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San Diego's older oldies fanatics

Who would fly to Ireland, Toronto, London to follow the music?

Jeff Schafer (on the right) and the author at the last Tom Petty concert
Jeff Schafer (on the right) and the author at the last Tom Petty concert

Jeff Schafer is a 61-year-old engineer at Viasat in Carlsbad. He is married with two sons, ages 24 and 27. He estimates that over the last ten years, he’s attended over 100 concerts, featuring such classic rock acts as Blue Öyster Cult, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Foghat, Alice Cooper, and Rick Wakeman – most of whom are, or were, even older than he is.

“I love the experience of live music and being out with friends who also enjoy the same thing,” he says. “There’s a limited amount of time to see these bands I’ve loved my entire life, as evidenced by Jeff Beck just passing away. Tom Petty died a week after I saw him. But for me, it’s not just that they might die. We pick and choose the ones that we think are still playing well, and then we go.”

Schafer notes that he took both of his sons to their first concerts — Metallica for older son Ben, who was 15 at the time, and Megadeth for younger son Matthew, who was 14. “Now, they both go to a lot of shows on their own,” Schafer says. Still, he adds, he figures that in recent years he’s gone to more concerts than both of his two sons, combined.

As a teenager, Schafer was a big music fan who routinely went to concerts, which at the time were relatively cheap — three to five bucks a ticket. “My first concert was the Doobie Brothers at the San Diego Sports Arena, when I was fifteen, and my second was the Eagles, that same year, also at the Arena. I saw Lynyrd Skynyrd a week before the plane crash” that killed three of the band’s members, including the lead singer. When he went off to college at California State University at Stanislaus, Schafer says, he worked as a deejay on the college radio station. “I saw whatever bands came to the college – George Thorogood and the Destroyers, the Greg Kihn Band, the J. Geils Band.”

Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult at the Belly Up in November 2021.

But after college, and after settling in back home in Carlsbad, getting married and starting a family and a career, he found that concerts tended to get put on the back burner — at least, until the boys reached their teens and became more independent. “There was a big gap, and I don’t really remember what got me going to shows again. But once I did, it was almost like I couldn’t stop,” Schafer says. “Part of it is that so many of these bands I remember from 30 and even 40 years ago sound as good as they did in their prime, if not better. I saw Blue Öyster Cult in November 2021 at the Belly Up Tavern, and they sounded amazing. The sound quality at the Belly Up is so much better than it was at San Diego Stadium, where I saw them in 1979. And their new guitarist — only two of the band’s five members are originals — is incredible.”

Schafer ventures as far north as Los Angeles to see his favorite classic rock acts, although most shows are local. The furthest he’s gone to see an old favorite? Berlin, Germany. “I found out Tony Carey, who lives in Germany, was going to do a show, and I felt it would be fun for a friend of mine and me to fly over there and go see him,” Schafer says, noting he’s been a fan since Carey played keyboards in Rainbow. The musician subsequently enjoyed a successful solo career, highlighted by the success of the Top 40 single “Fine, Fine Day.” “We planned an entire trip to Berlin around that show, and saw him in this really neat place. We stayed a week and saw the whole city, even finding a museum dedicated to the Ramones. And it was all just to see that one show.”

Another time, Schafer and his wife Kelly flew to Austin, Texas to see Mark Knopfler, the former leader of Dire Straits, another of Schafer’s classic rock favorites. They were so enthralled by the show — part of the famed Austin City Limits music series — that a few days later, they ventured up north to catch another concert by Knopfler at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado.

Schafer’s remaining bucket-list artist? Mike Oldfield, known for the ’70s hit “Tubular Bells.” Says Schafer, “I don’t think he plays anymore, but this year is the 50th anniversary of that song and if he’s playing anywhere in the world, I’m going to go see him.” Any fears that time is running out? “I’m not scared of my favorite bands dying out. I figure, hell, I saw them in their heyday and just enjoy any further time I get to see them. It’s like, I’m not scared of my parents dying. I know they will, but in the meantime, I’ll still do as much as I can with them.”

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Old money

Worldwide, fans spent an estimated $11.7 billion on concert tickets last year, a record high, according to Pollstar, the concert industry trade magazine. In November, Live Nation, the country’s leading concert promoter, said it “delivered the biggest summer concert season in history” and maintained that these results “demonstrate the ongoing and increasing demand for live events globally, with attendance up at events of all sizes from clubs to stadiums.” This despite the fact that the median price for concert tickets is now over $100, according to Pollstar. And while much of that money comes in from contemporary artists such as Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny, English singer Ed Sheeran, and One Direction alum Harry Styles, aging rock stars — helped along by not-much-younger fans such as Jeff Schafer — are racking up impressive numbers. According to Billboard Magazine, four of the top ten concert tours of 2022 were by so-called legacy acts — artists whose biggest hits came out decades ago, and who are well past the traditional retirement age.

