When Stars Align: The Lumineers Step Up To Stadiums

Sure, everyone has heard The Lumineers.

The band’s breakthrough single, “Ho Hey,” was ubiquitous in the second half of 2012 and beyond, appearing in commercials and TV shows — including a truly bizarre all-clucking version by Jimmy Fallon, country star Blake Shelton and “Parks and Recreation” funnyman Nick Offerman.

ON THE COVER: The Lumineers are pictured at Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul Aug. 12, 2022.
Photo by Olivia Bastone

A blast of stripped-down folk-flecked Americana authenticity rode a wave a decade ago, carrying the band to the top of the rock charts and on to the set list of Taylor Swift’s gargantuan “The Red Tour,” where it was the only cover Swift performed nightly.

So, sure, people know The Lumineers, but do they really know them?

Louis Messina, of Messina Touring Group fame and the King Midas of concert promotion, isn’t sure the industry does, but he knows the industry will soon enough

“They aren’t the ‘Ho Hey’ band anymore,” he tells Pollstar from a bus in the parking lot of Foxborough Stadium, hours ahead of yet another sold-out Kenny Chesney show. 

“People don’t know this band is big. Once the industry catches on, people start noticing them, going ‘Holy fuck, there’s more to life beyond Coldplay.’ Man, they are going to be on that level, sooner than later. I’m telling you. When everybody realizes who they are, it’s game over. It’s just game over,” he gushes.

Messina himself admits, as sheepishly as the gregarious Messina can, that when he heard Swift cover “Ho Hey,” he thought it was one of her own songs. 

In 2013, he didn’t know The Lumineers.

Even Messina couldn’t see nearly a decade into the future to the band’s “Brightside World Tour,” a 62-date haul across Europe and North America that wrapped Sept. 3 at Chicago’s Wrigley Field.

 The Lumineers’ Byron Isaacs, Jeremiah Fraites, Wesley Schultz, Brandon Miller, Lauren Jacobson and Stelth Ulvang at Chicago’s Wrigley Field on Sept. 3, 2022.
Photo by Olivia Bastone

The Lumineers’ Byron Isaacs, Jeremiah Fraites, Wesley Schultz, Brandon Miller, Lauren Jacobson and Stelth Ulvang at Chicago’s Wrigley Field on Sept. 3, 2022.
Photo by Olivia Bastone

Wrigley Field? A stadium?

Yep. The Friendly Confines hosted one of a pair of sell-out headlining stadium dates on the loop, the other a triumphant turn at Coors Field in Denver, the band’s adopted hometown.

“This is the biggest band nobody thinks is a big band,” Joe Atamian, the band’s agent at Wasserman Music, says. 

He may be right, but the numbers show legions of people are doing a lot more than just sizing them up—they’re going to The Lumineers shows. More than two million fans (2.06M) have seen them perform at 317 shows since 2010 while generating a whopping total gross of $100.08 million,  according to Pollstar Boxoffice Reports. That puts the band’s average ticket price at a reasonable $47.73 This includes a $3.12 million haul at a sold-out Coors Field in Denver on July 22 before 40,931 and a gross of $1.8 million over two nights at Forest Hills Stadium in Queens, New York on June 17-18 before 23,731. But it certainly didn’t begin in stadiums.

When We Were Young (And Less Hirsute): Jeremiah Fraites and Wesley Schultz (with Stelth Ulvang) perform at the Radio 104.5 iHeart Performance Theater on April 25, 2012 in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania. Photo by Jeff Fusco / Getty Images

The Lumineers — lead singer and guitarist Wesley Schultz and multi-instrumentalist Jeremiah Fraites, who both grew up in Ramsey, New Jersey — started playing gigs in New York City in 2002 and roughed it for years: playing coffeehouses and small clubs, working three jobs, scraping by in Brooklyn.

After seven years, they’d built up material — and got a name: “Lumineers” isn’t a real word; the duo adopted it after a mistaken introduction from a club emcee who read the venue’s schedule incorrectly — but were having a tough go of it, so they moved shop to Denver to make a play in the Mile High City’s open-mic scene. In 2010, they added a cellist — Neyla Pekarik, who left the group in 2019 — and in 2011 recorded their debut album.

“Ho Hey” was featured on an episode of The CW’s “Hart of Dixie” in December of that year and a popular Seattle DJ found the track in a pile of CDs and was so enamored with the song, he played it twice a day for a week. Their self-titled debut — released, like each of their next three efforts on indie Dualtone — hit shelves in 2012 and by 2013, they were selling out dates on both sides of the Atlantic.

Nothing’s really changed, right?

lumineers fist
The Lumineers’ Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites fist-bump at Coors Field in Denver on July 22, 2022.

Not much, except the size of those sellouts.

“I remember in 2011 or 2012, we were booked at The Ogden in Denver for December 30 and 31,” Schultz says. “I was thinking ‘We can’t do two shows. Who’s going to come?’”

The people came, the buzz grew.

Fraites said it took a while to come to terms with the idea that selling out clubs wasn’t a “novel idea.”

