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My First Show Back: Goo Goo Dolls’ John Rzeznik On Their Measured Return to Touring

For the first time in 15 months, live music is returning nationwide after the global coronavirus pandemic ravaged the industry. Billboard’s “My First Show Back” is a series dedicated to sharing stories from throughout the touring ecosystem about what’s happening now, what has been forever altered and what will never change. 

In this installment, The Goo Goo DollsJohn Rzeznik discusses how a band that is used to playing 100 dates a year faired through the pandemic and returned on Aug. 19 at Kewadin Casinos in Michigan. Rzeznik’s first show back also occurred less than a week after Billy Joel asked the artist to sing “Iris” in front of a hometown crowd of 50,000.  

It has been 17 months since our last show. We are just doing one-offs because my manager and booking agent were like, ‘we should push off touring until 2022 because we don’t know what’s going to happen.’ I was like, ‘Nah. Nah. Nah.’ Because I want to get back to work. Now they’re starting to look like geniuses. 

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[Our 2021 shows] are being done in a smart way. There’s not very much production and very little personnel. There’s no extra fat on anything. We’re only taking the risk of losing one show at a time. If we had booked an entire tour and had to cancel a week of shows, we would be in a lot of financial trouble. And that goes back to having a good manager. So we are making money and throughout the pandemic the band was lucky enough to be able to keep everybody on retainer. Did they take a big pay cut? Yeah, but it was enough for everybody to pay their bills. It was an honor to be able to contribute and to help keep our extended family together the whole time. 

[The Aug. 19 show at Kewadin Casinos in St. Igance, Mich.] was a concert out in a big field. It’s kind of strange. This is a difficult subject to talk about because I don’t want to get anywhere near the politics of it or even my own personal opinion. 

I was really excited but I was also very aware that I could get a breakthrough of Delta. I realized as well that we were going to have to keep things locked up pretty tight within our own little bubble. There were lots of COVID tests for the band and the crew. We had to keep everybody out of the backstage and if you need to be there when we are there, you need to wear a mask. That’s our way of dealing with it.  

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I was feeling nervous and excited because I want to go back to work. I’m a workaholic, but I also don’t want to accidentally hurt anybody because of my enthusiasm to work. 

There were people in the audience with masks on and there were people in the audience without masks on. As far as I could tell, everybody was signing all the words to every song and it was a moment where divergent opinions about whatever is going on with this pandemic and politics and everything was put aside. They had a common denominator and that was the music. The division stopped at the door. It really struck me. 

[Being back on stage] was really exhilarating. We’ll do 100 shows a year and show number 98 it’s sort of like, ‘Oh god already with this.’ But it really made me grateful and appreciative for what I get to do for a living. It was a great thing to see people in the audience that have come to 10 shows or 20 shows. To know that we didn’t lose a big part of our audience being away for a while was pretty gratifying.  

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We are working on a new record that’s going to be released in spring hopefully because our last record got screwed by the whole pandemic. But Robby [Takac] and I decided the setlist for these current shows we’re going to hit them with every familiar song and hit. Give the people what they want.

[A few days prior,] I got to sing “Iris” with Billy Joel at Highmark Stadium [in New York] and I was like, ‘Wow. Holy sh*t it’s Billy Joel.’ That was a pretty moving moment. I got a lump in my throat because he offered me an invitation to get on his stage and play to my hometown. There were 50,000 people there. When he introduced me, I was a little overwhelmed by the response. I was out there for a song and it was humbling. The sophistication of his music, the sophistication of his lyrics and just how tight his band is. He’s a legend.

I feel like “Iris” is one of those songs that was just so much bigger than the band. Sometimes you’re swimming in your own wake because you want to push forward. But I will always be grateful that that song came into my life and exists because it really helped propel the rest of our career.

As told to Taylor Mims.