Columbus Crew: Twenty One Pilots Go Hard In Home Market

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– Band Of Buckeyes
Tyler Joseph performs at Cincinnati’s Bunbury Music Festival in 2015, staged by longtime promoter PromoWest and just a stone’s throw from Twenty One Pilots’ native Columbus.

Long before Twenty One Pilots were playing some of the world’s biggest festivals and arenas, frontman Tyler Joseph was cleaning up after shows at Express Live!, the multi-purpose indoor-outdoor venue in his native Columbus, Ohio.

“Tyler worked for me in guest services,” says Scott Stienecker, who founded powerhouse regional promoter PromoWest in 1984. “At the end of the night, you would take the guest service people, you’d give ‘em rakes and they’d go up to the top of the hill and they would rake all your beer cups down to the bottom of the amphitheater.”

As Stienecker tells it, Express Live! was hosting The Killers, and when PromoWest head of security Liz Linard approached Joseph with a rake, the future arena star handed it back with a blunt message: “Liz, I’m going to be the next Brandon Flowers.”

“Liz came in and told me that and we laughed,” Stienecker says. “’Oh yeah, he’s gonna be the next Brandon Flowers.’ And now he and Josh [Dun] are huge!”

Many artists who hit it big return home as heroes, but for Twenty One Pilots, the bond with Columbus goes beyond mere celebrity. For years, the band ground it out in the Buckeye State’s most populous city, and it continues to honor its roots.

In June 2017, Twenty One Pilots staged “Tour de Columbus,” a five-show run filled with much fanfare that yielded the idea for what would become 2021’s “Takeover Tour.” Two years later, the city’s Nationwide Boulevard, a thoroughfare running alongside Nationwide Arena, was temporarily rechristened Twenty One Pilots Boulevard to coincide with the band’s two-night June 2019 stand there.

“They’ve always been loyal,” says Stienecker, whose history with the band dates back to early plays at tiny Columbus club The Basement.

On the other end of the venue spectrum, Schottenstein Center and Nationwide Arena, the city’s two venues that operate in tandem through Columbus Arena Sports and Entertainment, also have ties to Twenty One Pilots that predate the band’s global fame.

“Tyler played basketball in high school in the state championships at the Schott, and the Schottenstein Center was the very first arena play they had,” says CASE senior vice president Mike Gatto. “Tyler still lives in the community.”

When Twenty One Pilots books tours, all roads tend to lead back to Columbus. The city wasn’t part of the initial plan for this fall’s “Takeover Tour,” but as the trek took shape, manager Chris Woltman approached the band’s agents, CAA’s Andrew Simon and Jeff Krones, about adding Columbus plays. Soon, they added a three-night October run at Nationwide Arena.

“There haven’t been a lot of bands from Columbus, Ohio, that have gone on to have a global story that is now a decade in the making,” says Woltman, who whose relationship with Stienecker and PromoWest dates back to his days as an Ohio State student in the late ‘80s.

“There’s a certain kind of hometown reality about it,” Woltman continues. “I’m originally from Columbus, as well. You can take us out of Columbus, but Columbus is always a part of all of us on this team.”

Ambition has always been a key driver of Twenty One Pilots’ success, so naturally the band is already eyeing the next level – and it holds some 105,000.

“Columbus is their home, and their goal – and our goal for them, too – is to be able to play Ohio Stadium,” Gatto says.