The Long & Unstoppable Run: How Eagles’ ‘Hotel California’ Tour Is Raising An Impossibly High Bar

Ron Koch / Courtesy of the Eagles
– Eagles
cover of Pollstar’s Nov. 4, 2019 issue. // Eagles perform ‘Hotel California’ in its entirety for the first time at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas Sept. 27, 2019.
In early October, the Eagles, consisting of Don Henley, Joe Walsh, Timothy B. Schmit, Deacon Frey and Vince Gill, along with touring musician Steuart Smith, a 46-piece orchestra and a 22-voice choir, closed out a sold-out three date run at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden Arena. It was something of a dry run for the Eagles’ just-announced 2020 “Hotel California Tour” and the first time ever the band has played its classic album in its entirety. In the process, the group generated the highest-average gross for an arena date not only for this year but for the last three, according to Pollstar Boxoffice.

The Vegas run’s average gross of $6.2 million is more of a stadium number and marks the highest ever arena tally on Pollstar’s LIVE75 chart. Over the course of three nights, (Sept. 27-28 and Oct. 5), the band generated a staggering $18.6 million performing before 37,578 enthralled fans who paid between $179-$1,500 for the privilege of seeing an epic three-hour-and-20-minute show. The set not only included the entirety of Hotel California but delved deep into the band’s smash hit-filled “repertoire.” It’s a word Jack Nicholson once used when asked by Jackson Browne what made the Eagles one of the greatest bands of all-time. 
It’s hard to overstate just how massive and profoundly influential Hotel California was upon its 1976 release. The six-and-a-half-minute epic title track (the band rightfully refused to do a radio edit) with its Spanish-flavored guitar, soul-inhabiting melody, mysterious lyrics and dueling guitar crescendo (thank you Don Felder and Joe Walsh) helped propel the chart-topper to a 1978 Grammy and 43 years later still has fans and music scholars deconstructing its enigmatic meaning.
(Ron Koch/Courtesy of Eagles)

Eagles: (from left): Vince Gill, Timothy B. Schmit, Don Henley, Deacon Frey, Joe Walsh and Steuart Smith perform with a 16-piece orchestra at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on Sept. 27.
“On just about every album we made there was some kind of a commentary on the music business and on American culture in general,” Don Henley said about the song he co-wrote in the excellent documentary “The History of the Eagles,” directed by Alison Ellwood and produced by Alex Gibney. “The hotel itself could be taken as a metaphor not only for the myth making of Southern California but for the myth making that is the American dream because it’s a fine line between the American dream and the American nightmare.” Themes that clearly resonate today.  
What makes this latest accomplishment all the more stunning is that less than four years earlier the Eagles were seemingly done for (and not for the first time). Glenn Frey, the heart and soul of the band, tragically passed away on Jan. 18, 2016, due to complications from rheumatoid arthritis, acute ulcerative colitis and pneumonia. To continue without half the hit-making touring machine that was Frey and Henley seemed an impossibility.
Henley, at the time, wrote a moving tribute to his longtime “brother,” friend and collaborator: “We were two young men who made the pilgrimage to Los Angeles with the same dream,” he wrote. 
Indeed, Frey from Detroit and Henley from Linden, Texas, led something of parallel lives before they inextricably intersected in the musically fertile Los Angeles of the late-’60s and early ‘70s. Each grew up playing music, were mentored and inspired by top musicians (Bob Seger and Kenny Rogers, respectively), moved to L.A. and played in bands (Longbranch Pennywhistle and Shiloh) and recorded for Jimmy Bowen’s Amos Records label. They also became mainstays at the Troubadour, especially its weekly Hoot Night. There, manager John Boylan recognized their copious talents and recruited them separately  for Linda Ronstadt’s backing band. Harmonizing while playing guitar (Frey) and drums (Henley) behind one of the greatest singers of all time, the duo forged a creative kinship and in 1971 struck out on their own. 
Henley wrote that the duo’s dream was to “make our mark in the music industry.” This they accomplished in spades and then some. The Eagles are quantifiably the most successful American band of all-time. Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 is the best-selling album ever, according to the Recording Industry Assn. of America with certified sales of 38 million (five million more than Michael Jackson’s Thriller). And the RIAA’s third biggest seller? Hotel California with 26 million, which mind you came out the same year but after Greatest Hits. In fact, the Eagles were selling a mind-boggling 1 million records a month for 18 months straight.
The band also had a total of six Billboard No. 1 albums, five No. 1 Hot 100 singles, 10 Top 10 hits and 21 Top 100 hits. From the get-go, they were a hard-touring act playing clubs, municipal auditoriums and arenas across the country after the one-two-three punch of 1972’s self-titled debut, 1973’s Desperado and 1974’s On The Border. Their massive fourth album, 1975’s One Of These Nights, took them to the next level while Hotel California cemented them as stadium superstars.

