The San Diego County Fair may not be known for its adventuresome booking of bands, but few can claim that the annual expo underpays the acts.
It was reported in 2007 that one of its Grandstand artists, Encinitas’ Switchfoot, was paid $50,000 when the band’s going market rate was about $30,000. That same year the hot Gym Class Heroes, who were said to be worth $35,000 in the concert marketplace, got paid $80,000 to play the fair.
Insiders say little has changed this year.
Third Eye Blind is a Bay Area band that sold millions of albums in the ’90s but have not had a hit in years. But the fair is forking out $75,000 for their show, three to four times what they could get if they had to sell hard tickets at a traditional venue, says one local promoter.
“Unless they were to play a reunion show with, like, the Gin Blossoms and Sugar Ray at a casino, what are their options?” asked a local talent buyer. “But they are perfect for the fair.” He adds that while $50,000 for “Creedence Clearwater Revisited may seem like a scam since the group does not include singer/songwriter John Fogerty...that price is fair for what the casino/fair market will bear.”
“Fab Fair,” the theme of this year’s fair, is a nod to the 50th anniversary of the U.S. arrival of the Beatles. Tribute bands did big business at the fair this year. A tribute act called the Fab Four got $22,500 to act like John, Paul, George, and Ringo, while an unnamed “British Invasion” group scored an impressive $5000. Super Diamond earned $20,000 to salute Neil Diamond, while local Johnny Cash tribute band Cash’d Out was contracted for $2000.
Eighties hitmakers Huey Lewis and the News and REO Speedwagon, which both sold millions of records and had multiple radio hits, earned an impressive $85,000 and $75,000, respectively. By comparison, Matisyahu, who earned $50,000 for his Del Mar fair appearance, is primarily known for his lone 2005 hit “King Without a Crown.”
“This is the fair’s way to target the reggae crowd,” says the talent buyer. “Same way with Darius Rucker, the guy who used to front Hootie and the Blowfish before he went country. This gives all the people with big belt buckles an excuse to go to the fair.” Rucker is getting $150,000.