Dubuque concert venues see live music roaring back

After navigating massive challenges for the past 17 months, national trends and local success stories suggest the live music industry is making a major comeback.

That phenomenon was on display last week, when Ticketmaster released its quarterly earnings and reported that June was the fourth-highest month for ticket sales in its history, which dates back to the mid-1970s.

And industry leaders expect the good times will continue to roll.

Ticketmaster’s parent company, Live Nation Entertainment, reported that it expects to have over 6 million fans attend its festivals during the second half of the year, with about two-thirds of festivals increasing their attendance compared to 2019.

“The momentum for the return to live events has been building every month, with ticket sales and concert attendance pacing faster than expected, underscoring the strength and resiliency of the concert business and live events in general,” company officials noted in the quarterly report.

Local venues have a similar sense of optimism as they welcome the return of live entertainment.

Five Flags Center began hosting live shows back in November, according to General Manager H.R. Cook. Beginning in March, the venue began to notice a sizable increase in the number of people attending concerts.

“We’ve been doing fabulous numbers,” said Cook. “I think, as a society, we wanted to get back out and have a good time.”

Cook said that the pandemic reshaped the music industry in many ways, rewarding up-and-coming artists who stayed active during the pandemic — through things like streaming live performances online. Meanwhile, once-popular performers who remained quiet over the past year-plus have seen their popularity wane.

Cook cited Koe Wetzel, a country artist who will perform at Five Flags late this month, as an example of the former.

“People like him who stayed engaged with their fans are shooting to the top,” he said.


At Diamond Jo Casino, staff members are gearing up to host the venue’s first live concert since March 2020.

The Mississippi Moon Bar will host Don Felder, the former lead guitarist for rock band The Eagles, on Saturday, Aug. 14.

“It has been almost a year and a half since we have (had a live concert),” Diamond Jo Director of Marketing Marty Maiers said. “During the pandemic, we always knew that live music would be the last thing that came back to the casino, the final piece of the puzzle.”

Bringing back live music has not been an easy process, Maiers acknowledged.

For one, the casino had to remove hundreds of chairs from the Moon Bar, which had been used for storage over the past 17 months. These chairs, which were initially on the casino floor, were moved into the bar last year as the casino aimed to meet mandated social distancing requirements.

Officials have also been testing out equipment in recent weeks.

“You’ve got to test out the sound and lights and make sure everything works okay,” Maiers said. “It’s been a long time. You can forget how to do certain things.”

Reopening the Moon Bar also means bringing back jobs. The venue, which was forced to implement layoffs last year, will employ 10 to 15 workers when it initially reopens, said Maiers.


Q Casino returned to the live-music business months ago and, overall, Vice President and General Manager Brian Rakestraw has been pleased with what he has seen.

“We’ve been pleasantly surprised with ticket sales,” Rakestraw said. “There’s no doubt about it. The demand is definitely there.”

Q Casino initially returned to live concerts by utilizing its outdoor concert venue, known as the Back Waters Stage. Last weekend, the casino also brought its indoor venue, Q Showroom, back into the mix with the first live concert in well over a year.

Rakestraw said attendance was about 50% higher than what the casino normally sees for indoor shows, a sign that people are eager to return to the live music scene.

But challenges are also evident.

Q Casino on Monday announced the postponement of a show starring Tesla the Band after a member of the group’s touring party tested positive for COVID-19. The postponement served as a reminder that returning to normalcy might take a while.

“There will be bumps in the road,” Rakestraw said.

Cook, meanwhile, acknowledged that part of what is driving such high sales is the sheer volume of concerts now on the market.

He explained that “everyone is on tour right now,” a rare occurrence in an industry where performers typically cycle between recording in the studio, taking time off and embarking on tours.

“There is a risk of the market becoming saturated,” Cook said. “There are only so many days in a given month that a consumer can attend a show.”

This phenomenon, coupled with the continued emergence of new variants, leads Cook to believe that concert sales could “taper off” in the months ahead.

Even so, he said the industry has been significantly surpassing expectations this year, reinforcing the strength of an industry that has recently faced major challenges.

“If you like going to shows, this has been a great year,” he said. “And I am cautiously optimistic about what will happen in the future.”