is important - some acts take a flat fee for a concert, some take a fee and a varying percentage of ticket sales, some take a larger percentage of ticket sales, some sell meet and greet packages, some bring their merchandise to sell. There's a lot of different ways to earn a buck. It varies by group or singer. Since he's a more established artist, it's worth the loss in revenue to scale down for smaller, more intimate, or "prestige" shows, because he's going to also sell out stadiums. More people in a stadium means more merch sales, for example. It can balance out. A big act like Keith Urban could work if he's got an adapting tour. However, if he's already booked at the Iowa State Fair, he probably can't make it to the Missouri State Fair on a "good" night (read: weekends), especially since both Fairs run in the same ten days.
Rock shows, though, tend to be bigger spectacles than say, Christian or Gospel shows. And an act that is on tour right now might not have the flexibility of a ZZ Top or Keith Urban, and they have to go to bigger venues because the show itself is too physically big. Take Motley Crue, just for giggles. They're on tour this summer, and I haven't seen it,.... but. If they're going full pyro and Tommy Lee's doing the big flying drum thing, that might not work with our venue. I'm not 100% sure, but it would be extremely difficult, if not physically impossible. Maybe if they scale down for a smaller tour, it would be viable.
I know I've heard from a lot of people out on the Fairgrounds that they think the Fair's money is a factor, that "They don't want to pay to get someone good out here". That's true because it's not like they have unlimited funds to throw at concerts, but.... it's only part of the issue. Yes, bigger acts require more pay, or a bigger guarantee of payout, but as I pointed out, there's a reason for that. It's not just about egos or country houses or whatever (although I'm sure that IS part of it). Again, it's partially about the cost of bringing out a bigger act on tour. The bigger the star, the bigger the tour, the more people to hire (and feed, and house), the more trucks to rent (more gas!!), the more equipment to have. Bigger tours sometimes don't think it's worth it to play smaller venues because of those costs. Why do a smaller show, even if its sold out, if you can't pay everybody for their work?
And we have to be honest with ourselves - it's not an apt comparison to put the Missouri State Fair next to the Iowa State Fair in terms of concerts, if we talk about capacity alone. Our grandstand can fit about 8,000 people in it. Iowa's got a little under double that. So of course, more butts in seats means more money. Sure, a big act COULD sell out a show on a Tuesday night, but is it worth it to them for half the people they could get to a concert in Iowa? That's a question for the tour manager (after all, some acts require a set fee, some don't).
Considering that music acts don't really make money anymore from selling records, touring is often their main source of income. And again, not just for the act, but the people they hire to put on the show. So yes, money is a factor, but it might not be entirely the Fair's fault. Even if all the stars align - the tour is on, it's an act people want to see, everyone's healthy, they're available on the day we need,... the tour may not accept the offer for a variety of reasons. Now I'm not saying that there isn't a personal factor in the choices, because there probably is. But it's also probably a lot harder than we think to get these acts to Sedalia and at our Fair.