California Mid-State Fair: Bringing in the big acts

Tim McGraw at the 2009 California Mid-State Fair.
Tim McGraw at the 2009 California Mid-State Fair. The Tribune

Of all of the bands that have performed at the California Mid-State Fair, one group in particular stands out in music fans’ minds: Aerosmith.

“Aerosmith is one of those bands that you never would have thought they’d be at the fair,” said Dusty Rhoads, program director for rock radio station KZOZ, 93.3 FM. “When they announced (the concert), it was unbelievable. It blew people’s minds.”

Tickets for Aerosmith’s 2007 concert sold out in a matter of hours, securing its place in fair history. The iconic rock band, which returns to the Paso Robles Event Center tomorrow, remains one of the fair’s biggest – and most lucrative – success stories.

“Part of our mission is to provide the most valuable educational and entertainment experience to each and every fairgoer,” said Vivian Robertson, the fair’s chief executive. “I believe that we have been extremely successful in this mission, bringing affordable, stellar, and diverse entertainment to our Central Coast region year after year.”

Over the years, the California Mid-State Fair has attracted a veritable “Who’s Who” of the music industry elite, from Alabama to ZZ Top.

“They have a big enough stage to accommodate large, giant acts,” Rhoads explained. “(And) they have the resources to pay for an act that big.”

The California Mid-State Fair spent more than $3 million on entertainment in 2009, up from $2.8 million in 2007. Total revenues from entertainment that year were about $3.1 million; more recent revenue information was not available.

According to fair entertainment contracts that The Tribune reviewed for the years 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009, Aerosmith and rocker Rod Stewart remain the highest paid entertainment acts in fair history. Both artists played the Main Grandstand Arena, which seats more than 15,000.

In addition to its $750,000 flat fee, Aerosmith received 70 percent of the gross box office receipts over $830,000. Stewart earned $750,000 for his July 2008 concert plus 70 percent of ticket sales over $880,000.

In 2007, country band Rascal Flatts received $682,500 plus 70 percent of sales over $830,000. Two years later, country singer Tim McGraw made $600,000 plus 70 percent of sales over $680,000, and “American Idol” star Carrie Underwood earned $525,000 plus 70 percent over sales of $605,000.

At the other end of the pay scale are free stage acts.

Nat and Alex Wolff, stars of Nickelodeon’s “The Naked Brothers Band,” earned a flat fee of $30,000 last year. The Jonas Brothers garnered $35,000 in 2007, and blues rocker Boz Scaggs received $70,000 in 2008.

Jam Productions of Chicago has been booking and producing concerts for the California Mid-State Fair for six years.

“We offer (artists) a fair and reasonable price based on fair expectations and ticket prices,” said Ron Pateras, the company’s director of entertainment. “On a financial side, things are taken very seriously, and they aren’t grossly overpaid.”

Although the price of producing concerts goes up every year, he said, ticket prices remain roughly the same.

According to Pateras, fair concert tickets are on the lower end according to industry standards.

On Monday, Aerosmith fans will pay $55 to $115 to see frontman Steven Tyler and his bandmates rock the Main Grandstand Arena. They’d have to shell out as much as $206 a person to see Aerosmith perform July 29 at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine. “We’re not talking about selling corporate suites with sponsors,” Pateras said. “We’re talking about regular people who are looking for some fun, some entertainment, with their family. They can’t afford high ticket prices.”

Rhoads applauded the California Mid-State Fair for making marquee acts such as KISS, Journey, Tom Petty and Paul Simon accessible to Central Coast fans.

“The fair does a good job of keeping the mix,” he said, offering an eclectic blend of rock, pop and country acts.

“We’re looking for artists who have established track records, or up-and-comers who we believe are going to be stars for years to come,” Pateras said.

The goal, he added, is finding “that act that’s going to sell out, make the community excited and encourage people to come to the fairgrounds.”

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