Elton John, who turned 75 in March 2022, finished the year at No. 2 (behind Bad Bunny), with an estimated tour gross of $334.4 million. The Rolling Stones, whose members are all in their late seventies, finished at No. 6 with an estimated tour gross of $179.4 million. The Red Hot Chili Peppers, an alternative rock band formed in 1983, came in seventh with $177 million. And heavy metal heavyweights Def Leppard and Mötley Crüe, whose heydays came during the big hair heavy metal boom of the ’80s, finished in eighth place with $173.5 million. Expanding the list to the top twenty: Paul McCartney, the Eagles, and Guns ‘n’ Roses all had big concert years.

Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues at the Coach House in June 2022.

In a 2017 article titled “Twilight of the Rock Gods,” The Wall Street Journal observed, “With many of rock’s founding fathers and mothers reaching their 70s, the end of the age of rock ’n’ roll is just beginning… Of the 25 artists with the highest record sales in the U.S. since 1991, when reliable data first became available, just one — Britney Spears — is under 40, Nielsen data show. Nineteen of the 25 are over 50 years old. In terms of concert-tour revenue, artists over 50 represent half of the $4.5 billion generated by last year’s top 100-grossing tours, excluding non-music acts and comedians, according to a WSJ analysis of data from Pollstar….” The article went on to say that “Boomer rock stars are in a league of their own, the products of an exploding record business that minted celebrities at a time when celebrity was less common… Rock was the first musical genre to become a huge, multibillion-dollar global industry with staying power. A confluence of technological, cultural and musical forces in the middle of the 20th century led to the modern pop/rock industry. Record players, a fixture in most American homes by the late 1960s, let America’s restive youth listen to music away from their parents. Rock concerts went global and took over sports stadiums. The rise of mass media — especially television — enabled global celebrity. ‘We produced famous people at a rate we never did before,’ MIT professor César Hidalgo and his colleagues said in a study.”

I count myself among those older oldies fans. Last year, I went to more than a dozen concerts, mostly by musical heroes of my youth, such as Bob Dylan, Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Robby Krieger of the Doors and, moving into the ’70s and ’80s, Blondie, The Damned and Roxy Music. Like Jeff Schafer, I was an avid concert-goer as a teen and young adult, took time out to build a career and raise a family, and now spend well over $1000 a year on concert tickets. I take delight in the fact that I saw the Moody Blues twice in 2017 during what turned out to be their farewell tour — once with my oldest son and once with my middle son — and that they sounded even better than they had when I first saw them in 1978, nearly 40 years earlier. The biggest difference was the audience: a number of patrons were in wheelchairs, and a couple wheeled oxygen tanks.

That front row sound

Pete Albanese, 63 and also an engineer, lives in Encinitas, and attends five to seven concerts a year. A recent, memorable show: Ex-Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant with Alison Krauss at the Rady Shell on the Embarcadero. Albanese’s show count may be a little low, but that’s because he likes to sit as close to the stage as possible, and has spent up to $1000 per ticket to see performers like Rod Stewart and the late Jeff Beck. “If I go to a concert, I want to be front row, or at least as close to that as I can get,” he says. “I want to listen to the instruments as they are being played, as opposed to amplification.”

Albanese has been attending concerts all his life, with no gap years during his family- and career-building days. “Music’s always been a part of my life,” he says. “I saw Rod Stewart and the Faces in 1973, back in Toronto — I’m originally from Canada. I was the younger brother in my family, and we had cousins who were four years older, so we listened to underground FM: the Yardbirds, Buffalo Springfield. And we went to concerts by the Cars, Bruce Springsteen, a young Carlos Santana…. Going to concerts has been continuous. I even took my son, when he was seven, along with my parents, to see Rod Stewart play the amphitheater in Chula Vista. Everybody had to be included.”

That son is now 28 and still accompanies his dad to shows often, Albanese says. “Much of my concert activity is venue driven,” he notes. “I like Humphrey’s, I like the Spreckels Theater, and up in LA, I like the Dolby Theater, the Greek, and the El Rey. If I go to the Hollywood Bowl, I’m going to get front-row seats. The venue is really important to me: the acoustics, the visual perspective. I try to stay away from the Sports Arena and the amphitheater in Chula Vista.”

Albanese says that while he prefers attending concerts by classic rock acts he’s been listening to for years, he especially prefers artists who are still putting out new music. “I like artists like Mark Knopfler because their artistic capabilities are still there,” Albanese says. “He’s such a talented composer, and his band is incredible. I like the horns and how they compose and produce stuff. I bought his latest album and loved it. It’s the progressive nature of Knopfler and people like that; they are constantly growing, their music is changing, and they’re always bring new musicians to the table. The Rolling Stones, on the other hand — I won’t see them again. I don’t see any value. They haven’t done anything new in 40 years.” Albanese is not averse to jumping on a plane and heading off to some far-off destination for the right artist — and the right venue. “A few years back, I flew to Toronto to see Mark Knopfler at the Sony Center, which used to be the O’Keefe Center. And I’ve seen Van Morrison in Ireland, Las Vegas and even the Royal Albert Hall in London. For the London show, I bought the ticket and then figured out how to get there.”

