On the side of the road in what’s described as “bumfuck nowhere,” singer/songwriter/rapper Duckwrth and his band faced one of the multitudes of issues affecting the touring industry right now. Their bus broke down and they needed a new form of transportation. What arrived for them has been called “that vehicle that transports old people to homes,” “an Access-A-Ride mini-bus” and more among various members of the team. Needless to say, manager Xtina Prince quickly worked to get her hands on something more acceptable.
With so many artists on the road after the COVID shutdown, it proved more difficult than usual. Supply chain issues haunt the industry and most touring equipment is booked through next year. Despite the (literal) bump in the road, Prince managed to find a bus that didn’t look like something used to shuttle passengers to and from the airport.
“Everybody is out,” Prince tells Pollstar. “We didn’t have a bus and, in hindsight, I probably should have booked a bus earlier. But there were so many changes to the routing and I was worried about making such a large commitment without knowing what the dates were gonna be. So, it’s good that I didn’t, but when it came time to look for something it was really hard.”
Prince considered just buying one for them to keep, but the logistics of storing and renting it out would have become too complicated.
The changing dates for the tour partially came in the midst of Duckwrth’s transition from ICM to CAA following the acquisition that took place in June.
“We ended up signing Duckwrth to CAA back in August,” says Jacqueline Reynolds-Drumm, a member of Duckwrth’s agency team at CAA alongside Olivia Mirabella and Yves Pierre.
“We’ve all been fans for years. I think Duck is the ultimate multi-dimensional artist who just completely spans across all genres,” she adds about the rising star who blends hip-hop, R&B, dance, and punk. “You cannot put him in a box. Between the vocal skills, the energy, the creativity he brings to every performance, it’s unmatched. And when the opportunity presented itself to meet with him and his manager, Xtina, we put the whole weight of the company behind us as we felt that there is no ceiling to what Duck is capable of achieving in his career.”
This year has been hectic for Duckwrth and his band, comprised of backup vocalist Just Liv, bass player Budda, keyboardist Devin Smith and drummer Darryl Staves Jr. In the spring, they opened for Billie Eilish in 14 cities while on her “Happier Than Ever Tour” (including Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena and two shows at Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena), then trotted across North America for various festival plays including Electric Forest, Governor=s Ball, Lollapalooza, Outside Lands and more. For the fall, they turned their focus to Duckwrth’s headlining shows of his own.
“It hits you with reality in a different way,” Duckwrth, born Jared Lee, aged 33, tells Pollstar. “Billie Eilish is like, top five pop artists in the world right now. So it’s very natural where you’re performing in front of 20,000 people a night or more. I’m not the top five pop artist, so it brings you back down to reality. It’s not like the energy has changed. I’m still performing as if I’m in front of 20,000 people. But, you get a taste of the good water, you know? And then you’re like, ‘All right, cool. Now that I know what it tastes like, I have to do everything’ versus not having a vision to go by. I know what it looks like, I know what it sounds like, what it feels like.”
Like many mid-tier artists getting back out on the road during the fall of 2022, Duckwrth faced numerous challenges. The tour bus dilemma was just the start.
The problems first began with a song. Duckwrth was due to release the Chrome Bull EP (due out Oct. 21) ahead of the tour, but one track proved to be particularly difficult. “I think everything happens for a reason,” Prince says.
“I’ll push as hard as I can because it makes sense for the business. But I’ll also try to be more gracious in my approach. The delay presented an amazing creative opportunity. Trying to find that balance is a challenge but I think we do pretty well with that.”
Two songs that didn’t exist before made their way onto the EP, and the first half of the tour was rebranded as the “Chrome Bull Listening Sessions.” The artwork, which sees Duckwrth on his motorcycle, also became what it is due to the delay.
Duckwrth points to the rings on his fingers as he describes the inspiration for the EP. The content comes from a girl he met from France, “She finally comes to America, but she doesn’t know that much English and I don’t know that much French. In the beginning of [Chrome Bull], I’m riding my motorcycle, taking a French tutorial. But I’m trying to communicate with her.”
His finger grazes the snake wrapping its way around his right index finger while he explains the name of the EP: “I’m a Taurus, and I always wear silver. Something about that mix of the sleekness, the gorgeousness of that feeling of chrome itself. Chrome always feels new. It feels cutting-edge. I felt like I embodied that. I embodied the bull, and I embodied the chrome.”
Several dates from the tour were pulled due to rising costs after Duckwrth’s team decided it didn’t make sense to go out of their way to cities like Atlanta and Houston for rooms that weren’t yet sold out. The post-lockdown glut of tours has been a consistent topic in Pollstar’s pages, and numerous artists have been dropping dates left and right, but Duckwrth plans to keep going.
“It’s part of a bigger story, right?” Reynolds-Drumm says. “Coming out of a pandemic, the challenges we’ve seen as talent agents being in the music space is oversaturation. There’s a lot of artists trying to make up for lost time. Because of that, there are not as many venue availabilities. Sometimes the routing can end up being really taxing because it’s not as perfect as we’d like it to be. There’s also a lack of resources, whether that’s in production or something even more simple, like a tour bus.”
