Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.

John Mellencamp is about to put his best foot forward on the road.

On his first North American tour in three years, Mellencamp will play mostly secondary markets beginning March 23 at the Savannah (Ga.) Civic Center.

The tour supports his recent greatest-hits package, "Words & Music." If things go well, a 50-date larger-market tour will follow, and potentially some international dates.

A veteran road warrior, Mellencamp now tours when he wants, rather than following the usual album/tour cycle.

"I try to go out and work for a little bit, then kind of duck back into Indiana for a few years and try to figure out what it is I need to do next," he says. "I try to figure out ways to reinvent myself and make things interesting for the audience and myself."

Even so, touring always has a prime place in the Mellencamp portfolio. "Touring gives me the opportunity to keep the songs alive, to go out and reacquaint myself to fans and the audience," he says. "Basically, this is what I do. I'm a songwriter and a touring, working musician."

While Mellencamp says songwriting is the most rewarding part of his game, he is "very comfortable onstage. I've been onstage since I was 12, 14. I'm actually more comfortable onstage than I am in a crowded room."

The challenge, Mellencamp says, is "trying to come up with ways to present songs that are two and three decades old, keeping them fresh and combining the new songs with them."

Donovan will support on all dates for the first leg, but not in the traditional manner. Mellencamp will open the shows with an hour-long set, he says, then will be joined by Donovan for a couple of his songs, followed by a solo Donovan set. Mellencamp will close the show with another 40-minute-plus set.

Mellencamp says he has observed with interest the massive changes in the concert industry during the past several years, including the escalating ticket prices. "That's one of the reasons why I am going out and having ticket prices that are reasonable," he says.

"Quite honestly, I was embarrassed on my last tour how expensive tickets were. I had friends of mine going 'John, it's kind of expensive for us to come out and see you,'" he continues. "And it made me think, 'If my friends are saying that to me, how about the person with a big phone bill and a house payment?'"

For all dates in March and April, the top ticket price is $45, with the average between $25 and $35. The early route on the tour is marked by such cities as Pensacola, Fla.; Oklahoma City; Wichita, Kan.; Moline, Ill.; and Grand Rapids, Mich.

"We were trying to be selective of where we play," Mellencamp says. "I noticed in Savannah, Ga., they haven't had a rock act play in town in probably 18 months. The last time I played Savannah was 1991. So we did some research and found out the only people that go through Savannah anymore are country people. Now, maybe that's telling me something I ought to know, but at the same time I feel like I need to go out and connect with the people who have supported me the last 30 years."

If it sounds as though Mellencamp is heavily involved with his touring, he is. "I try to be hands-on in anything I'm involved with," he says. "The worst thing I could do is sit back at my house here in Indiana and have somebody hand me a tour schedule, then go out and be unhappy. I would only have one person to blame for being so lackadaisical, and that's myself."

Never known for a lot of bells and whistles in production, Mellencamp says the upcoming tour will be even more spartan than usual: "It's going to be the most sparse production you've seen since Elvis. It's going to look a way that people have not seen a show ever look. I'm not going to have any trusses above my head."

Mellencamp is leaving the door open to more dates for the remainder of 2005; the first leg wraps April 17 in Louisville, Ky.

"I like to stick my toes in the water and check the temperature," he says. "We've got 50 shows offered to us this summer if we want to take it. We've got 18 shows in Canada offered to us, we've got shows in Australia, shows in Europe offered to us. If I go out and I enjoy this, then I'll continue. If I go out and it's a pain in the ass, I'll go back home."





Excerpted from the Feb.26, 2005, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to Billboard.com subscribers.

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