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Cohl Rolls Out Stones World Tour
Forty years into an unparalleled rock'n'roll career, it still doesn't get any bigger than a Rolling Stones tour. And the upcoming year-long Rolling Stones world tour, which begins Sept. 5 at Boston's new CMGI Stadium, will no doubt be one of the top-grossing tours of all time, likely to top $200 million worldwide and draw more than 1 million people.
The Stones already own the top three tours ever in terms of volume and took in a staggering $750 million in the 1990s. This time around, on the band's fourth world trek with producer Michael Cohl, it has upped the ante both creatively and on the production front. The tour will hit a mixture of stadiums, arenas, theaters, and even clubs along the way, sometimes playing as many as three venues in one market. It will also utilize three completely different productions and three unique setlists.
The band lineup will be the same as 1997-99's Bridges to Babylon/No Security run, including Mick Jagger (vocals), Keith Richards (guitar), Ron Wood (guitar), Charlie Watts (drums), Chuck Leavell (keyboards), and Darryl Jones (bass). In keeping with a tradition of quality support, opening acts will include No Doubt, Sheryl Crow, Buddy Guy, Johnny Lang, and others. As expected, Cohl will be the worldwide promoter for the Rolling Stones (Billboard Bulletin, Oct. 30, 2001). Cohl has produced each Stones tour since the Steel Wheels outing in 1989, pioneering the one-promoter world tour in the process. Cohl formed Grand Entertainment Touring when his Toronto-based the Next Adventure was acquired by SFX (now Clear Channel Entertainment [CCE]) in 1999 (Billboard, April 17, 1999), maintaining his right to promote Stones tours. CCE will serve as local promoters in almost every market and perform other value-added functions for consumers, such as coordinating a presale promotional program with Sam Goody and a "virtual tour" at rollingstones.com.
"My company will promote the tour, and I'm the tour director, but Clear Channel are involved up to their elbows," Cohl tells Billboard. "They will provide management and expertise for me in every market."
Much of CCE's efforts will be spearheaded by the company's Toronto office, including CCE president of touring Arthur Fogel and his staff. Other Stones tour regulars, like production guru Jake Berry and merchandiser Norman Perry, are also on board again.
"Clear Channel has a dual role," Fogel says. "The touring operation will be doing its usual thing, including routing, overall management, and production. Then in each market, we'll use the local Clear Channel people. But this has always been [Cohl's] baby."
The fact that CCE is owned by radio conglomerate Clear Channel Worldwide isn't lost on Cohl, who says those assets will also come into play. "We're really happy to be involved with the largest radio company in the world," he says. "It's not like we're not aware of that."
Keyboardist Leavell will not only mark the Stones' 40th anniversary but also his own 20th anniversary as a touring sideman with the band.
"They've brought a lot of music to a lot of people," Leavell says. "I cherish my role with the Rolling Stones."
Leavell says he keeps a "Rolling Stones bible" that proves invaluable when rehearsals begin. "Every time we have a rehearsal and work up songs, I keep notes on everything, from background vocals to different instrumental parts," he says. "It's a huge catalog with a lot of information, and it's handy to have that."
He adds, "The Rolling Stones are Mick, Keith, Charlie, and Ron-and my job is to make them look good and try to be a liaison to the fans, because I am a fan. It moves me as much to hear those [songs] now as it ever did."
FROM 'BRIDGES' TO BLIMPS
At the May 7 press conference in New York-to which the band arrived via a blimp-32 cities were announced on the tour, with more to come. Following the North American run, the Stones will play Mexico, Australia, the Far East, and Europe. The tour will end next September.
The Rolling Stones have played primarily stadiums for more than 20 years. They did a hugely successful sold-out run of arenas under the No Security banner last time out in 1999 as an epilogue to the Bridges to Babylon stadium world tour. The band has been known to play the occasional small-venue tuneup date, but playing a series of theaters and arenas like those planned for this tour is a rarity.
"We'll have three different shows and three different sets, musically and physically," Cohl says. "In some cites we'll play all three [different]-sized venues, in some two out of the three, and some just one."
Cohl says about seven cities will get three dates; five or six, two; and 10-12, one. The first small-venue dates that were announced are the Orpheum Theater in Boston (Sept. 8), the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago (Sept. 16), the Tower Theater in Philadelphia (22), the Roseland Ballroom in New York (Sept. 30), and the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles (Nov. 4).
Philadelphia is one city where all three different-sized venues will be utilized, although only the Veterans Stadium (Sept. 18) and the Tower Theater dates were announced. "It's an interesting concept-very unique," says veteran promoter Larry Magid, CCE's executive VP in Philadelphia. "I think audiences will be very appreciative of how they're doing it. This is a band that has spanned the generations and several years, and it has been a privilege to be a part of their ongoing story. It's great to have them be part of my 40-year career."
Clearly, the Stones could play stadiums in every market if they desired, but they opted to play arenas in some, like Gaylord Entertainment Center in Nashville Nov. 25. Options in each city were fully explored. "Obviously, we looked at the historicals in each market and considered different strategies," Fogel says. "In the strongest markets, we added some stadiums, but the whole mix-and-match thing was appealing to everybody."
Ticket prices vary from market to market and venue to venue but are quite reasonable by current standards. Stadium tickets will be $50 and $90 and average around $80. Arenas will be $50, $100, and $150; clubs and theaters will be $150, $125, $100, and $50. (For comparison's sake, on Cohl's first Stones tour in 1989, the average ticket price was $28.50.)
Cohl says they tried to be as conservative as possible with ticket prices, given the expensive production values. "If people think $90 is too much for the Rolling Stones, they have no sense of reality to them," he says.
Likely to attract the most attention will be a limited number of "gold circle" packages available in most markets, which will be priced at $150, $250, and $350 and include such ancillaries as dinner and other amenities. Gold circle packages represent about 5% of the house.
LESS IS NOT MORE
Like most Stones tours-with the exception of the stripped-down No Security run-production will be over the top. Cohl says Bridges to Babylon went out with 60 trucks, and the Stones never opt for a "less is more" philosophy. "We don't have the final numbers in yet, but the design is basically done," Cohl says. "It's big-the whole works."
For his part, Cohl's 30-plus-year career has in many ways been defined by his work with the Rolling Stones, which he began promoting internationally after the band opted to go with Cohl over the late Bill Graham for the Steel Wheels trek. Cohl says the Stones are associated with his "greatest successes" and that being involved in a new tour with the band has energized him.
"I'm getting to work with the Rolling Stones again, and that's incredibly exciting," he says. "If you're too jaded to get excited about working with the Stones, then it's time to move on."
Last time out, in nearly two years of touring stadiums and arenas 1998-99, the Rolling Stones grossed $337.2 million and played to 5.6 million people, averaging $2.3 million per night's work. Cohl thinks the Stones will prove as strong as ever in the new millennium.
"We've been through raves and techno, Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync, and Britney Spears, and I believe people are ready for some straight-ahead rock'n'roll," Cohl says, "And here they are."
The Rolling Stones are in final negotiations to release a career retrospective that will also include four new songs, to be recorded this summer (Billboard, May 4). Additionally, a comprehensive history about the band is due next September.
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