Josh Groban

Sure, Josh Groban has been on the scene for about four years but he hasn’t been seen in public all that much. Until recently, a benefit show here, a PBS appearance there was the breadth of the young baritone’s live performances.

His self-titled debut album was released near the end of 2001, but it was not until last year’s follow-up, Closer, that his agent, manager and record label decided it was time for him to get on the road.

The result has been one of the rare happy stories of this summer concert season. Groban started the year with a theatre tour that sold out in minutes. According to his agent, William Morris’ Gayle Holcomb, the longest time that tickets were on sale at a venue was 20 minutes.

Groban kicked off the second leg of his tour July 18th, returning to the same markets, but this time playing amphitheatres and arenas.

He speculated his touring success, in the face of such a bad summer, could be attributed to his relative low profile.

“I’m not on Top 40 radio all the time, I’m not on TV all the time, I’m not in the fans’ faces all the time. There’s only a certain amount of time that they can see me,” Groban told Pollstar.

“Ten tours down the road, who knows? I think [the fans] wanted this tour for a while, and I wanted this tour for a while, and it’s really kind of a ‘thank you’ for the fans. I think that’s part of the reason why they’re all coming.”

Holcomb agreed, adding it is a show that “has a great message for children” and a great way to introduce kids to Groban’s type of music.

Pollstar interviewed the singer after he visited Michigan’s prestigious Interlochen Center for the Arts, a music camp the 23-year-old attended as a teenager. He answered campers’ questions and gave them words of encouragement before playing the Kresge Auditorium the following evening.

While Groban attended the Interlochen Arts Program in the late ’90s, he took singing lessons from a vocal coach who knew record producer David Foster. Soon, Foster was setting Groban up with gigs, beginning with the inauguration ceremony for California Gov. Gray Davis. In 1999, Foster asked the then-17-year-old to sing at the Grammys, filling in for Andrea Bocelli.

Groban wound up singing with Celine Dion. That same evening, Rosie O’Donnell asked him to perform on her daytime talk show. With a little help from Oprah Winfrey, her best friend Gayle King and the cast of “Ally McBeal,” Groban was on his way. The result has been 10 million records sold.

Through Foster, Groban was introduced to his manager, Brian Avnet, who also shepherds Renee Olstead, Johnny Mandell, Kenny Rankins and Eric Bent.

“I’ve been in this business a long time,” Avnet told Pollstar. “I’ve managed Manhattan Transfer, Eve 6, a lot of people. I’ve never seen a phenomenon like this happen.

Josh Groban

“When we got this tour ready, we didn’t know what he could do. With a voice like this, you have to be very careful. Plus, we didn’t know the business he’d do, but we felt a groundswell starting to happen.

“In a period of two months, we went from playing theatres to arenas. I guess we’ve hit a nerve here. … We’re all getting off on this. You’re happy for the promoters; we know they’re having a rough summer out there. You’re happy for the agents, for the record company.”

Each Groban tour stop includes a string section comprising 17 local musicians along with a children’s choir from the area, which joins in on the song “You Raise Me Up.” And, as of July 18th, the show has added a new wrinkle

Groban on drums.

The musician, who also plays a mean piano, has drummed since he was a kid. He said at every soundcheck he has tried to get the drummer to “go sit out in the house and see how it sounds.” The difficulty was finding a way to work some drumming skills into the show.

“I didn’t want it to be cheesy, like, ‘He’s going to play the drums now!'” Groban said. “I wanted it to actually fit in the song.”

The band decided to cut some time off one of the show’s longer songs, “Canto Alla Vita,” turning the ending into a jam session. Groban appears behind the drum kit near the end.

“Oh man, rock star dreams!” he said. “I was looking out at 9,000 people, playing drums, and it was incredible.”

Groban was asked what the biggest difference was between his theatre run and the current arena / shed tour.

“The biggest change is the audience, the audience reaction,” he said. “In theatres, it’s much more intimate. … But with that comes a little less energy, a little bit more of a polite clap rather than a stand up and scream.

“When we got up on that stage [at Salt Lake City’s Delta Center], people walked in ready to have a good time.”

Initially, Groban was hesitant about his feelings toward touring but now said he absolutely loves it. Believe it or not, it’s a lot less stressful than when he’s at home, where the phone, fax, e-mails, auditions and interviews are overwhelming.

“I think things are better taken care of if I’m contacted only when I need to be contacted,” he said. “If I’m home it’s, ‘Ah sure, give him a call.’ Things are usually done on a more relaxed, organized way if I’m on the road. I don’t know why.”