Jagged Little Bill: ’90s Nostalgia Storms Summer 2020

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– Jagged Little Bill
Alanis Morissette, celebrating 25 years of her classic album Jagged Little Pill, will lead a summer tour that also features Garbage and Liz Phair.

The dream of the ’90s is alive on the North American amphitheater circuit this summer. As the months grow warmer, several multi-act bills will bring alt-rock icons of yesteryear to nostalgic Gen X audiences – and younger fans who weren’t there the first time around – with robust lineups.

“It’s all about smart packaging,” says CAA’s Nat Farnham, who helped plot Matchbox Twenty’s tour with special guests The Wallflowers, another CAA client. “One has the responsibility in this business to try and consider – not that it’s scientific or empirical, necessarily – what is going to be good for the consumer and where there is good packaging value.”

Matchbox Twenty won’t tour with Five Finger Death Punch anytime soon, Farnham jokes, but there’s more nuance to it than that. The Wallflowers “come from that same moment in cultural time” in the ’90s as Matchbox Twenty, he says, and made sense when “trying to imagine what will represent good value for the consumer’s entertainment dollar.”

The band’s most recent tour, a 2017 co-headlining outing with Counting Crows, proved the box office potential of such booking savvy, ranking No. 68 on Pollstar’s Year End Top 200 North American Tours chart with $20.1 million grossed and nearly half a million tickets sold.

“It’s creating value for people’s dollar,” says Madison House’s Adam Bauer, who represents Toad the Wet Sprocket, which will serve alongside Gin Blossoms as support on this summer’s Barenaked Ladies tour. All three acts on the bill are hard-ticket draws in their own right, which Bauer says “provides an avenue for Barenaked Ladies, Gin Blossoms and Toad to play to some different audiences as well as some of their own fans and create value for the dollar” with tickets priced beneath the combined cost of seeing the artists separately.

The arrangement is mutually beneficial: Support acts play to larger audiences, potentially reaching new fans in the process, while headliners enjoy the sales benefits of smaller acts that still draw their own crowds. For artists trying to fill large venues, Farnham says, “your special guest is an important part of that equation.”

Barenaked Ladies has experience with both sides of the equation. Though best known for its string of late ’90s hits, the band has maintained an audience through a steady drip of music – five studio albums since 2010 – and unpredictable, engaging live shows, which it frequently trots out for summer amphitheater tours. One such jaunt, in 2016, landed the band on Pollstar’s Year End North American touring chart with $5.2 million grossed.

Jason Kempin / Getty Images for Essential Broadcast Media
– Giving a Hoot
Hootie&TheBlowfish’s Darius Rucker (left) performs in Nashville with Ed Robertson of Barenaked Ladies Sept. 7, 2019. After conjuring ’90s nostalgia as Hootie’s opener last year, this summer the Barenaked Ladies will headline a bill with Toad the Wet Sprocket and Gin Blossoms.

“When they had their peak in the end of the ’90s, early ’00s, and they were playing arenas and stuff like that, I think we’ve managed to retain a quarter to a third of those people, depending on the market,” says Paradigm’s Larry Webman, who represents Barenaked Ladies. “Then we try to put the package together that entices another couple thousand people.” (Better Than Ezra and KT Tunstall supported Barenaked Ladies on its 2018 headlining tour.) 

In 2019, however, Barenaked Ladies played the support role, joining Hootie & The Blowfish on its comeback arena tour, which grossed $42.2 million and landed at No. 35 on Pollstar’s Year End North American touring chart.

“A great package draws people in,” says Webman, adding that the band’s turn with Hootie was so successful that it spurred several inquiries – all ultimately declined – for Barenaked to fill similar support roles for other acts in 2020. (One tangible benefit of the Hootie tour, Webman says, was that it helped the band identify new markets; after three sold-out shows in Columbia, S.C., with Hootie, Barenaked decided to route its 2020 jaunt through nearby Charleston, S.C.)

Still, even if Farnham says booking these types of tours isn’t necessarily scientific, the practice is far from slapdash. In 2016, artists including Vanilla Ice, Salt-n-Pepa, Biz Markie, All-4-One and Coolio hit the road on the “I Love The ’90s Tour,” a box office smash – $21 million grossed that year – that inspired a spate of likeminded events, which had varying commercial success.

“Oftentimes, less is more,” Bauer says. “Sometimes people like to package up these ’90s things, and they’re doing very, very abbreviated sets and filling the bill with four or five or six bands.”

Such bills, he explains, “dilute the money that’s available for the headliners to earn, and oftentimes, some of the bands you’re putting on there don’t necessarily have a hard-ticket draw.”

Past fame, after all, doesn’t equate present interest. “There are lots of other bands from that time in our lives where we’d probably be like, ‘Meh, it’s just not compelling,’” Farnham says.

According to Bauer, it’s all about “trying to stack the bill appropriately.”

One of the summer’s buzziest tours in any genre hits that sweet spot. Alanis Morissette, resurgent with a Broadway musical, a new album due in May and celebrating her opus Jagged Little Pill’s 25th anniversary, will lead a bill rounded out by Garbage and Liz Phair for more than 30 shows in June and July.

“Alanis plus Garbage is like, ‘Wow, that’s cool,’” Farnham muses. “Alanis plus Garbage plus Liz Phair? That’s a fucking home run.”

Garbage and Phair are both still highly active and embody ideal hard-ticket support. The former released albums in 2012 and 2016, and a co-headlining tour with Blondie followed in 2017, making Pollstar’s North American Year End touring chart with $5.2 million grossed. Meanwhile, a 2018 reissue of Phair’s seminal Exile in Guyville and the musician’s acclaimed 2019 memoir have helped her reestablish herself as a marquee headliner; her recent box office highlights include sold-out shows at New York’s Brooklyn Steel, where she sold 1,800 tickets and grossed $54,000 on Oct. 6, 2018, and at Temperance Tap Room in Evanston, Ill., where she sold 2,217 tickets and grossed $77,600 on June 22, 2019.

Timothy Norris / Getty Images for ABA
– Guyville, USA
Liz Phair will join Garbage and Alanis Morissette on tour this summer.

“People really liked them, and they might have taken their liking them for granted across time as 1998 became 2008 became 2018,” says Paradigm’s Sam Hunt, who represents Phair. “Once you’re sort of reminded that they exist and of their songs and how meaningful they are to their fans, I think a lot of people were like, ‘You know, I really do love Liz Phair. I really do love Alanis Morissette. I do want to see them. Now that I mention it, I never saw them play.’”

Today, Phair draws all sorts, he says, including many first-timers who missed Phair’s tours in the ’90s and ’00s or were too young at the time to go.

That’s where the packaging comes in: Consumers unconvinced by just Matchbox Twenty or just Alanis Morissette might be swayed by the accompanying booking of an artist like The Wallflowers or Liz Phair.

“Hopefully it gets those people who are on the fence,” Webman says. “There’s only a limited amount of discretionary dollars people have, so when they’re making a choice – ‘Oh, we want to go to a concert. Which one are we going to go to?’ – you want to be the most attractive to try to get those dollars. We have the hardcore fans that are always going to come out. But beyond that, we try to make the package something that people really will gravitate toward.”

“A tour at this level, [packaging] is almost essential these days, because there are a ton of bands from that era that are touring,” Hunt says. “You have to stand out and separate yourself from all the other shows and become the one show that people are like, ‘You know, I can’t go to 15 shows this summer. I can go to like two. So what are the two I want to go to?’”