Nine months after Morgan Wallen faced industry-wide condemnation over a leaked video showing him using the n-word, sources tell Billboard that tentative plans are in place for the country star to return to the road in 2022 for a tour promoted by Live Nation.
The yet-to-be finalized tour, as well as six shows scheduled for the remainder of 2021, were booked by Austin Neal, an agent at WME who sources say was acting “as a friend” of the artist and not in his professional capacity at the agency. WME dropped Wallen from its roster in February after TMZ posted that video of the star shouting the racial slur after a night of partying.
Neal is the son of longtime WME agent Kevin Neal, who was formerly Wallen’s agent and currently represents Jason Aldean, Florida Georgia Line, Colt Ford and Parmalee. Earlier this week, WME confirmed it was no longer representing Wallen but declined to comment when asked about the work Neal was doing with the “Whiskey Glasses” singer. Neither Austin Neal nor Kevin Neal responded to requests for comment.
The arrangement, while unusual, is legal as long as all parties involved are upfront about their involvement in booking the shows, says entertainment litigator Ed McPherson. “As long as the agent is clear in his dealings that he is representing Wallen as a friend and not as a client of WME,” he notes, “it shouldn’t be a problem.”
Wallen broke out in 2018 with his single “Whiskey Glasses,” which became his first solo No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart following “Up Down,” his chart-topping duet with Florida Georgia Line. His 2021 album, Dangerous: The Double Album, which came out through a partnership between Big Loud and Republic, topped the Billboard 200 for 10 weeks and is the year’s most popular release in the U.S. as of the week ending Oct. 28, with 2.82 million equivalent album units earned — despite, or perhaps propelled by, the scandal surrounding the star.
Wallen is less established as a live performer, though, and has mostly toured as a supporting act — with Florida Georgia Line in 2017, Luke Bryan in 2018 and Luke Combs in 2019. However, he had plans for a full 2021 arena tour before the scandal broke.
One of Wallen’s 2021 tour stops includes the biggest concert series of his young career — a three-night run at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. — selling 36,000 tickets for the Dec. 3-5 run in less than 90 minutes. The promoter for the three shows is Mike Smardak, owner of Outback Presents. Like Neal, Smardak isn’t promoting the concert through his promotion company, but is doing so as an individual. Smardak declined to comment for this story.
Representatives at Simmons Bank Arena in Little Rock, Ark., where Wallen is performing Nov. 19 and 20, also declined comment, as did a those at the Landers Center in South Haven, Miss., where Wallen is playing Dec. 11 and 12.
Wallen’s publicist and label, Big Loud, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Big Loud partner and co-founder Seth England also manages Wallen.
The only person to comment on the concerts was Rupp Arena general manager Brian Sipe, who sent out a press release declaring “Lexington loves country music!” to celebrate Morgan’s impressive sales.
“We are thrilled that country music superstar, Morgan Wallen, is coming here to Rupp Arena for three back-to-back nights!” Sipe wrote. “We can’t wait to show why Lexington is one of the top cities for artists to play, and for fans to come see some of the greatest performers in the world.”
The secretive nature of the shows comes as the entertainment industry grapples with how to deal with artists who have been “cancelled” — while remaining in high demand by fans. Both DaBaby and comedian Dave Chappelle have been accused of making transphobic and homophobic comments this year, but have continued to tour and play live shows despite public backlash.
Wallen’s 2022 tour is expected to be announced before the end of the year.