Jeff Schafer outside the Bob Dylan concert at the San Diego Civic Theater in June 2022.

Albanese’s comments about sitting up close resonate with me, although I am inherently cheap, and have never spent more than about $200 for a concert ticket. Funny story: in October 2021, I went with my friend Frank Silva to see Van Morrison at San Diego State University’s Open Air Theater. Frank is a diehard fan of Van and spent $525, plus fees, for a front-row center ticket. That, by the way, was the regular price from Ticketmaster, not an inflated price charged by ticket scalpers — I mean, ticket brokers. I spent $65 for a seat way up high. Before the show began, I walked down to the orchestra pit to visit Frank.

“How did you get down here?” he asked.

“I just walked in,” I responded. “Why do you ask?”

“Well, because they check wristbands and won’t let anyone down here without wristband.” So walked over to an usher and casually asked for a wristband. By then, the opening act, Taj Mahal, was already playing, so I sat down next to Frank in the vacant front-row center seat beside him. And I got on my phone, checking the Ticketmaster site to see which seats remained unsold, so I could sit in one of those unsold seats. Lo and behold, among the handful of tickets still available was the one I was sitting in, right next to Frank. I enjoyed the show and didn’t feel one bit guilty. Five hundred bucks — make that six hundred, when all the fees were factored in? Someone’s getting a little greedy.

Let’s put on a show

Brad Auerbach is a Solana Beach attorney, 65 years old, who estimates that over the last five years, he’s gone to about 200 concerts. “Sometimes there’s two a week, sometimes none, but I figure I go to at least three to five concerts every month,” he says. “It was a kind of slow fall for us, since we had a big trip to Italy and then the holidays cut into concerts.” But he’s looking at picking up the pace as the new year progresses. Among the most recent concerts Auerbach has attended: George Clinton, the 82-year-old funk pioneer, at the Anaheim House of Blues; 75-year-old Elton John at Petco Park; The Who, led by 78-year-old singer Roger Daltrey and 77-year-old guitarist Pete Townsend, in Las Vegas; Roxy Music, the British art-rock band fronted by 77-year-old Bryan Ferry, at the Inglewood Forum; and former Pink Floyd leader Roger Waters, who turns 80 this year, at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Auerbach gives all those shows high marks, even The Who, whose performances have been known to be erratic. “That’s my number-one band,” he says. “Each time I see them, I wonder whether I’m going to be upset. Will they be like the boxer who doesn’t know when to hang up his gloves? But they always come through and deliver.”

Auberbach saw his first concert in 1971, when he was just 15: Chicago, at the War Memorial Stadium in Buffalo, New York, where he grew up. “The next year, 1972, was a big year for me: I saw Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, Frank Zappa, and Jethro Tull. Mom insisted I wear earplugs, for which I am eternally grateful. I still do.” He continued attending as many shows as he could afford, but he slammed on the brakes when (you guessed it) it came time to launch a career and start a family. “It was probably a decade ago that I started back up,” Auerbach says, “when the girls were a little older.” (They are now 22 and 24). What prompted his concert comeback? “I think the driver isn’t so much the biology of these people I’d like to see, meaning these guys are getting older,” he says. “I mean, most of these artists I’ve already seen, many of them multiple times. It’s obviously great to be able to see them again, but it really does boil down to the live experience. I love live music. And you just can’t recreate this in any other way. It’s only going to happen at that time, in that place, and you’re right there, in the audience, watching it happen. It’s not going to happen again.”

Auerbach notes that many of the legacy bands he loves sound better today than they did in their heyday. That’s not just because of the “last hurrah” aspect; it’s also because the money has gotten so good that they can afford top-notch backing musicians, equipment, and productions. “For years, artists played concerts to support record sales,” he says. Concert tickets were cheap because live shows were considered part of the marketing campaign to support album sales. But with the rise of the internet, song file swapping and streaming, concerts have become the primary way that musicians make money — which is why concert tickets are easily ten to twenty times more expensive than they were in the ’70s and ’80s.

Roger McGuinn in Poway in April 2022.

Not that he minds much. “I think it’s wonderful that these guys are making real money,” Auerbach says. “I still have an old Led Zeppelin concert ticket stub, and I remember thinking long and hard about how much of my paper route money I was going to spend: four bucks, five bucks, or six bucks for the really good seats. Now, if those guys would even get back together, you’d move the decimal point at least two spaces, probably three. But it won’t happen.” Artists also recognize that to keep people wanting to pay big bucks to see them in concert, they need to put on spectacular shows. “I think they understand that they can’t risk phoning it in,” Auerbach says. “They really have to be into it.”

