As most live entertainment opportunities were put on hold much of last year, all eyes were on 2021 with a hope that pathways to a rebound and recovery would begin sooner than later. And with the unprecedented expediency of COVID-19 vaccines and social safety actions, the chances for that recovery seemed greatly enhanced as the year approached.

Thus, even as early as the first quarter in some areas – most notably New Zealand, where COVID infection rates were far lower than elsewhere around the world – the entire outlook for a global industry rebound appeared profoundly positive. More and more artists began to find their own paths back to stages and live crowds during the first half of 2021, yet social distancing and safety protocols were still as much a part of the show experience as the guitar riffs.

Concert sites outside with elbow room were a common go-to for shows in the spring, along with podded seating and the safety norms adopted last year, yet indoor arena performances also gained ground early in the year, albeit with lowered capacities. Still, in North America, arenas accounted for about the same percentage of the business then as they did for the remainder of the year – right at 13% – even though the first show at full capacity did not occur until June 20 when the Foo Fighters performed at New York’s Madison Square Garden. And, as it turned out, the 2021 percentage of arena concerts is also on par with 2019’s box office results that show 12% of all concerts on record were arena dates.

Outdoor venues, though, saw a bump this year – understandable since social distancing and general concern about being indoors in close contact with others during the time of COVID were factors. The percentage of amphitheater performances in 2021 was 10% of the overall in North America, considerably higher than 2019’s 4%. Likewise, stadium shows, most of which are outdoors, were about 8% of the total this year in comparison to only 1% two years ago prior to the pandemic.

The graphs shown here representing box office success among the top 100 tours, both worldwide and in North America, tell the basic story of live entertainment during the past three years. In a nutshell, it’s a saga of one full year of box office excellence followed by two years with only one significant quarter of live activity each. And, in many ways, that’s not far off target as the last three quarters of 2020 grossed 71% less than the first quarter alone, while this year was close to the opposite result, with grosses from the first three quarters registering 67% less than sold-ticket revenue solely from Q4.

Looking at the touring success stories of 2021, it’s again a story of two separate live experiences – one during the first half of the year and most of the summer and another in the fall. As mentioned earlier, it was New Zealand, along with Australia, that figured most prominently in box office tallies during the 2021’s first two quarters. First, it was the summer and fall season Down Under, but most importantly, the impact of the pandemic was not as dire in that region, with active cases of COVID close to non-existent at the time. The result was a history-making touring effort by New Zealand’s own Six60, the band that dominated the box office charts during the first half of the year.

As the first headliner to play venues at full capacity – stadium-sized, no less – since the March 2020 shutdown, Six60 scored the

No. 1 ranking in both the Q1 and Mid-Year touring recaps. And a seven-show ticket count of 167,621 even gave the band the No. 3 ranking in the third quarter as North American live activity was just beginning to explode. With the juggernaut of incoming ticket sales data in Q4, however, the group ultimately ends the year ranked No. 37 among the top 100 tours based on worldwide ticket sales.

Since the fall leg of the “No Filter” trek began in September, The Rolling Stones’ No. 1 position among the year’s highest-grossing tours has held firm, and the band retains that ranking based on $115.5 million in sales from over half-a-million sold tickets. The 2021 gross of the “No Filter Tour” raised its overall box office haul to $545 million from over 2.8 million sold tickets at 58 shows since the tour originally launched in 2017, securing its historic stand among the highest grossing tours of all time.

Leading the top 100 tours are the Stones, Harry Styles, and the “Hella Mega” co-bill with Green Day, Fall Out Boy and Weezer, followed by the Eagles, Dead & Company, Los Bukis, Guns N’ Roses, Dave Matthews Band, Phish and Jonas Brothers. Grosses from the top 10 tours total $608.7 million, which is 36% of the entire gross total from the top 100. That’s actually a higher percentage than the top 10 in 2019, which was led by Pink, Elton John and Ed Sheeran, when grosses totaled 30% of the top 100.

Four of the year’s top five concert grosses were produced at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif. The Rolling Stones’ two shows there, Oct. 14 and 17, head up the list with an $18.9 million total take, while BTS follows at Nos. 2 and 3 with $16.8 million from a two-night December engagement and another $16.5 million from two shows in November. The Stones’ Las Vegas show at Allegiant Stadium is No. 4 with $14.8 million on Nov. 6, and the Los Bukis reunion tour featuring founder Marco Antonio Solís is fifth with its SoFi concerts, Aug. 27-28, and a $13.8 million gross.

The top-ranked venues for the year include Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena and Ryman Auditorium, No. 1 among arenas and theaters, respectively, while Boston’s The Wilbur is the top club. Denver-area Red Rocks Amphitheatre tops the shed chart, and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park moved the most tickets among outdoor concert sites and stadiums. | Magazine 7 by AF themes.