When a James Taylor/Carole King co-headlining Troubadour Reunion tour was announced last winter, the concert industry reacted with the sort of laid-back reserve befitting the two mellow-rock icons. Few predicted that arenas full of smiling, dancing, sometimes weeping baby boomers-and their kids and grandkids-would blow up the box office in a summer that has seen its share of bad news for the touring business.
In an era of production bombast and fleeting popularity, a couple of sexagenarian singer/songwriters with classic songbooks put together a warm and intimate show and ended up with the surprise hit tour of the summer. Loyal fans wanted to be part of this one-time-only event, recession be damned. Not only has the tour grossed a remarkable $58 million, but the good vibes, in '70s parlance, created by the duo's pairing has provided Concord Records with a hit project in King and Taylor's "Live at the Troubadour" CD/DVD (from the 2007 club shows that ultimately spawned the tour), portions of which have become popular, pledge-inducing programming for PBS.
Alex Hodges, COO of Nederlander Concerts and co-promoter of the final show on the tour, says it's a must-see for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the artists' collective body of work. "They have done this for a long time and captured new audiences for decades," he says. "The Troubadour return a couple of years ago set this up in a way that is unequalled. It's a boost for the live event and concert business that needs bright spots."
It makes sense that older music fans would have more discretionary income, but these are times of double-digit unemployment and devastated portfolios. So how much, then, is a memory worth? "In this economy, who has money to plunk down to come see this show?" King wonders. "Yet people are finding the money somehow, and we're so grateful. I think we represent a kind of calm in the storm."
An unrepentant road dog who has, at this stage of his career, become a summer concert tradition for many, Taylor knows what draws fans, and he saw plenty of potential in a tour with King. "Essentially, a tour runs on hits and people's emotional connection with the material," Taylor says. "That's the lifeblood of this thing, how people are emotionally connected to the material that Carole and I are doing, what it means personally in their lives."
Though putting together Taylor, 62, and King, 68-artists whose careers have been intertwined but who had not played live together since the early '70s-looks like a great idea on paper, so do a lot of tour concepts.
"[Taylor's co-manager] Sam Feldman called me last fall and said, 'Don, I think I'm going to put James Taylor and Carole King together and go on tour. What do you think?' " recalls veteran promoter Don Fox of Beaver Productions. "I said, 'I think it will do pretty good.' All of a sudden we went on sale and it was, 'Whoa! This thing is phenomenal.' "
Asked why this tour outperformed its expectations, Feldman, who manages Taylor with Michael Gorfaine, emphasizes the importance of "two of the world's most iconic artists" joining forces. "Carole and James personify a time in music that had a massive emotional impact on the biggest segment of the population," Feldman says.
"It's more than nostalgia for a particular act, or an album or two," Los Angeles Times pop critic Ann Powers says. "It's nostalgia for a moment, when people felt hopeful and there was a lot of possibility. And it's not like going to a Rolling Stones concert, where you feel, 'Wow, in my youth I was so wild, and look at me now, I need a hip replacement.' It's a gentle trip back. It's a hug, not a strut."