Paul Simon is kicking off his farewell tour in May. This comes on the heels of Elton John’s announcement of his own farewell tour.
I was all set to suggest they save us all some time and money by combining their tours–call it “The End of an Era” show, take turns as headliner and opening act, mix things up by covering each other’s songs, and so on–and then I realized Mr. Simon is being a bit wimpy about his tour.
Twenty-nine shows over two months.
Mr. John is doing three hundred shows over the course of three years.
So much for that idea.
Seriously, though, both of them are outliers, albeit in opposite directions. And it does leave me wondering what the right length for a superstar’s farewell tour is.
On the one hand, fans want a long tour with plenty of shows, to maximize their chances of getting one at a convenient location. On the other hand, the performers are, by and large, tired of touring, possibly in ill health, and probably want to wrap things up as quickly as they can. And that’s without considering the possibility of wearing out their welcome. “What, is he on tour again? I thought he quit that two years ago?” “Nah, it’s still the same tour. Greedy, ain’t he?”
Maybe there isn’t a universally-applicable answer–almost certainly, in fact–but a few thoughts occur to me.
People like round numbers, and the double zeros in one hundred are particularly appealing. Similarly, they like numbers that are easy to grasp. Everyone knows viscerally how long a year is.
So how about setting a target of one year, 100 shows?
Consider the advantages for the performer. On a normal, lengthy tour, shows typically average about one every other day. That’s a big part of the grind that wears them down and turns them off of touring to begin with. With a year to work in, those hundred gigs can be spaced to average more than two off days between shows. A much more relaxed approach.
Granted, the economics of touring a big show mean it makes sense to bunch them. But it ought to be possible to insert more off days during the active periods without breaking the bank, while still leaving time for longer rest breaks. (As an example, instead of doing a three week tour of the West Coast, how about adding a few off days and a longer break between the Washington/Oregon leg and the California/Nevada leg and getting it done in five weeks?)
Let’s not forget: in addition to being tired of the grind, many musicians cite wanting to spend time with their families and an unwillingness to miss birthdays, holidays, school graduations, and such as primary reasons for wanting to give up touring.
If you’ve got a show Monday in Cleveland and the next one is Wednesday in Houston, you’re not going to catch Junior’s birthday in LA. But use some of those vacant dates to push the Texas shows out to the weekend and you can get a night’s sleep in Cleveland, still arrive early for the party in LA, hang out with the kid for a couple of days, and still make it to the Golden Buckle of the Sunbelt* the night before the show there.
* Yes, really.
There are probably reasons why this wouldn’t work–any professional musicians want to educate me? But from a layman’s perspective, it seems like a reasonable set of working guidelines.
Realistically, though, history suggests you’re always best off assuming your favorite performer’s current tour is their last, whether they call it that or not.