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Dead and Company will kick off Usana Amphitheatre's "summer" schedule June 7. That's perhaps a bit serendipitous, considering the Grateful Dead's most accessibly mainstream song was "Touch of Grey," which is as apt a description as any for many of this year's summer shows in Utah.
That's hardly an accident.
British rockers Def Leppard, who dominated the 1980s charts with an avalanche of ear-candy pop-rock hits, might well be considered Usana's house band, given the number of times they've played the West Valley venue. And they'll be back again June 19, along with reunited hair-metal icons Poison and fellow '80s rockers Tesla.
"We've based a lot of our decisions on history. This is our sixth time with Def Leppard, and they've sold out every time," said Dave McKay, vice president of United Concerts, which handles the bookings for Usana, The Depot and other venues. "So I'm gonna continue to go to the well. As long as they want to keep playing here, and as long as people continue to buy tickets to see them, we'll keep booking them."
While Usana's slate has its share of younger acts, it also includes the likes of REO Speedwagon, Styx, Don Felder, Iron Maiden, Steve Miller Band, Peter Frampton, Depeche Mode, Foreigner, Cheap Trick, Scorpions, Megadeth and an "I Love the '90s" event.
Red Butte's outdoor concert series features among others Jethro Tull by Ian Anderson, Santana, ZZ Top and the "Retro Futura Tour," which consists of '80s pop acts Howard Jones, The English Beat and Men Without Hats.
It all comes down to capitalizing on demographics, given that, as McKay noted quite straightforwardly, "Our main philosophy is to book shows that make money."
So part of it is getting acts that appeal to older audiences, as they tend to be more established in jobs and therefore have more expendable income to use on things such as concerts.
Such acts, however, are ultimately successful because it's not just graybeards in the audience going to see the graybeards onstage.
"When I hit that stage," Poison frontman Bret Michaels noted before a solo show at Usana last year, "it's three generations of fans that I feel blessed to be out there [with]."
Chris Mautz, who works as Red Butte's concert promoter, said a big component is that musicians who've been around and been popular for a while inevitably have had the opportunity to gain more fans as a result of fandom being passed down to the next generation.
"I'm getting the sense that some of the older bands are beginning to dip into a younger crowd. They're continuing to have an influence on younger, emerging audiences," he said. "Music has an ability to continue that legacy of one influence to another. We're seeing that cross-section."
Def Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell said in a previous interview that his band easily could have died out in the '90s with the advent of grunge and almost did.
But what ultimately proved the band's saving grace was its discovery by and appeal to a new generation.
"Something happened at the end of the '90s and the early 2000s where, all of a sudden, it was kind of acceptable to like Def Leppard again. This was around the advent of the internet, and people were getting into file-sharing and stuff. And we noticed all of a sudden that there were younger people coming to our shows and singing the songs. And so we thought, 'OK, this must be the upside of music piracy!' " Campbell said. "The younger generations that were coming to our shows, they quite probably didn't buy our records, but at least they bought a T-shirt and a concert ticket. … And we continued to see that grow and grow our audience has become more multigenerational. And I must say that's encouraging to us, that does make us want to continue to do this."
One reason for the generational crossover is that many established acts are effective in putting on a live show that hooks people for good.
Ed Roland, lead singer and songwriter for alt-rockers Collective Soul, widely labeled the most radio-played band of the 1990s, said previously that his group still exists because audiences enjoy seeing it in person.
"We're one of the lucky bands, I feel like; we're a live act, and people still wanna come see us play live. That's the cornerstone of music, to me," Roland said. "You get that character, that character of that band that evening. As an audience member, that's yours to take home and keep."
In the end, though, it's mostly because these bands have written songs that evoke nostalgia in a positive way.
"We long ago accepted that people are coming to buy a concert ticket to a Def Leppard show because they want to hear songs from their youth, those songs that are ingrained into their DNA," Campbell admitted.
McKay agreed that's no small factor to be overlooked.
There are plenty of old-school bands making the rounds every year, after all, but not all of them make the cut. What sets apart the acts he ultimately chooses to bring in is that, cheesy or not, respected by critics or not, those bands have songs that have stood the test of time.
"These are bands that created great music, and there's no denying that great music lasts through generations," McKay said. "Those bands have song after song after song on the radio. They've created a long-lasting repertoire."