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Chuck Negron’s Bad Flashback

09:01 AM Saturday 7/18/09 | |

Chuck Negron, former singer of ‘70s supergroup Three Dog Night and author of "Three Dog Nightmare," tells Pollstar that tour cancellations can be catastrophic for the artists and crews whether its 50 shows at London's O2 or 50 shows in secondary and tertiary markets across America.

One such tour, featuring Negron as the headlining singer for The Mystic Orchestra in a touring production called “Flashback: The Classic Rock Experience,” went out last August on what was expected to be an extensive tour and, it was hoped, a possible PBS special.

Only the first few shows were performed before the bottom fell out of the tour, just as it was for the economy. The remainder of the tour was put “on hold” in hopes that new financing and support could be rounded. Almost a year later, no announcement has been made regarding a revival of the “Flashback” tour.

Here's Chuck's story.

I was gearing up in March 2008 for a beautiful summer of traveling and performing concerts all over the country. I would perform on the weekends and then return to my home in Los Angeles.

By way of introduction, I should explain why I do this. I’m the guy with the big mustache who belted out “Jeremiah Was A Bullfrog,” “One (Is The Loneliest Number),” “An Old Fashion Love Song,” and “Easy To Be Hard” when I was the lead vocalist for Three Dog Night.

Those were just a few of the 21 Top 40 hits I sang. I left Three Dog Night more than 20 years ago and I’ve been touring with my own band now for almost 14 years. I’m proud of the life I’ve built for my family and I these past years.

A man who’d worked with the company that promoted more than 200 of Three Dog Night’s concerts called me one day with an idea for a concert tour. I was interested, and the two of us got together in Malibu on a beautiful Southern California Sunday afternoon.

His concept was to present the great music of the ’60s and ’70s in a powerful setting with the most advanced concert production available. No one in the ’60s would have dreamed of such a huge musical extravaganza because the technology simply hadn’t been invented yet. He wanted me to headline the show.

The production would be framed in a three-level stage with an orchestra, four to six background vocalists, and a rock band with three guitar players, percussionist, and three keyboard players.

Besides the ultimate in production there were other points that intrigued me. The tour would begin in the South in August and move on to the East Coast by November. We would take December and January off and pick up again in February and tour through to an April wrap-up.

We would only be playing large arenas; no small venues. In fact, the production would not fit in any venue but large arenas. The promoter had made such a huge commitment in production that he wouldn’t be able to scale down and adjust to play smaller venues. There was no Plan B in the event the economy got worse. Which it did.

This was very bold, maybe even irrational, endeavor to be working without a net, considering the economy, the absence of a really big marquee name and the overwhelming expense to keep the show on the road for even one week.

But dreams are for dreamers, and I am one of those. Always ready to dangle precariously on the edge of my seat reaching for the golden ring. Yearning to be back in the big game with the ball in my hands, for there is where I excel and come to life. But back on planet Earth this could be a risky decision for several reasons:

One, it would upset the booking routine of my agents and manager by making me unavailable for bookings I’ve done for years.

Two, the proposed tour would be covering a great deal of the United States so I really couldn’t play many cities and towns with the Chuck Negron Band. The problem for me would be accepting a booking for a Chuck Negron concert that might be in the same town or region that my other tour would be performing in later in the summer.

Promoters like to make certain they’re not buying an act that will be performing in their area shortly before or after their scheduled concert. Promoters can and will lose ticket sales when there are two options to see the same act.

And three, if the tour in fact folded it would be almost impossible for me to obtain any new bookings until the next year. The entire summer would be lost.

One of the benefits for me was the guarantee of more than six months of solid work in big arenas in the mainstream of the touring business. I would be the star of the show and I would do the majority of the press and TV interviews.

Musicians always want a bigger stage, a higher profile event, and to reach a bigger audience – and I readily admit that I’m no different. Sharing my gift with the most people possible is part of why I do this year after year. And three months of deposits were going to make it financially acceptable to me.

Deposits consist of half the money up front to secure the artist’s commitment to the show and also to protect the artist if the tour folds and leaves everyone out of work. Since I’m an artist who is not done competing, attempting to improve my skills, or taking a risk, it made good sense personally, professionally and artistically. I made the decision to do it.

So, with a dream, a good idea, and an ability to say whatever it took to get it done, the producer spent almost three years of his life – and the lives of so many others – to make his dream of the ultimate classic rock experience come true.

The foundation of the tour was the production – hundreds of lights, huge sound, seven screens showing vintage footage simultaneously with live performances, lasers, and pyrotechnics from hell. And there would be musicians. That meant people like the other lead vocalists, the band, the backup singers, the orchestra and, of course, me.

Musicians can be bothersome people to deal with when it comes to achieving a promoter’s vision. A vision motivated by a power greater than simple-minded musicians who must be fed, have a place to sleep, and be paid.

Maybe he believed it was a rite of passage that would put him back in the big leagues. But the buck stops somewhere. And in this case, the buck stopped –
well, I really don’t know where, but the bucks did stop, that’s for sure.

Here was a man who always guaranteed that all would be well. If by chance a conflict ensued, which often happens when musicians have no cash to eat with, this man would say, “I thought you were a Christian.” Had this tour become some kind of penance for me, or a spiritual karma for feeling up Jane Zuckman in 1960? Forgive me for I was so young and horny.

The road is paved with the blood, sweat and tears of family, friends, photographers, carpenters, artists, crew, roadies, wardrobe people and musicians who rearrange their lives to be part of a sensational production.

And here’s a fact: Once musicians have committed to a tour and therefore have lost other options, they will work for free to help the show get on its feet. Especially if the crowds love what they’re seeing and the players are proud to be involved.

Musicians can be like children – eager to please, self-absorbed and vulnerable. Musicians will put their own future in harms way to help keep a show on the road. They, of course, are dreamers too! A musician will buy into a dream if it’s a good one and will help make it come true, for they can be dream weavers.

In the end, putting on a great show that the audience will love is what musicians do. The tour could have been a home run if the producer had a Plan B. But he didn’t. I have to admit, I got paid but it was all deposits I had fought to get before leaving town.

The lowering of the deposit amount was a constant negotiating point between the producer and my attorney. It wasn’t until the tour was to begin, and I refused to perform, that I started seeing any money in my account.

Despite my concerns about being paid I had only performed a handful of concerts with the Chuck Negron Band last summer because of my commitment to the producer, so I was compelled to do the tour.

The special skills that the producer believed he possessed to launch this extravaganza were an illusion, an insanity of vanity. He wasn’t prepared to captain a ship of this size.

He purchased the sails and hired the best people to build this vessel, but he neglected to tell anyone the ship was sailing. He didn’t tell the audiences that this extravaganza was coming to their town. Promotion was an afterthought for a man in over his head and sinking fast. The voyage was heavily taxed when it was decided to play big arenas at a time in the economy when established acts would have trouble filling seats.

It all ran aground. There were so many things done correctly, but the two most important things in every great musical experience were completely ignored: The musicians and the audience. And without them, there could never be a show.


  1. kiteflyer wrote:

    04:49 PM, Jul 18, 2009

    Awesome article. He hit the nail on the head. This show was too big, not marketed and in wrong venues. A horrible idea. Top to bottom.

  2. Trainarollin wrote:

    10:36 AM, Jul 18, 2009

    Plan A should have been to do 3,000 seaters. Chuck is a legend and I wish I had 1% of his vocal talent, but flashback type shows generally cannot sell arena sized halls. Thank you Chuck for the article.