(photo credit: Courtesy)
When the biggest pop music show of the summer is Depeche Mode, it's clear that the season's local concert offerings are leaving something to be desired.
Sure, there are reasons to be happy - Macy Gray and Joe Jackson are on their way back after successful visits in recent years, Chris Cornell, Steve Vai and Dream Theater will provide air guitar buffs with a reason to live, and indie fans might be satiated with MGMT and Why. And, of course, hallelujah for Leonard Cohen's concert in September.
But, what about U2, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Madonna, Radiohead and Pearl Jam - all of whom are touring throughout Europe on their own, or in the lineups of one of the multi-day festivals that dot the summer European landscape? Well, thanks to On.Tour, a Tel-Aviv based online rock & roll travel agency (ontour.co.il) - or other companies like Kavei Hofsha - going to see those A-listers in Europe is easier than looking for parking near Ramat Gan Stadium.
For the past four years, the company has provided package tours to the top festivals and shows in Europe - including airfare, hotel, transportation and, of course, the coveted tickets to the shows, even those that are listed as sold-out. And, apparently, you don't have to take out a second mortgage to afford On.Tour's services.
"A friend of mine wanted to go see Bob Dylan in Berlin," said Uri Greenbaum, a hi-tech programmer from the center of the country. "He checked the prices and it turns out that if you make all the plans yourself, it's more expensive."
Greenbaum admitted that he's not a huge music fan, but when his friends decided to attend last year's Rock Werchter festival in Belgium and bought en masse via On.Tours, he joined them.
"It turned out to be really fun. It was a really impressive lineup [including REM, Radiohead and Counting Crows], and generally, music festivals in Europe are great. I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn't been," he said.
According to Ido Mart, On.Tour's director of marketing and business development, the idea of making European rock festivals available to an Israeli audience was the impetus behind the company's launch.
"For serious music fans, these festivals are such a big part of their lives, where for three or four days, all the top bands get together, and you just experience music and party. Unfortunately, Israeli music fans weren't aware of that amazing cultural experience," said Mart.
"Since most of the artists are not coming to Israel, we decided to bring the Israelis to the artists. And for Israelis, going to festivals is really extra special, because besides loving music, they like to meet people from all over the world."
A QUICK glance at the On.Tours homepage finds a generous offering of summer festivals, including this year's Rock Werchter, featuring Coldplay, Metallica and The Killers; Denmark's Roskild with Coldplay, Oasis and Slipknot; Germany's Rock Im Park (RIP) featuring The Killers, The Kooks and Placebo; Istanbul's questionably titled Rock & Coke, featuring Linkin Park, Nine Inch Nails and the Kaiser Chiefs; and some of the most popular attractions - the heavy metal festivals like Wacken 2009, The Ozora Festival and Hellfest. The average price for a package, including three or four nights' accommodations, runs between NIS 4,000 and NIS 5,000.
But while festivals have remained a mainstay for On.Tours, they were only the beginning of the burgeoning lineup, explained Mart.
"Pretty quickly, we learned that Israelis weren't interested only in music festivals, but in concerts as well. There's not a lot of top names coming here, and through us, you can go see just about any of the top names touring Europe," he said.
Indeed, the site offers packages for artists ranging from U2 and Springsteen to Britney Spears and Take That, all for prices similar to the festival tariff. According to Mart, On.Tours not only removes the hassle of arranging your own flights and accommodations, it also eases the stress of the biggest task of all - getting tickets to the show.
"It's hard to get good seats for the big shows. We have good connections with all the promoters to get tickets before they're sold out. If the tickets are sold out, there's no good way to obtain them - unless you go through someplace like us. If they're not sold out, and the client acts far enough in advance, he'll be able to match our price, but he won't get a lot of the extras we offer," he said.
"When you do this on your own, there's so many things that can go wrong. Israelis needed to trust all kinds of things - Web sites, second-hand sellers. There were lots of stories of people buying tickets and booking flights and discovering that the tickets were fake, or that they didn't even exist. We actually bring the ticket to Israel and give it to the client before he gets on the plane, so he can see what he's buying."
Lianna Yedida, 25, who has traveled on three On.Tours packages, including two festivals in Europe and is signed up to see Radiohead this summer in Berlin, can't praise On.Tours too much.
"Everything was great, and of course, it's easier than doing it yourself. They worry about everything," she said, adding that the attention to detail was the biggest feature.
According to Mart, those details include providing free transportation from the airport to the hotel and back again, and other amenities.
"We have a representative in most European cities, and they organize trips around town to clubs or sight seeing, all at no extra charge," he said, a claim backed up by client Greenbaum.
"The package they put together was beyond my expectations. I didn't know what to expect, but the hotel was top notch and they surprised us at the end by even taking us to a spa," he said.
WITH ITS focus solely on concert tourism, On.Tours has succeeded in establishing a firm niche in the travel agency market in Israel. And Mart explained that it's because the company is an expert in music.
"A lot of the general tour companies and travel agencies also offer packages, but they're basically taking normal packages and adding concert tickets to them - which is fine," said Mart.
"But, they're not going to be able to answer questions about the venue, which seats are better, when the gate opens, things like that. We're also plugged into the whole 'after party' scene and we get our clients into events and closed-door parties. We're the only experts in music tourism."
That expertise is paying off. Mart estimated that over 1,000 Israelis will be attending U2's July 7th show in Paris via an On.Tours package. The company's clientele is not limited to young music fanatics. Depending on the show, there's also a market for more established, middle-aged customers who are looking to see Eric Clapton or Leonard Cohen in style.
"You'll have successful businessmen or couples who are treating this like a European vacation and booking the best seats, flights and hotel," said Mart.
But the bulk of On.Tour clients are, indeed, people with less disposable income - music fans who are passionate enough about a particular artist or adamant on attending a festival. And while Mart works with them to provide the most economical way to realize their dreams, he explained that ultimately, it doesn't matter how much the package costs.
"Going to see your favorite band is not about money. You can't compare it to taking a ski trip or a post-army journey to Thailand. Some of the younger people have no money at all, but they'll do anything to see their favorite band."