On the strength of that first record, the band got booked into plum festival spots, which Fraites said caught them over their skis a bit.

“We had that first record. We had 45 minutes of material to fill an hour and a half,” he says. “We were victims of our own success a little bit, but the people still responded.”

The band broke into arenas opening for the Dave Matthews Band at a handful of arena dates in 2012. The Lumineers really took hold as an arena act on the 168-show tour in sup-port of their second album, Cleopatra, playing a mix of amphitheaters and arenas in Europe, North America, Australia and South Africa in 2016-17.

Scattered in between: a performance on “Saturday Night Live” and on the White House lawn.

lumineers stage

Lauren Jacobson, Jeremiah Fraites, Wesley Shultz, Stealth Ulvang, Brandon Miller and Byron Isaacs perform at Coors Field in Denver on July 22, 2022. Photo by Austin Roa/Courtesy Activist Artists.

And then U2 gave them a shot opening on the stadium tour marking the anniversary of The Joshua Tree in 2017.

Atamian says those opener slots really opened his eyes to the potential of a band he already believed in. Knowing that an artist has great songs and great artistry is one thing. And on headlining tours, especially, the connection fans have can be obvious. But there are plenty of artists with great songs and devoted fans who just don’t work in arenas, let alone stadiums. And when it’s a couple of guys who aren’t that far removed from the coffee shop circuit, it’s an open question if they can hold the attention of thousands who mostly paid to see someone else.

“On the first record, we had them out with Dave Matthews on that arena run. Watching that, I thought ‘Holy shit, they can do arenas. They can make that translate,’” Atamian says. “They went out in support in stadiums with U2. It was the same kind of feeling. This band can translate.”

When it comes to taking these songs born on street corners into the stadiums, Schultz takes lessons from Bruce Springsteen. Who better, right? 

“There’s the idea that if you make someone lean in and if you combine that with a  bigger moment, you can create intimacy in the big places but it takes enormous effort,” he says “In the end, everybody feels connected and all the busking and the coffeeshops and shows we played with no mics, it helps with that.”

There are two things every person who works with The Lumineers talks about: first, the massive success that is still somehow largely unnoticed and, secondly, how authentic Schultz and Fraites are. One member of the band’s management team, Activist Artist Management founding partner Bernie Cahill, says those two things go hand-in-hand. 

I Don’t Know Where We Are, But It Will Be Okay: The Lumineers’ Jeremiah Fraites and Wesley Schultz. Photo by Danny Clinch / Courtesy Big Hassle

“The first song they ever sent me was off III. That was the first album they were making when we started working together and the first song, and I don’t know if they were trying  to mess with me or not, but they sent me a seven-minute song. As a manager [you’re] kind of hoping that the first song you’re going to hear is this three-minute single that’s perfect for radio. And so they sent me this seven-minute song and it was so epic and so beautiful that I was so happy that that’s what they sent me and that’s the kind of artist they are and how authentic they are. It was just perfect.

“[Schultz] doesn’t like to talk about their touring success or how big they are. He really shies away from that. And I get that. He’s so focused on the music and on his art that it’s not important to him. He’s focused on the art, the music and the community and connecting with his audience and fans, and Jeremiah is the same … They don’t get caught up in the business of it like some other artists might, that’s just not their style. They’re both family men, they both have new kids and growing families and they’re really good at striking a balance, but they love touring and they love touring globally,” he says.

The band went out to tour third album III in late 2019, finishing a European leg and a stretch through North America, wrapping it up March 11, 2020 in Milwaukee, primed for a short rest before heading to South America for dates in Chile, Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. It’s probable — likely, even — that stretch through the Southern Cone would have given them sellouts on six continents. That tour also had a performance scheduled for Coors Field.

But then, of course, everything stopped. 

The Lumineers, like everyone else, holed up. Both Schultz and Fraites put out solo records before the band got together to record their fourth studio album, Brightside, releasing the title song in September 2021 with the full album out January 2022 and announcing their return to the road.

The 62 dates were a mix of rescheduled shows from the suspended 2020 tour and new dates. Originally, it began with 22 dates in Europe, but that was scaled back to 11 due to lingering COVID restrictions and worries, and because one venue on the list had been converted to a refugee center due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“That’s a strange reintroduction into touring,” Schultz says in a remarkable display of understatement.

The Coors Field show was back, but as a bonus, the routing added Wrigley.

Joe Atamian of Wasserman Music with The Lumineers’ Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites at Chicago’s Wrigley Field Sept. 3, 2022. Photo by Olivia Bastone

Fraites said he had no real trepidation about going back on the road. His instinct was that people, after being closed away and alone for two years, would be itching to be back to the shared experience of live performances.

“I thought that people would be excited to be with other people,” he said. “I thought people will go see anything just to put away how bad those last two years were.”

Because they’d expected to play Coors Field on the canceled tour, seeing it back for the “Brightside Tour” wasn’t a shock, but even for a band that had sold out Madison Square Garden, playing their adopted hometown’s stadium still felt like a huge accomplishment, much as selling out Colorado’s beloved Red Rocks Amphitheater had been for them years before. 