Unlike some senior concert attendees, Auerbach doesn’t limit his live shows to legacy bands he remembers from his youth. “I’m very excited about how our kids have joined us in getting into music, and in addition to liking some of the same bands we like, they’re turning us on to newer bands. Our girls for Christmas got us tickets to see The Dip at the Belly Up, and then we also saw the Jamestown Revival.” (The Dip is a rhythm and blues band formed in 2013 by jazz students at the University of Washington in Seattle; Jamestown Revival is a folk duo from Magnolia, Texas, that merges Southern country with Western rock and American roots-rock.) “Seeing these younger bands and getting turned on to them is just great,” Auberbach says. “I’m not blinded by only seeing legacy artists. I’m definitely open to seeing new bands.”

Music is my drug

Ricky Hoelck, who turns 70 in August, is gearing up to see Tommy James at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas in March. “I’ve seen him two times already,” he says of the 75-year-old former front man of Tommy James and the Shondells, whose string of ’60s hits include “Crimson and Clover” and “I Think We’re Alone Now.” Hoelck, who livess in San Diego and still works full-time as a sales rep for a spice company, says he typically attends 40 to 50 concerts a year, some in the San Diego area and others while he’s traveling, either for work — he has a five-state sales territory — or for senior softball tournaments. Recent shows include .38 Special, Foghat, Little Feat, and the Tedeschi Trucks Band — only the latter is a relatively new band, formed in 2010; it plays a blend of American rock and blues. In addition to going to concerts, Hoelck collects and sells vintage concert posters.

“I’m a recovering drug addict, among all the other things I’ve done in my life,” Hoelck says. “I got caught up in the ’60s and ’70s, and then as I started making more money, as more money came around, so did blow, so I did that. No one knew how addictive it was, but it got me. I didn’t lose everything, but it kind of redirected me, so when I finally got sober, besides God, I turned to the one thing I have always loved, even before drugs, which is music. This was in 2008, and while I had never really stopped going to concerts, I just got into that groove, and now music is really my drug.”

Hoelck says he tends to stick with classic rock acts he remembers from his younger days. “It’s the music, man,” he says. “It’s our music. We had the greatest era of creativity, with instruments, sounds and creative stuff — these incredible guitarists, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Carlos Santana. Just looking up into the ether and pulling this music out… where is it coming from? I mean, I saw Hendrix jam… I just love music, especially live music.”

Robbie Krieger at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano in September 2022.

Hoelck says one of his most memorable concerts was a show at the Encore in Las Vegas by Creedence Clearwater Revival singer, songwriter, and guitarist John Fogerty (born 1945) that was held a day after the Las Vegas shooting massacre in October 2017 at the Route 91 Harvest music festival, in which 60 people lost their lives. “When we went in, John goes, ‘I was here last night, you guys were here last night, here’s what we’re doing. If you want to stand on your head in the aisles, go for it. If you want to film, dance, stand on your seats, I told the ushers we’re going to take a trip out of the building without leaving it and they need to leave you alone.’ And he went on to play an incredible show.”

Another time, Hoelck says, he saw Jefferson Starship shortly before leader Paul Kantner’s death in January 2016 at the age of 74. Kantner was known for being something of a grumpy old man, and Hoelck’s experience underscores that perception. “Right before the show, as the band members were already up on stage, the lead singer, who replaced Grace Slick, waved at one of the guys sitting at a front table to come on up, so he did,” Hoelck says. “And as he’s coming up the steps, Paul Kantner, who’s sitting on an amp, looks at him and says, ‘What the fuck,’ and starts shoving the guy in the chest, right off the stage. The guy has to hop across two tables and lands on the floor. And the singer says, ‘That’s my friend, Paul!’” Hoelck saw ZZ Top play last summer, a year after the death of the long-bearded trio’s longtime bassist, Dusty Hill (who, like his two bandmates, was born in 1949). “They were great,” Hoelck says. “When Dusty died, they invited their longtime sound man to join them. He’d been with them for 25 years, just this clean-cut tech guy. Well, after Dusty died, he grew his beard and let his hair grow long, and sure enough, [band leader] Billy Gibbons says, ‘You’re taking Dusty’s place.’ And when I saw them, he never skipped a beat.”

The fact that he’s frequently on the road broadens Hoelck’s opportunities to see his favorite performers live. “Joe Walsh was playing down in Chula Vista with Bad Company the day I was leaving on a road trip,” Hoelck says. “At first I said, ‘Damn – it’s the day I’m leaving,’ but then I found out he was playing up in Berkeley the very next night, which is where I was heading. So I said, ‘Man, I’m going.’ I bought a ticket, flew up there, rented a car and drove straight to the amphitheater where he was playing. And by the time I got there, as I was walking in I heard him sing, ‘Walk Away.’ I had one ticket, and I was in row sixteen. And I was pinching myself: I can’t believe I’m actually here.”

