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Springsteen is one of many older rockers canceling shows for health reasons, making ticket purchases risky for fans

When Katie Perry nabbed four tickets to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band this spring in Connecticut, she couldn’t wait to see the reactions of her gleeful 60-something parents at the show. Now, she’ll have to wait until next year.

The spring show was postponed when a band member went down with an illness that was believed to be COVID. And the September date was pushed back when the Boss, who just turned 74, was diagnosed with a peptic ulcer and forced to rest and recover for several months, pushing his remaining tour dates in 2023 to 2024. A third date for the Connecticut gig as well as other postponements have yet to be scheduled.

“Thanks to all my friends and fans for your good wishes, encouragement, and support,” Springsteen said in a statement posted on social media late Wednesday, announcing a break in touring until 2024 because of peptic ulcer disease. “I’m on the mend and can’t wait to see you all next year.”

It’s been as rough a patch for Bruce fans as for their guitar hero. Digital consultant Kevin Ryan said he was checking into a Philadelphia hotel in mid-August when word reached Springsteen fans who had traveled from Australia, Los Angeles and Chicago that the show that night was off. “Talk about depressed people,” Ryan said in an interview. “I bumped into them for days.”

At least Springsteen is making up a growing list of delayed shows.

Ozzy Osbourne, 74, abruptly dropped out of several tour dates this year because of damage to his spine. One of them was the PowerTrip heavy metal festival in Indio, Calif., in early October. Ryan shelled out $10,000 for six tickets as part of a corporate event primarily because he and his clients wanted to see Osbourne. “Bummer,” he said. “And don’t even get me started about the price of an Airbnb ABNB, -2.82% for that weekend.”

Such are the risks and rewards of spending big bucks on legendary aging acts. Seeing one’s favorite band has always involved a little bit of luck (scoring seats) and a lot of money. Now, it also requires plenty of patience.

A slew of recent postponements from rock royalty — Springsteen, Madonna, Aerosmith, Pearl Jam, Guns N’ Roses and others have postponed shows in recent months — underscores not only the ravages of decades on the road for the artists but the peril of fans willing to splurge thousands of dollars on tickets and travel far to see their favorite acts.

Throw in airfare and a hotel to see a mega-show on the road, and you have an increasingly difficult call to make with so many shows being pushed back months because of COVID breakouts, peptic ulcers, shredded vocal chords and assorted other maladies.

Jenny Wallack Shenk, 45, of New York, has traveled the U.S. and Europe to see Pearl Jam 54 times over the years, including its tour opener in St. Paul, Minn., on Aug. 31 and two more shows in Chicago this summer. She’s seen the Dave Matthews Band about 75 times and Phish more than 50 times.

She’s not scared off by the possibility of a canceled show because she and her family travel to destinations “with other things to offer” such as Prague and Berlin, where they saw Pearl Jam. “There is a low percentage of [a postponement] happening,” she said. “Another huge driving force is meeting up with people we’ve become friends with in the Pearl Jam community.”

“Post-Covid, the touring industry has become more fraught. Insurance is more expensive, and the costs in putting on shows,” said Bill Werde, the former editorial director of Billboard who now runs Bandier music business program at Syracuse University, one of the top-ranked music, business programs in the country. “At the same time, there is rabid demand among fans to see shows, regardless of the cost of tickets and travel, after Covid wiped out tours for a few years. And fans are often out of luck.”

Aerosmith had just started its “Peace Out” Farewell tour in early September when lead singer Steven Tyler, 75, blew out his vocal chords, forcing the postponement of at least a half dozen shows.

“It sucks as a fan and especially for the bands. Fans are paying for expensive tickets, as high as it’s ever been. The cost of travel, fuel, hotels. It adds up,” David Schulhof, founder and CEO of MUSQ, a music ETF, said in an interview. “Unfortunately, the acts are losing out, too. Touring is the financial lifeline for artists. Streaming royalties pay little. The whole process is friction-heavy.”

Schulhof estimates Springsteen has played more than 3,500 shows over the decades.

“For a lot of older acts, their ecosystem was built on touring and athletic showmanship. But that gets harder to do in your mid-70s,” Drew Thurlow, founder of Opening Ceremony Media, which consults music companiessaid in an interview. Previously, he was worked as vice president of A&R at Sony SONY, -1.88% Music and director of artist partnerships & industry relations at Pandora.

“I recently saw Peter Gabriel, who relies more on visuals and his ensemble, such as background singers,” Thurlow said. “That seemed to work.”

Uncertainty over a star’s health and ability to make shows is also wreaking havoc on the financial ecosystem that make tours go.

“It’s really difficult for touring bands, promoters and buildings,” says Sheena Way, vice president for content and programming at the Golden State Warriors and their home arena, Chase Center, in San Francisco. “It’s inconvenient for fans but at least they get their tickets refunded, and they usually just want to know when the rescheduled show is.”

One of Madonna’s shows, scheduled Jan. 15, 2024, at Chase Center, was pushed back to Feb. 27-28 after the Material Girl postponed the start of her tour in the summer. Madonna spent multiple days in intensive care after battling a “serious bacterial infection,” according to her manager. 

Maladies of venerable touring artists stand in stark contrast to their young brethren. During the epic spring and summer tours, megastars Taylor Swift and Beyoncé routinely put in 3-hour-plus shows with no glitches or postponements, raking in billions of dollars in ticket sales and record stadium crowds.

To be sure, some younger acts such as Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes, have postponed or canceled shows this year.

Is a long tour possible for elder rockers?

Legendary performers are experiencing hiccups in their schedule caused by illness, blowing up their tour dates and bringing into question whether a long, sustained tour is possible for those in their 70s.

Even Foreigner lead singer Kelly Hansen, at a relatively spry 62, is calling an end to touring. The band, down to its last original member who tours occasionally (Mick Jones, 78), launched its farewell tour on July 6 in Atlanta, which will run through 2024. Hansen thought this might be his last tour as he realized how “difficult” the catalog of songs is to sing each year.

Nothing is a sure thing. A major test may come later this month, when U2 begins a Las Vegas residency at the Sphere At the Venetian. Lead singer Bono, who underwent lifesaving heart surgery in late 2016 after doctors found a bubble on his aorta, has been tasked with performing at least three times a week.

Undaunted, Silicon Valley resident Julie Karbo is trekking to Las Vegas to see U2, one of her favorites. “Given the high cost, that doesn’t mean I will travel for anyone,” she said. “They have to be one of my top tier bands/artists. Luckily, most people come to S.F.”

A residency in Vegas, once looked down upon in rock circles, now is increasingly enticing to performers who want to avoid the road and still cash in, music executive Thurlow says.

“Things happen and life happens, especially for these acts that are older and still pumping out two- to three-hour shows,” says Springsteen superfan Perry, who oversees partnerships and content at investment firm, said in an interview. “I’ll gladly roll the dice on those because the chances of seeing them are limited as time goes on.”

Longtime music veteran Schulhof finds it “amazing these groups are still touring. Mick Jagger is 80. Paul McCartney is 81. Elton John is 76.”

If all else fails, just play it safe, advises San Francisco Bay Area music fan Lori Wick. “When purchasing high profile tickets our strategy is to purchase at the very last minute,” she advises. “This way there’s not too much disappointment if they bag. If the show does happen, the prices go way down when it gets closer to the date.”