READ MORE: Everything All The Time: The Enduring Legacy Of ‘Hotel California’

Guapo Desperados:
Scott Dudelson/Getty Images
– Guapo Desperados:
The original Eagles lineup of Randy Meisner, Bernie Leadon, Glenn Frey and Don Henley in London circa 1973.
But by the time of 1979’s not-so-presciently-titled The Long Run, Frey and company were fraying. Inter-band tensions saw major personnel changes with the departures of original members Bernie Leadon in 1975 and Randy Meisner in 1977; while new members Felder (1974), Walsh (1975) and Timothy B. Schmit (1977) joined the fun. Tensions finally boiled over during a performance/political benefit to re-elect California Sen. Alan Cranston at the Long Beach Arena on July 31, 1980. The show, dubbed “Long Night in Wrong Beach” by the band, turned out to be what they thought was their last. Henley famously said the band would play together again “when Hell freezes over.” 
Then, of course, 14 years later in 1994 Hell did just that. The band reunited for the live album Hell Freezes Over and tour, originally planned as a six-week trek. Some two years later the run moved 3.4 million tickets at arenas, sheds and stadiums across the globe. The Eagles played some 228 shows from 2001 through 2013 with the majority under the cheeky “Farewell, #1 Tour” banner. The band’s “History of the Eagles Tour,” which coincided with the documentary, ran for two years from July 2013 to 2015 and grossed $253 million and sold over 2 million tickets for 147 shows. 
Then came Frey’s passing. For the band to soldier on in the face of such a huge loss would be nothing less than hell freezing over a second time. At the memorial service in Feb. 2016, however, the late musician’s then-24-year-old son Deacon performed his father’s songs leaving people at the service moved beyond tears.
“I did say that I thought that was the end of the band,” Henley told the L.A. Times. “But I reserve the right to change my mind. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, ‘A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.’”
The re-formed band would come to include Deacon and country superstar and 21-time Grammy winner Vince Gill, who was old friends with both Frey (they were golf buddies) and Henley (Gill played on his Cass County album). The group came together for the bi-coastal Classic East and Classic West shows in July 2017 with Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan, Journey, Doobie Brothers, and Earth, Wind & Fire.
The rousing success of the Classics, which grossed a combined $33.1 million, led to a North American Eagles tour that began in March 2018. That year, the band had Pollstar’s third-highest grossing North American tour and sixth worldwide. Since their reformation in 2017, they’ve headlined 87 shows and grossed $248.6 million. All of which begs the question, what could this superlative group possibly do to outdo themselves?  
“Irving [Azoff, the band’s longtime manager and co-founder of Oak View Group, Pollstar’s parent company] and the band wanted to do something in 2019 to follow up on the last tour,” says Bob Roux, President of U.S. Concerts for Live Nation, which promotes their tours. “While that was very successful, they wanted to go back and try something a little different.”
“The band designated 2019 as a year to go overseas with the new band line-up,” Azoff says. “We in fact had sold-out tours and huge successes in Australia, New Zealand, UK, Ireland and Europe. It didn’t seem fitting to not play one date in North America. When we were toying around with the idea of playing with the Hotel California album in entirety, the overwhelming response and additional shows in Las Vegas created such a demand worldwide, that the band decided to go out for a limited run and share this historic show so that more fans could see it.”

New Kids In Town:
(Rick Diamond / Getty Images)

The Eagles’ Timothy B. Schmit, Vince Gill, Don Henley, Decon Frey and Joe Walsh perform at The Grand Ole Opry Oct. 29, 2017 in Nashville.
The strategic decision to open the show in Vegas allowed the promoter to market the tour in other cities, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Diego, Phoenix, Denver, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta and New York to help set up the 2020 run.
“The campaign worked,” says Roux. “We had significant sales in all those markets plus in many other cities across the country. Then they all went back to their cities and talked about how terrific the show was. So you have 37,000 evangelists out there across the whole country setting up what the next opportunity could be.” 
According to Azoff that opportunity could also include international as he and the band aren’t “ruling out taking it outside the United States as well.”
At the MGM Grand Garden Arena, the show opened with an actor in a black cape emerging and appearing to drop a needle on side one of a vinyl copy of Hotel California—something done millions upon millions of times. This presaged the Eagles walking out and Walsh and Smith wordlessly launching into one of the most beloved songs in the history of contemporary music. 
“I remember being with friends a few years older who were at the same college in Champaign, Ill., and Hotel California had just come out,” Roux recollects.  “They were like, ‘You got to come over, you got to listen to this. It’s unbelievable.’ I heard it on someone else’s stereo for the first time. It was super impactful and just a great record. It is so amazing that we get a chance to see them do it live.”