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Play It Again, Pan
Jeff Schafer (on the right) and the author at the last Tom Petty concert
Jeff Schafer (on the right) and the author at the last Tom Petty concert

Jeff Schafer is a 61-year-old engineer at Viasat in Carlsbad. He is married with two sons, ages 24 and 27. He estimates that over the last ten years, he’s attended over 100 concerts, featuring such classic rock acts as Blue Öyster Cult, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Foghat, Alice Cooper, and Rick Wakeman – most of whom are, or were, even older than he is.

“I love the experience of live music and being out with friends who also enjoy the same thing,” he says. “There’s a limited amount of time to see these bands I’ve loved my entire life, as evidenced by Jeff Beck just passing away. Tom Petty died a week after I saw him. But for me, it’s not just that they might die. We pick and choose the ones that we think are still playing well, and then we go.”

Schafer notes that he took both of his sons to their first concerts — Metallica for older son Ben, who was 15 at the time, and Megadeth for younger son Matthew, who was 14. “Now, they both go to a lot of shows on their own,” Schafer says. Still, he adds, he figures that in recent years he’s gone to more concerts than both of his two sons, combined.

As a teenager, Schafer was a big music fan who routinely went to concerts, which at the time were relatively cheap — three to five bucks a ticket. “My first concert was the Doobie Brothers at the San Diego Sports Arena, when I was fifteen, and my second was the Eagles, that same year, also at the Arena. I saw Lynyrd Skynyrd a week before the plane crash” that killed three of the band’s members, including the lead singer. When he went off to college at California State University at Stanislaus, Schafer says, he worked as a deejay on the college radio station. “I saw whatever bands came to the college – George Thorogood and the Destroyers, the Greg Kihn Band, the J. Geils Band.”

Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult at the Belly Up in November 2021.

But after college, and after settling in back home in Carlsbad, getting married and starting a family and a career, he found that concerts tended to get put on the back burner — at least, until the boys reached their teens and became more independent. “There was a big gap, and I don’t really remember what got me going to shows again. But once I did, it was almost like I couldn’t stop,” Schafer says. “Part of it is that so many of these bands I remember from 30 and even 40 years ago sound as good as they did in their prime, if not better. I saw Blue Öyster Cult in November 2021 at the Belly Up Tavern, and they sounded amazing. The sound quality at the Belly Up is so much better than it was at San Diego Stadium, where I saw them in 1979. And their new guitarist — only two of the band’s five members are originals — is incredible.”

Schafer ventures as far north as Los Angeles to see his favorite classic rock acts, although most shows are local. The furthest he’s gone to see an old favorite? Berlin, Germany. “I found out Tony Carey, who lives in Germany, was going to do a show, and I felt it would be fun for a friend of mine and me to fly over there and go see him,” Schafer says, noting he’s been a fan since Carey played keyboards in Rainbow. The musician subsequently enjoyed a successful solo career, highlighted by the success of the Top 40 single “Fine, Fine Day.” “We planned an entire trip to Berlin around that show, and saw him in this really neat place. We stayed a week and saw the whole city, even finding a museum dedicated to the Ramones. And it was all just to see that one show.”

Another time, Schafer and his wife Kelly flew to Austin, Texas to see Mark Knopfler, the former leader of Dire Straits, another of Schafer’s classic rock favorites. They were so enthralled by the show — part of the famed Austin City Limits music series — that a few days later, they ventured up north to catch another concert by Knopfler at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado.

Schafer’s remaining bucket-list artist? Mike Oldfield, known for the ’70s hit “Tubular Bells.” Says Schafer, “I don’t think he plays anymore, but this year is the 50th anniversary of that song and if he’s playing anywhere in the world, I’m going to go see him.” Any fears that time is running out? “I’m not scared of my favorite bands dying out. I figure, hell, I saw them in their heyday and just enjoy any further time I get to see them. It’s like, I’m not scared of my parents dying. I know they will, but in the meantime, I’ll still do as much as I can with them.”

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Old money

Worldwide, fans spent an estimated $11.7 billion on concert tickets last year, a record high, according to Pollstar, the concert industry trade magazine. In November, Live Nation, the country’s leading concert promoter, said it “delivered the biggest summer concert season in history” and maintained that these results “demonstrate the ongoing and increasing demand for live events globally, with attendance up at events of all sizes from clubs to stadiums.” This despite the fact that the median price for concert tickets is now over $100, according to Pollstar. And while much of that money comes in from contemporary artists such as Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny, English singer Ed Sheeran, and One Direction alum Harry Styles, aging rock stars — helped along by not-much-younger fans such as Jeff Schafer — are racking up impressive numbers. According to Billboard Magazine, four of the top ten concert tours of 2022 were by so-called legacy acts — artists whose biggest hits came out decades ago, and who are well past the traditional retirement age.

