Ludacris was supposed to make a tour stop at the Toyota Center in September 2023, and the show was then postponed to January 2024. According to Billboard, Ludacris was one of the most successful rappers of the '00s. By the end of 2011, the Atlanta-based MC had racked up fifteen Top-10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, including five #1 hits, and topped the Billboard 200 with four albums. But the January show was canceled due to low ticket sales.

The Tri-Cities region undoubtedly faces challenges when it comes to attracting large musical acts. In 2017, Lil Wayne, a titan in the music industry, faced a surprising setback in Tri-Cities, failing to sell out the venue even with the support of Russ, who achieved platinum status the same week. Lil Wayne is one of the largest selling acts of all time, and a household name. Yet, somehow, his show still didn’t sell out! It's evident that the area has yet to fully tap into its potential as a thriving entertainment hub. There is a reason for this, and you (yes, you reading this) have the power to change it.

Nestled in-between Seattle, Spokane, Portland, and Boise, Tri-Cities has a lot to offer. As I’ve previously written, we have a population larger than St. Louis, Salt Lake City, Buffalo, and many mid-sized markets that see large musicians sell out week in and week out. Yet the struggle to attract big names persists in Tri-Cities. Ludacris, a chart-topping artist with a massive fan base, pulling the plug on a scheduled show due to poor ticket sales raises a red flag. Is it a matter of demographics, preferences, or something deeper ingrained in the local culture that's hindering the success of large-scale events? Let’s dive in.

Ludacris / Eve Baker, Fort Wainwright Public Affairs Office, CC BY-SA 4.0

Is it Genre? Demographics? Population?

In 2017, rap group Migos were at the peak of their popularity and joined forces with XXL Freshman Lil Yachty to perform at the Toyota Center. These weren’t just two big rappers; these were two of the largest rappers on the planet, and statically at the time, Migos was the world’s largest act. The event still struggled to reach full capacity. It raised concerns about whether the Tri-Cities audience aligns with the tastes and preferences of mainstream music listeners. The collaboration of Migos and Lil Yachty, both prominent figures in the rap scene, should have been a recipe for a sold-out show. Yet, the underwhelming turnout begs the question: Is there a disconnect between the types of acts the city attracts and the musical tastes of its residents?

The difficulties faced by rapper NF in 2019 further highlight the challenges of selling out large venues in Tri-Cities. Despite NF's rising popularity and his 2019 platinum album, the Toyota Center still wound up with some empty seats, indicating a potential gap in connecting with the local audience. NF, known for his emotionally charged performances, failed to create the anticipated buzz in Tri-Cities. Was it a marketing misstep, or does the city need a more concerted effort to familiarize itself with artists outside mainstream radio rotations?

There were some successes along the way, too. Snoop Dogg in 2016 and Wiz Khalifa in 2018 both had sold-out shows. Was it the nostalgia? Does the Tri-Cities just like cannabis rappers? I mean…The Uptown Get Down in 2023 with ‘Because I Got High’ rapper Afroman sold out in advance.

Despite these wins, the problem persists beyond genre. Here is a list of large shows that didn’t sell out:

Five Finger Death Punch in 2013
Three Days Grace in 2015
Breaking Benjamin in 2019
Shinedown in 2019
Grupo Frontera in 2023
REO Speedwagon in 2023
Old Dominion in 2023
Soulja Boy in 2023

Old Dominion sold out nearly every single night on their 2023 tour — except in the Tri-Cities — including back-to-back shows at Red Rocks in Denver. The same goes for Five Finger Death Punch, Three Days Grace, and Lil Wayne. Soulja Boy quite literally sold double the amount of tickets in Bend, Oregon the night before as he did at his 2024 Pasco show.

The Avoid Zone

When a tour sells out every single stop except one or two, those behind the show ask themselves: “Why didn’t this one go well?” Tours of large size are often promoted by Live Nation or similar affiliates, and when shows that sell out in smaller or similar markets (for example, many of these shows sold out in Buffalo, Salt Lake City, and small markets like Eugene or Spokane), this leads the promotion companies to leave the city off future tours. Why go to Tri-Cities and sell half of what you could sell in Spokane, Boise, or Bend? Our lack of attendance earns us a stigma — a foul taste in the mouth of the music industry — and therefore, they won’t book here again.

However, for some reason, we do really well with family-friendly comedy and Christian Music. Every single tour, Gabriel Iglesias and Jeff Dunham come to the Toyota Center, and clearly do well enough to keep coming back, though they don’t appear to sell out. TobyMac is a Christian artist who stops by Tri-Cities every tour as well.

Maybe our town is just too conservative for mainstream music? Well, many conservatives like bands like Old Dominion and REO Speedwagon, yet neither of those shows sells out here. So what ultimately keeps large acts from being well attended in the Tri-Cities? I’ve summed it up in one word: Culture.

Lil Wayne / Chris Allmeid, CC BY-SA 4.0

A Culture That Needs to Shift

One of the major hurdles to attracting large acts to Tri-Cities is the overwhelmingly negative perception among potential concert-goers. Shifting this mindset requires concerted efforts from both local promoters and the community. Highlighting the unique aspects of the Tri-Cities and fostering a sense of local pride can help dispel the notion that entertainment in the area is subpar. We often grapple with the stigma that we’re not an ideal destination for major concerts. Changing this perception involves a multifaceted approach, from promoting the city's cultural richness to debunking myths about the entertainment scene. Local influencers, community leaders, and even artists themselves can play a role in reshaping the narrative.

Building a foundation for the music scene starts with supporting homegrown talent. Encouraging and attending local shows not only provides a platform for emerging artists but also helps create a vibrant cultural scene that can attract larger acts in the future. The Tri-Cities boasts a pool of undiscovered talent that can sometimes struggle to gain exposure. By actively participating in and promoting local shows, residents contribute to the growth of a thriving local music scene. The success of grassroots movements in other cities underscores the potential impact of this approach.

Increasing Demand for Local Music

Elevating the demand for local music involves engaging the community through various channels. Local radio stations, community events, and online platforms can play a pivotal role in showcasing and promoting the diverse musical talents that Tri-Cities has to offer. As local artists gain recognition, the overall appeal of the region as an entertainment destination will naturally grow. Tri-Cities artists need a more prominent presence on the airwaves and online platforms. A dedicated focus on local artists and their music, coupled with collaborations with popular platforms, can significantly enhance the visibility of Tri-Cities' music scene.

Supporting Local Venues, Music, and Restaurants

Large acts often consider the overall infrastructure and environment when selecting tour stops. By supporting local venues, music establishments, and restaurants, the community contributes to the growth of a robust entertainment ecosystem. This, in turn, makes the Tri-Cities a more appealing destination for major artists and event organizers.

We must invest in upgrading our entertainment infrastructure, ensuring that venues provide a top-notch experience for both artists and audiences. Collaborations with local businesses can create a more immersive and enjoyable experience for concert-goers, making them more likely to return and recommend the city to others.

Transforming the Tri-Cities into a thriving hub for entertainment requires a collective effort to overcome existing challenges. Breaking free from negative perceptions, supporting local talent, and fostering a vibrant cultural scene are essential steps in attracting and retaining large acts. As the community comes together to celebrate its unique identity, the potential for the Tri-Cities to become a sought-after destination for major performances can become a reality.

Hero Image: Lil Yachty / Anton Mak, CC BY 2.0