Schultz says don’t be fooled by the “Jukebox Hero” narrative – you know: one guitar from a second-hand store and dreaming in your bedroom of 40,000 screaming fans.

“No band has ever really planned that. You’re not that smart,” he says. “Even with that first album, it wasn’t trying to be what it became.”

Conquering Denver wasn’t ever really the goal, either. Schultz compares it to folks who tell jokes their friends think are funny. Sure, you can entertain people who know you, but that doesn’t mean you get your own Netflix special.

“Our goal was to play other cities and tour, tour, tour,” he says. “I was 30 when we got signed … so there was a sense of urgency, so it was like Henry Rollins, you know: Get in the van.”

Tour they did. Play other cities they did. Sell-out venues at every step of the way, they did.

Convenient Truth: Bernie Cahill, Lauren Jacobsen, Wesley Schultz, Jeremiah Fraites, Al Gore, Brandon Miller, Byron Isaacs, Stelth Ulvang and Matt Maher at the Climate Reality Project’s eighth-annual 24 Hours of Reality broadcast at Vanderbilt University in Nashville in December 2018. Courtesy Activist Artists

So, sure, yeah, Coors Field was a huge moment for the band and Team Lumineers. But Messina says the entire tour has been like watching a precious stone get polished: it gets brighter, it adds facets, it gets more beautiful.

“I think they found themselves. I don’t know, it’s just magical,” he says. “They have four albums under their belt and they are just now an experienced, professional, entertaining touring band. …They are on a different plateau right now. As a promoter, I pinch myself. Seeing all their growth to where they are now …”

His voice trails off. Not wistfully. Not because he thinks The Lumineers are at the end of their journey, but because there’s so much more he can see.

Maybe this is a hacky metaphor since it’s Denver, but it’s as if The Lumineers are at the top of one very tall mountain and the surrounding landscape is full of even higher mountains they know they can climb.

And Messina certainly agrees, but part of that is that everybody on the team is aiming for the same peaks.

“The team at Activist, they are so great to work with, they are so hands-on, they are so passionate about this band. Everybody’s on board. Everybody’s pulling in the same direction. That’s how bands become superstars. When everybody feels it. They feel the evolution,” he says. “When I speak to [Schultz and Fraites], they say there’s something different on this tour. Hell yeah there is. … They unlocked a lot of doors this tour. I don’t know if that was sitting at home for three years, … but the musical fairy has sprinkled some magic dust on them.”

“We had high expectations,” Schultz says of the Coors Field date. “But we had our best show in front of the biggest crowd. … I was very surprised how mind-blowing Coors Field was. It was like, we are home now.”

Fraites says those shows go a long way to shaking off the presumption that The Lumineers are just a folky act, best suited for the writers nights. This is a band that has a sound big enough to fill stadiums, performances compelling enough to hold the attention of someone in the upper decks.

And the fans who fill the shows shatter expectations, too. Even the expectations of a veteran agent like Atamian.

“Especially for the amphitheater run in May and June, I walked in front of the lawn and the first 20 people deep were 16 to 21-year-old girls and women. I don’t know when that switch flipped or what did it. I guess authenticity will never go away,” he says. “You go to these shows and you show up with these expectations. My friends expect dudes my age, but there are kids losing their minds like it’s The Beatles.”

It’s odd to suggest that a band selling out arenas and stadiums and with platinum albums in their name is still driven by word of mouth, but Messina says sometimes word of mouth has the velocity and momentum to carry a band to the upper echelons.

“Wherever they play, you can add 25 to 35 percent to what they sold there last time. They don’t depend on that hit single and that is what’s going to make this band stay around forever, they were built by the fans. Every time I talk about The Lumineers, I’m like a proud papa. It’s pretty early in their career. They are young, they are energetic. Every one of them are superstars in their own right. There’s a show going on within a show. I never got tired of watching,” he says.

The veteran promoter says Coors Field was an “ooh la la” moment.

lumineers jump
The Lumineers show off their acrobatic moves during their song “Big Parade” on Sept. 3, 2022, at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Photo by Olivia Bastone

“I’ve got a number in my head for the next time they tour,” Messina says. “Fifteen stadiums is on my radar. … They have opened a whole new door in their career. They went from The Lumineers to The Lumineers.”

Hey, if Louis Messina says they can do 15 stadiums, who can argue? Not Cahill. He says, “We agree with Louis and believe he’s spot on. I mean, it’s all of the data, all of the trends, every metric and objective thing is pointing to that and nobody knows that space better than Louis. So I’m pushing my chips in behind Louis.” 

But even Messina, whose success lifting artists into stadiums is self-evident, can’t exactly say what is about the 2022 version of The Lumineers that’s taken them to this level. He just knows they’re there.

“I’m not a fool about what I do. And I’m not saying this just to hype them. It’s how I feel about them, both as a fan and a professional,” he says. “If you’re good, and you hit that magic button, then it’s all over. Especially if the people come and you deliver. You may get there once, but to stay there, that’s the key. Taylor, Kenny, Strait are there and I know The Lumineers are there.”

Now it’s time for everybody else to learn what he knows.

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