Elton John, who turned 75 in March 2022, finished the year at No. 2 (behind Bad Bunny), with an estimated tour gross of $334.4 million. The Rolling Stones, whose members are all in their late seventies, finished at No. 6 with an estimated tour gross of $179.4 million. The Red Hot Chili Peppers, an alternative rock band formed in 1983, came in seventh with $177 million. And heavy metal heavyweights Def Leppard and Mötley Crüe, whose heydays came during the big hair heavy metal boom of the ’80s, finished in eighth place with $173.5 million. Expanding the list to the top twenty: Paul McCartney, the Eagles, and Guns ‘n’ Roses all had big concert years.

Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues at the Coach House in June 2022.

In a 2017 article titled “Twilight of the Rock Gods,” The Wall Street Journal observed, “With many of rock’s founding fathers and mothers reaching their 70s, the end of the age of rock ’n’ roll is just beginning… Of the 25 artists with the highest record sales in the U.S. since 1991, when reliable data first became available, just one — Britney Spears — is under 40, Nielsen data show. Nineteen of the 25 are over 50 years old. In terms of concert-tour revenue, artists over 50 represent half of the $4.5 billion generated by last year’s top 100-grossing tours, excluding non-music acts and comedians, according to a WSJ analysis of data from Pollstar….” The article went on to say that “Boomer rock stars are in a league of their own, the products of an exploding record business that minted celebrities at a time when celebrity was less common… Rock was the first musical genre to become a huge, multibillion-dollar global industry with staying power. A confluence of technological, cultural and musical forces in the middle of the 20th century led to the modern pop/rock industry. Record players, a fixture in most American homes by the late 1960s, let America’s restive youth listen to music away from their parents. Rock concerts went global and took over sports stadiums. The rise of mass media — especially television — enabled global celebrity. ‘We produced famous people at a rate we never did before,’ MIT professor César Hidalgo and his colleagues said in a study.”

I count myself among those older oldies fans. Last year, I went to more than a dozen concerts, mostly by musical heroes of my youth, such as Bob Dylan, Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Robby Krieger of the Doors and, moving into the ’70s and ’80s, Blondie, The Damned and Roxy Music. Like Jeff Schafer, I was an avid concert-goer as a teen and young adult, took time out to build a career and raise a family, and now spend well over $1000 a year on concert tickets. I take delight in the fact that I saw the Moody Blues twice in 2017 during what turned out to be their farewell tour — once with my oldest son and once with my middle son — and that they sounded even better than they had when I first saw them in 1978, nearly 40 years earlier. The biggest difference was the audience: a number of patrons were in wheelchairs, and a couple wheeled oxygen tanks.

That front row sound

Pete Albanese, 63 and also an engineer, lives in Encinitas, and attends five to seven concerts a year. A recent, memorable show: Ex-Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant with Alison Krauss at the Rady Shell on the Embarcadero. Albanese’s show count may be a little low, but that’s because he likes to sit as close to the stage as possible, and has spent up to $1000 per ticket to see performers like Rod Stewart and the late Jeff Beck. “If I go to a concert, I want to be front row, or at least as close to that as I can get,” he says. “I want to listen to the instruments as they are being played, as opposed to amplification.”

Albanese has been attending concerts all his life, with no gap years during his family- and career-building days. “Music’s always been a part of my life,” he says. “I saw Rod Stewart and the Faces in 1973, back in Toronto — I’m originally from Canada. I was the younger brother in my family, and we had cousins who were four years older, so we listened to underground FM: the Yardbirds, Buffalo Springfield. And we went to concerts by the Cars, Bruce Springsteen, a young Carlos Santana…. Going to concerts has been continuous. I even took my son, when he was seven, along with my parents, to see Rod Stewart play the amphitheater in Chula Vista. Everybody had to be included.”

That son is now 28 and still accompanies his dad to shows often, Albanese says. “Much of my concert activity is venue driven,” he notes. “I like Humphrey’s, I like the Spreckels Theater, and up in LA, I like the Dolby Theater, the Greek, and the El Rey. If I go to the Hollywood Bowl, I’m going to get front-row seats. The venue is really important to me: the acoustics, the visual perspective. I try to stay away from the Sports Arena and the amphitheater in Chula Vista.”

Albanese says that while he prefers attending concerts by classic rock acts he’s been listening to for years, he especially prefers artists who are still putting out new music. “I like artists like Mark Knopfler because their artistic capabilities are still there,” Albanese says. “He’s such a talented composer, and his band is incredible. I like the horns and how they compose and produce stuff. I bought his latest album and loved it. It’s the progressive nature of Knopfler and people like that; they are constantly growing, their music is changing, and they’re always bring new musicians to the table. The Rolling Stones, on the other hand — I won’t see them again. I don’t see any value. They haven’t done anything new in 40 years.” Albanese is not averse to jumping on a plane and heading off to some far-off destination for the right artist — and the right venue. “A few years back, I flew to Toronto to see Mark Knopfler at the Sony Center, which used to be the O’Keefe Center. And I’ve seen Van Morrison in Ireland, Las Vegas and even the Royal Albert Hall in London. For the London show, I bought the ticket and then figured out how to get there.”

