Brad Paisley still doesn’t have a name for his tour, which starts Friday (May 16) in Camden, N.J. “You should see our trucks — it’s 10 white semis,” Paisley said from his suite at the Trump International Hotel, which overlooks New York’s Central Park, on Wednesday (May 14) morning. “I’m tempted to take a Sharpie and write, ‘Brad Paisley World Tour’ on the front of it. They’ve been asking me for weeks, and I keep going, ‘I haven’t named the album yet.’” (Paisley revealed the name of his album today exclusive to Billboard: “Moonshine In the Trunk.”)
What Paisley does have, however, is a major presenting sponsor in the form of Kraft’s Cheese & Dairy brands, including Kraft Naturals, Cracker Barrel cheese, Kraft Singles, Philadelphia Cream Cheese and Velveeta. Fittingly, Paisley is also starring in a series of comedic web shorts for the brand’s marketing program, “For The Love Of Cheese.” In one short, Paisley wields a sword to illustrate just how sharp Cracker Barrel’s sharp cheddar can be. In another, he proudly sports a bright-yellow “liquid gold” mustache, courtesy of Velveeta cheese he’s brewed for himself as if it were a hot cup of coffee. A third takes the form of a spy spoof in which Paisley asks to be paid in a briefcase filled with “Singles” (of the sliced cheese variety, of course.) Shari Lewin, a commercial and brand partnership agent at William Morris Endeavor Nashville, helped broker the deal with Kraft on behalf of client Paisley.
Paisley has long been known for taking a tongue-in-cheek approach to his songwriting, and embraced the unique challenge of working with Kraft on his latest tour. “It’s funny because when you put cheese on broccoli, no one’s complaining,” Paisley told Billboard. “But cheese has become a bad term for music. I try everything I can when I tour to basically pull off a night where people can escape. I take that aspect very seriously, but I don’t in any other way. A partner like this to me is great, and such an incredible part of American culture. What’s more American than macaroni and cheese?”
Paisley’s pact with Kraft is the latest in a series of high-profile brand deals inked in country music, which continues to be a top draw on the road (3 of Billboard’s top 25 BoxScore-grossing tours of 2013 were country acts) and at retail (albums from Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line and Jason Alden have all gone platinum in the last year.) Other country artists who’ve booked notable brand deals this year include Tim McGraw (Pennzoil), Luke Bryan (Cabela’s), Dierks Bentley (a Mountain Dew-backed summer tour), Paisley’s tourmate Randy Houser (Eckrich Meats), Sara Evans (Hidden Valley Ranch), Jana Kramer (Nationwide Insurance) and Big Machine Label Group (a partnership with General Mills benefitting Outnumber Hunger featuring acts like Rascal Flatts, Florida Georgia Line, The Band Perry and Thomas Rhett.)
On Paisley’s tour, fans will be able to participate in various Kraft-branded activities like a “Cheese-loving karaoke” booth, where they can sing along to Paisley’s greatest hits and share them on social media, and a “Cheesy Photo Booth,” where they can pose with comic props and a life-sized cut-out of Paisley for the chance to appear on screen during the concert. Additionally, Kraft will host a contest on Twitter using the hashtag #fortheloveofcheese that will include the grand prize of an all-expenses paid trip for four to see Paisley in concert and, yep, a lifetime supply of cheese.
The humor in such a surreal sponsorship is not lost on Paisley, who jokes that he may end up calling his summer outing “The Lactose Tolerance Tour” (“I’m not gonna need a bathroom for three months,” he noted with a laugh.) Throughout the summer, Paisley will be joined by openers Randy Houser (“Runnin Outta Moonlight”), Charlie Worsham (“Want Me Too”), Leah Turner (“Take The Keys”) and tour DJ Dee Jay Silver. “These are all artists I believe in, and really think are tremendous. I like being able to do that — it’s what keeps me young as an artist,” he says.