The market has been affecting Duckwrth’s tour just as it has everything else. Despite his large fanbases in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, tickets didn’t move as quickly as the team expected. Prince describes it as “the nature of the beast” of the current market, where nearly everyone is struggling to pick back up after nearly two years of complete shutdown.
“We definitely expected tickets to go faster,” Prince says. “But there’s been a lot of walk-ups. I don’t know if it’s just the climate we’re in right now, and the consumer culture. At one point, people were buying tickets and shows were getting canceled, and now you gotta figure out how to get your money back from the venue and go through all that. Some people are just like, ‘Look, I’d rather wait until closer to the show and then I’ll buy my ticket, or I’ll buy my ticket at the door.’”
Lower-than-expected ticket sales did not waver in anyone’s support of Duckwrth’s vision. If anything, the team became more confident with the knowledge that they’d be able to push through and continue to deliver a solid show, no matter the difficulties.
“On a club level, tours have been hit-or-misses,” Reynolds-Drumm says. “He has a really strong ticket history and because of that, we felt confident in pushing forward with this tour. He has put in the work to build up a core fanbase, and we are really seeing that resonate in ticket sales. It’s not like he’s a radio-driven artist. He has a real fanbase that wants to see his projects.”
Boxoffice reports submitted to Pollstar for Duckwrth include numerous sold-out shows on his 2021 tour, including Boston’s Brighton Music Hall on Sept. 19, grossing $9,840 and Oakland, California’s New Parish on Sept. 9, grossing $11,000. This year marked the second time Eilish invited him on tour, the first round of dates occurring during 2019’s “When We All Fall Asleep.”
Despite not selling out every night before doors open, a decent chunk of tickets have been sold in 2022 on walkups. Several dates on “Chrome Bull” sold out, including Denver, Ann Arbor, Michigan and Washington, D.C., while Toronto and Montreal were both close to selling out.
At the band’s Oct. 9 show at Webster Hall in New York City (see sidebar, here), the line nearly wrapped around the block after doors opened.
But it doesn’t matter if Duckwrth is performing in an arena packed full of fans or a crowd of 20 people, he’ll still deliver the same performance.
His former agent at ICM, Kyle Kernohan, expresses as much. “One thing that always stood out to me [on Duckwrth’s first headline tour] was one of the dates did particularly poorly. I think that, literally, there were probably around 20 tickets sold for that show. I think any other artist I worked with would’ve canceled that date. But instead of canceling it, he moved his mic stand into the middle of the crowd and just performed the whole show from the floor with the audience.”
Duckwrth’s dedication to his art becomes most apparent in his live performances. He’s determined to try and get back to Atlanta and Houston within a year – the idea of pulling dates never appeals to him.
“Next year for sure,” Duckwrth says. “Without a doubt, no question. Especially because I feel like we could have waited and seen how the tickets went, but it’s because the market is so strange, right? There’s no way to really know. For the most part, it just looks bad.”
The team admits there was slight hesitancy leading into the “Chrome Bull Tour.” But, following dates with Billie Eilish, festival plays and the new record, Duckwrth is on the cusp of something great.
Prince says that, “When we discussed it, we know that we’re going out and there is going to be a risk. Are you okay with the potential that you might walk into a room that’s only 75% or half full? And he was okay with it. He said, ‘Let’s put our faith that people will pull up. That we’ll give an amazing show regardless of how many people are in the room.’”
While the market might not be on his (or anyone else’s) side, the thunderous crowd that shakes Duckwrth’s New York City play at Webster Hall on Oct. 9 proves he’s out there doing the right thing. Relatively more reserved in person, he drips charisma on stage and transforms into an almost supernatural being, riling his fans into a frenzy.
“When I accidentally discover a new move or a new step, or when you see people’s jaws drop to the floor, or when you see people just letting go and dancing,” Duckwrth says when asked about his favorite part of the live show. “There’s always the one who came to the show for a friend. They come uptight, like, ‘I don’t know about this artist.’ They just stand there looking at you and then you keep sending them energy, and they’re like, ‘All right,’ and by the end of the show they’re front row, turned up.”
Already, Duckwrth’s shows at London’s Electric Ballroom and Amsterdam’s Paradiso Noord are sold out. London needed to be bumped up to a bigger room to accommodate demand, and the team expects Paris to likely sell out by the time they make it there. The shows were canceled last year due to the ongoing pandemic, with Duckwrth and his team counting down the days until they could head back to Europe.
“It’s a different lens,” Duckwrth says of the European market. “It’s a challenge of being in a different culture, not knowing the language fully. I’m definitely going to spend some time in London next year, probably do four months there or something.
“But also, to sell out venues overseas, like, I’m a Black man from South Central [Los Angeles] – any of this is always surreal. To have two nights in Amsterdam, one of them sold out, to be sold out in London. Paris is 80% sold out, and I love Paris. So it’s amazing.”
After “Chrome Bull,” Duckwrth and his manager are hoping to take a break. They don’t know exactly what next year will look like, maybe he’ll live in New York for a time, or London, or Paris. They’ve floated the idea of Duckwrth making new music while in London.
“I think we’re gonna take a little bit of time and have him travel the world,” Prince says. “Duckwrth is young, and he’s committed so much of his time to the music. I don’t really think he’s had the opportunity to see the world the way that he should, the way he deserved. So I think we’re gonna spend the first part of 2023 experiencing life.”