Jeff Schafer outside the Bob Dylan concert at the San Diego Civic Theater in June 2022.

Albanese’s comments about sitting up close resonate with me, although I am inherently cheap, and have never spent more than about $200 for a concert ticket. Funny story: in October 2021, I went with my friend Frank Silva to see Van Morrison at San Diego State University’s Open Air Theater. Frank is a diehard fan of Van and spent $525, plus fees, for a front-row center ticket. That, by the way, was the regular price from Ticketmaster, not an inflated price charged by ticket scalpers — I mean, ticket brokers. I spent $65 for a seat way up high. Before the show began, I walked down to the orchestra pit to visit Frank.

“How did you get down here?” he asked.

“I just walked in,” I responded. “Why do you ask?”

“Well, because they check wristbands and won’t let anyone down here without wristband.” So walked over to an usher and casually asked for a wristband. By then, the opening act, Taj Mahal, was already playing, so I sat down next to Frank in the vacant front-row center seat beside him. And I got on my phone, checking the Ticketmaster site to see which seats remained unsold, so I could sit in one of those unsold seats. Lo and behold, among the handful of tickets still available was the one I was sitting in, right next to Frank. I enjoyed the show and didn’t feel one bit guilty. Five hundred bucks — make that six hundred, when all the fees were factored in? Someone’s getting a little greedy.

Let’s put on a show

Brad Auerbach is a Solana Beach attorney, 65 years old, who estimates that over the last five years, he’s gone to about 200 concerts. “Sometimes there’s two a week, sometimes none, but I figure I go to at least three to five concerts every month,” he says. “It was a kind of slow fall for us, since we had a big trip to Italy and then the holidays cut into concerts.” But he’s looking at picking up the pace as the new year progresses. Among the most recent concerts Auerbach has attended: George Clinton, the 82-year-old funk pioneer, at the Anaheim House of Blues; 75-year-old Elton John at Petco Park; The Who, led by 78-year-old singer Roger Daltrey and 77-year-old guitarist Pete Townsend, in Las Vegas; Roxy Music, the British art-rock band fronted by 77-year-old Bryan Ferry, at the Inglewood Forum; and former Pink Floyd leader Roger Waters, who turns 80 this year, at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Auerbach gives all those shows high marks, even The Who, whose performances have been known to be erratic. “That’s my number-one band,” he says. “Each time I see them, I wonder whether I’m going to be upset. Will they be like the boxer who doesn’t know when to hang up his gloves? But they always come through and deliver.”

Auberbach saw his first concert in 1971, when he was just 15: Chicago, at the War Memorial Stadium in Buffalo, New York, where he grew up. “The next year, 1972, was a big year for me: I saw Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, Frank Zappa, and Jethro Tull. Mom insisted I wear earplugs, for which I am eternally grateful. I still do.” He continued attending as many shows as he could afford, but he slammed on the brakes when (you guessed it) it came time to launch a career and start a family. “It was probably a decade ago that I started back up,” Auerbach says, “when the girls were a little older.” (They are now 22 and 24). What prompted his concert comeback? “I think the driver isn’t so much the biology of these people I’d like to see, meaning these guys are getting older,” he says. “I mean, most of these artists I’ve already seen, many of them multiple times. It’s obviously great to be able to see them again, but it really does boil down to the live experience. I love live music. And you just can’t recreate this in any other way. It’s only going to happen at that time, in that place, and you’re right there, in the audience, watching it happen. It’s not going to happen again.”

Auerbach notes that many of the legacy bands he loves sound better today than they did in their heyday. That’s not just because of the “last hurrah” aspect; it’s also because the money has gotten so good that they can afford top-notch backing musicians, equipment, and productions. “For years, artists played concerts to support record sales,” he says. Concert tickets were cheap because live shows were considered part of the marketing campaign to support album sales. But with the rise of the internet, song file swapping and streaming, concerts have become the primary way that musicians make money — which is why concert tickets are easily ten to twenty times more expensive than they were in the ’70s and ’80s.

Roger McGuinn in Poway in April 2022.

Not that he minds much. “I think it’s wonderful that these guys are making real money,” Auerbach says. “I still have an old Led Zeppelin concert ticket stub, and I remember thinking long and hard about how much of my paper route money I was going to spend: four bucks, five bucks, or six bucks for the really good seats. Now, if those guys would even get back together, you’d move the decimal point at least two spaces, probably three. But it won’t happen.” Artists also recognize that to keep people wanting to pay big bucks to see them in concert, they need to put on spectacular shows. “I think they understand that they can’t risk phoning it in,” Auerbach says. “They really have to be into it.”

