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Originally published Sunday, May 11, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Summer concert business booms as CD sales tank

The record business is tanking, videos don't have the impact they once had and radio is scattered. But the concert business is booming. While CD sales dropped 15...

Seattle Times music critic

The record business is tanking, videos don't have the impact they once had and radio is scattered.

But the concert business is booming. While CD sales dropped 15 percent last year, concert-ticket sales rose 8 percent to $3.9 billion, according to Billboard.

Gas prices and tightened budgets may cut into concert-business growth this year, but those concerns surfaced long after this summer's tours had been set and venues booked.

Now you know why so many concerts are heading our way this summer. Live performance is the last strong money stream for pop-music artists, and they're getting on the road while the getting is good.

Sasquatch!, the annual Memorial Day weekend rock festival at the Gorge Amphitheatre in George, Grant County, is the unofficial kickoff of the Northwest summer concert season. The three-day affair has developed into one of America's most prestigious outdoor events, as much for the spectacular vistas of the Columbia Gorge as for the potent lineups, which just keep getting better every year.

Headlining opening day, May 24, is R.E.M., the veteran Athens, Ga., band that has come roaring back with its best album in years, the aptly named "Accelerate." Seeing them in March at SXSW in Austin made me so happy, because R.E.M. reclaimed its place as one of America's great rock bands, after several disappointing albums that had many virtually writing them off.

Experiencing them in top form, in a show that emphasized their songwriting genius, past and present, was invigorating. What made it even better was that several guys up on that stage had Seattle ties, including guitarist Peter Buck, and the band's semipermanent sidemen, guitarist/keyboardist Scott McCaughey and drummer Bill Rieflin (who're also on the album).

One of the keys to Sasquatch!'s success, and one of the things that sets it apart, is its strong support of Northwest acts. Death Cab for Cutie, Modest Mouse, The Presidents of the United States of America, Blue Scholars and The Fleet Foxes are just some of the local bands in this year's lineup. And there are more top national and international acts, including The Cure, The Flaming Lips, The Mars Volta, Built to Spill and The Hives.

The Capitol Hill Block Party, a smaller two-day festival set for July 25-26, has also established itself as a key summertime music event. It's a celebration of Seattle music, with bands that usually play inside nightclubs performing outside on several stages.

While the lineup is largely local, national acts are also a draw. The Party scored a coup this year by snagging Vampire Weekend, the hottest new band of the year.

Another hot new band, Paramore, headlines this year's Vans Warped Tour, playing the Gorge Aug. 9. The lineup of the punk- and hard rock-oriented all-day festival is strong this year, also featuring Gym Class Heroes, All-American Rejects and Angels & Airwaves.

Bumbershoot boasts Beck, Stone Temple Pilots, Ludacris and Lucinda Williams in its big, eclectic, Labor Day weekend lineup. Sounds like another record year in attendance.

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The Roots, sharing a bill with Erykah Badu, open the season at Marymoor Park June 5. Also set for the leafy outdoor setting on July 12-13 are the Backstreet Boys; Willie Nelson; the Doobie Brothers; and Sub Pop's 20th anniversary show, featuring Green River, Flight of the Conchords and Iron & Wine.

Fergie, Kid Rock and the Black Crowes are playing, of all places, the Puyallup Fair in September, upping the fair's hip quotient. Also doing the Puyallup are Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons, Al Jarreau and the Manhattan Transfer and Carrie Underwood.

Probably the biggest concert of the summer is Radiohead, Aug. 20 at White River. Thom Yorke and company not only are at the forefront of bracing, creative, modern rock, but they're also spearheading a revolution in how music is distributed, discarding the old corporate methods for new, computer-based models.

Among established stars heading our way are Mark Knopfler, James Taylor, Emmylou Harris, Brooks & Dunn, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Melissa Etheridge and Neil Diamond.

And more names will be added to the `oncert list as we get deeper into the season. This summer is going to be hot, no matter what the weather.

Patrick MacDonald: 206-464-2312 or pmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

UPDATE - 12:19 PM
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UPDATE - 12:19 PM
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