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Arts Plus: Not Dead, Just Buried/Stones Rolling in It

Rolling Stones/Paint it Green

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ArtsPlus: Not Dead, Just Buried

When it was revealed that the Tribune intended to do away with its Arts Plus page on the back of the front section, a cry went up from the city's theaters and fine arts organizations, which worried about losing such a prominent--and colorful--daily account of the city's arts scene. I thought the threat was different. Big-ticket art institutions will always get the paper's attention; what was really at risk was the paper's impressive reinterpretation of what a modern metropolitan newspaper should notice artswise. At the turn of the decade the page (then called Overnight) was mostly default coverage of society fund-raisers and something of a black hole of poor writing (though it had some decent theater criticism). In the last year or two the page has evolved positively, displaying a thoroughgoing commitment to covering ethnic culture and out-there and even underground music and theater.

I hate to sound like a cheerleader for the paper, but check out the page's music coverage: over a recent two-day period the Trib ran no less than eight music reviews by eight writers, encompassing rock old and new, punk, heavy metal, Christian music,

R & B, bluegrass, and Latin. Not every piece was brilliant criticism, of course, but at least the Tribune was doing extremely well at bringing hidden culture to the surface. That's was doing well. As part of its partial redesign, unveiled this week, the paper has moved the Arts Plus page to the back of section two, where it jostles for position with a large ad and as a consequence loses about 25 percent of its review space. The paper says the revamped Tempo section will take up some of the slack, but the page still lacks color, prominence, and punch.

Lost in the shuffle was Steve Nidetz's thrice-a-week broadcasting column. Nidetz had a difficult job: going up against Rob Feder of the Sun-Times. The Sun-Times invested in Feder many years ago by giving him a daily column and time to develop sources. Today he dominates his beat as perhaps no other journalist in Chicago. Nidetz did fine in the position, but the Tribune didn't publish him often enough--or long enough--to allow him to compete effectively with Feder. This is a textbook case of half-assed newspaper editorship. But word is that the preprinted Tempo section may go "live"--i.e., be put together the day before publication--and that should this happen, Nidetz's column would be reactivated and run daily.

Editor's notes throughout the Trib this week used positive words and phrases like "improvements," "expand," "more useful," and "easier to read"--and indeed, the new Tempo might be all of these. But at least on the important issues of timely and in-depth coverage of the arts in Chicago, something different is happening.

Stones Rolling in It

Forbes's new list of the highest-grossing entertainers put the Rolling Stones fourth, with a total estimated income of $120 million for both 1994 and 1995. The list represents what is essentially the band's pay for its current tour after expenses; that's a pretty impressive amount for four people to earn in a little over a year. How does a band make that much money? For their 1991 Steel Wheels tour, they took home between $65 and $75 million. They just about doubled that this year by thinking big and working efficiently. They kept ticket prices comparatively low (yes, $50 is low these days--cf Pink Floyd's $75), guaranteeing sellouts, and performed steadily for the next 56 weeks. In four months of U.S. shows last fall they grossed about $120 million. They took on the rest of the world in 1995. Concert conditions overseas are much less desirable than in the U.S.; it's common for bands like the Stones to charge the equivalent of $50 or $60 at very large stadiums and festival grounds, playing before 70 thousand, 80 thousand, even 90 thousand people and taking home $2 million, $3 million, $4 million a night. Concert-industry watchdog Gary Bongiovanni says his staff at Pollstar calculated that a recent concert in tiny Luxembourg drew about 10 percent of the country's population.

The Stones' multimillion-dollar pact with Budweiser--which required the band to appear in beer commercials--is "another important revenue stream," as Bongiovanni puts it. (The European tour is sponsored by Volkswagen.) Over a period of 13 months it all added up to gross sales of somewhere between $250 million and $300 million. "Nobody's ever done that before," Bongiovanni notes. "The Stones are at the top of their game. It's not to say that it couldn't happen again, if any other band wanted to work that hard for that period of time. But for now the Stones have set a new standard."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Mark Seliger.

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