Unlike some senior concert attendees, Auerbach doesn’t limit his live shows to legacy bands he remembers from his youth. “I’m very excited about how our kids have joined us in getting into music, and in addition to liking some of the same bands we like, they’re turning us on to newer bands. Our girls for Christmas got us tickets to see The Dip at the Belly Up, and then we also saw the Jamestown Revival.” (The Dip is a rhythm and blues band formed in 2013 by jazz students at the University of Washington in Seattle; Jamestown Revival is a folk duo from Magnolia, Texas, that merges Southern country with Western rock and American roots-rock.) “Seeing these younger bands and getting turned on to them is just great,” Auberbach says. “I’m not blinded by only seeing legacy artists. I’m definitely open to seeing new bands.”

Music is my drug

Ricky Hoelck, who turns 70 in August, is gearing up to see Tommy James at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas in March. “I’ve seen him two times already,” he says of the 75-year-old former front man of Tommy James and the Shondells, whose string of ’60s hits include “Crimson and Clover” and “I Think We’re Alone Now.” Hoelck, who livess in San Diego and still works full-time as a sales rep for a spice company, says he typically attends 40 to 50 concerts a year, some in the San Diego area and others while he’s traveling, either for work — he has a five-state sales territory — or for senior softball tournaments. Recent shows include .38 Special, Foghat, Little Feat, and the Tedeschi Trucks Band — only the latter is a relatively new band, formed in 2010; it plays a blend of American rock and blues. In addition to going to concerts, Hoelck collects and sells vintage concert posters.

“I’m a recovering drug addict, among all the other things I’ve done in my life,” Hoelck says. “I got caught up in the ’60s and ’70s, and then as I started making more money, as more money came around, so did blow, so I did that. No one knew how addictive it was, but it got me. I didn’t lose everything, but it kind of redirected me, so when I finally got sober, besides God, I turned to the one thing I have always loved, even before drugs, which is music. This was in 2008, and while I had never really stopped going to concerts, I just got into that groove, and now music is really my drug.”

Hoelck says he tends to stick with classic rock acts he remembers from his younger days. “It’s the music, man,” he says. “It’s our music. We had the greatest era of creativity, with instruments, sounds and creative stuff — these incredible guitarists, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Carlos Santana. Just looking up into the ether and pulling this music out… where is it coming from? I mean, I saw Hendrix jam… I just love music, especially live music.”

Robbie Krieger at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano in September 2022.

Hoelck says one of his most memorable concerts was a show at the Encore in Las Vegas by Creedence Clearwater Revival singer, songwriter, and guitarist John Fogerty (born 1945) that was held a day after the Las Vegas shooting massacre in October 2017 at the Route 91 Harvest music festival, in which 60 people lost their lives. “When we went in, John goes, ‘I was here last night, you guys were here last night, here’s what we’re doing. If you want to stand on your head in the aisles, go for it. If you want to film, dance, stand on your seats, I told the ushers we’re going to take a trip out of the building without leaving it and they need to leave you alone.’ And he went on to play an incredible show.”

Another time, Hoelck says, he saw Jefferson Starship shortly before leader Paul Kantner’s death in January 2016 at the age of 74. Kantner was known for being something of a grumpy old man, and Hoelck’s experience underscores that perception. “Right before the show, as the band members were already up on stage, the lead singer, who replaced Grace Slick, waved at one of the guys sitting at a front table to come on up, so he did,” Hoelck says. “And as he’s coming up the steps, Paul Kantner, who’s sitting on an amp, looks at him and says, ‘What the fuck,’ and starts shoving the guy in the chest, right off the stage. The guy has to hop across two tables and lands on the floor. And the singer says, ‘That’s my friend, Paul!’” Hoelck saw ZZ Top play last summer, a year after the death of the long-bearded trio’s longtime bassist, Dusty Hill (who, like his two bandmates, was born in 1949). “They were great,” Hoelck says. “When Dusty died, they invited their longtime sound man to join them. He’d been with them for 25 years, just this clean-cut tech guy. Well, after Dusty died, he grew his beard and let his hair grow long, and sure enough, [band leader] Billy Gibbons says, ‘You’re taking Dusty’s place.’ And when I saw them, he never skipped a beat.”

The fact that he’s frequently on the road broadens Hoelck’s opportunities to see his favorite performers live. “Joe Walsh was playing down in Chula Vista with Bad Company the day I was leaving on a road trip,” Hoelck says. “At first I said, ‘Damn – it’s the day I’m leaving,’ but then I found out he was playing up in Berkeley the very next night, which is where I was heading. So I said, ‘Man, I’m going.’ I bought a ticket, flew up there, rented a car and drove straight to the amphitheater where he was playing. And by the time I got there, as I was walking in I heard him sing, ‘Walk Away.’ I had one ticket, and I was in row sixteen. And I was pinching myself: I can’t believe I’m actually here.”

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