The older some guys get, the more they tend to exaggerate their exploits — and Styx’s Tommy Shaw and REO Speedwagon’s Kevin Cronin are no exception. In the promo video created for their Live and Unzoomed North American tour, promoted by Live Nation and booked by CAA, the longtime friends can’t help but oversell how much they’ve accomplished during the pandemic.
Cronin claims to have become a pyrotechnics expert after the video shows him burning hot dogs on his barbeque, while Shaw brags he’s been keeping himself sharp, only to accidentally send an axe flying at bandmate Lawrence Gowan while the two struggle to assemble IKEA furniture.
“This is gonna break the band up,” Gowan quips in the video, cracking wise at Styx’s infamous creative differences in the 1980s and 1990s. It’s a fun video, emphasizing the potential both groups have when they work together, but neither could have imagined the success they would have on the 2022 Live and Unzoomed tour they were announcing.
More than 500,000 fans bought tickets for the dual headliner tour, which grossed an impressive $25 million in sales on the 44-date, May 31-Sept. 18 run, their fifth tour together, making it their top-grossing co-headlining tour yet. On average, 11,400 fans came out each night — enough to fill up most amphitheaters and small arenas — landing the tour the No. 30 spot on this month’s Billboard Boxscore Top Tours chart.
Not bad for two groups with a combined catalog of more than 40 hits, both of which peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 in the 1980s. Rick Franks, Live Nation’s North American president of talent and touring, believes the tour’s success is in part due to their long-term partnership and says Styx and REO Speedwagon have performed more shows together as a package tour than any other groups this century. They have always done so as dual headliners, meaning that they alternate which act performs in the closing slot each night.
Package tours provide added value for fans, with ticket prices higher than those to see one act but significantly less than those for two. When two acts split production costs, they often can take home more money, too.
Styx is now led by guitarist Shaw, who joined the band in 1976, while REO Speedwagon is still fronted by founder Cronin. Gone is Styx founder Dennis Deyoung, who wrote many of the group’s hits but left in the late ’90s, as well as REO guitarist Gary Richrath, who died in 2015.
The two groups first toured together in 2000, but their bond solidified after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks inspired them to perform a series of charity concerts that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the families of first responders and led to the creation of the charity Rock to the Rescue.
Here are four tips the bands and their managers say made this tour a record-breaking success.
Pick The Right Opener
Loverboy, the Canadian band led by Mike Reno whose hits include “Working for the Weekend” and “Turn Me Loose,” was both bands’ pick, but tour promoter Live Nation initially pushed back.
“Good songs, good band, everyone likes them – what is there push back on?” Styx manager Charlie Brusco says of the early back and forth with Live Nation’s Rick Franks, who relented after an intervention by Red Light Management owner and mega music manager Coran Capshaw.
“The word got out pretty quick with the fans on how good the Loverboy set was and we start getting reports that the venues were 70% full when the band took the stage at 7 p.m. and 85% full by 7:15,” Brusco says. “The result was three hours straight of great music from beginning to end.”
Make Everything Equal
Both REO Speedwagon and Styx hail from Illinois, came up in the late 1970s and 1980s and dominated mainstream rock radio with their ambitious anthems and riff-heavy tunes, often perfectly encapsulating their young fan’s feelings in songs that became instant classics.
Despite their similarities, the two acts never played together until 2000’s Arch Allies tour, named after the groups’ respectful rivalry with one another.
“There really isn’t a more accurate description of the relationship between the two bands,” says Brad Bissell, who booked the tour with Rod Essig out of CAA’s Nashville office. “The bands and their teams get along perfectly and there’s a deep mutual respect.”
The tour worked, REO Speedwagon manager Tom Consolo says, “because each side recognizes the importance of making sure every decision is balanced and equal,” noting that the bands rely on an independent production manager for the co-headline tour (instead of each band’s normal production boss). He continues, “so that if there is a call to be made, it’s not being made by one side,” but by a neutral person looking to do what is best for the tour.
The tour also works because both bands want the same thing — “a show that our fans are going to enjoy,” Shaw says. “We don’t want them to feel like one of us is favored over the other.”
Cronin adds, “The band that goes on in the middle slot gets the exact same production and stage space as the band who closes the show.”
Go On Sale Early
Brusco says he expected the tour to go on sale in late January, about four months before the May 31 opener at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Michigan, but Franks insisted tickets go on sale six weeks earlier, during the second week of December.
“He told me, ‘I think that this way you’ll get a jump on everything else’ and he was right,” Brusco said. Knowing that 2022 was going to be packed after a two-year break, going on sale before the market flooded with competing options would give the tour an edge.
“December was perfect because so many people bought tickets for Christmas presents,” Brusco says, “and by this point in the pandemic, people were very certain that these shows were gonna happen.”
The lengthened sales window, coupled with the selection of Loverboy and buzz around the tour, led to big increases in attendance, as much as 40% for some shows. In 2017, the tour grossed $311,000 in ticket sales from 10,000 fans at Syracuse’s Lakeview Amphitheatre; this year, the tour grossed $520,000 from the venue with 14,000 tickets sold. The tour closer at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion in Bangor, Maine grossed $241,000 on 4,900 tickets sold in 2017, while this year it grossed $462,000 with more than 8,000 tickets sold.
“At the urging of Rick Franks we announced and went on sale in early December 2021,” Bissell tells Billboard. “(Live Nation’s) Erik Kammerer, who many at our company believe is a rising star, paid close attention to ticket pricing in real time and that made a big difference for everyone involved.”
Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously
It’s been more than 20 years since Styx split with band founder and songwriter Dennis Deyoung, and Shaw said he’s now at peace with the breakup. The Deyoung-penned “Mr. Roboto,” the song that tore the band apart in the mid-1980s, has even been integrated back into their set list. The lead single from the group’s 1983 album Kilroy Was Here, “Mr. Roboto” was a commercial success but a divisive directional shift that pushed the band in a conceptual direction that Shaw and many other Styx fans felt was simply too weird for the 1980s rock scene.
That changed with the passage of time, and after a decade of streaming, a new fan base discovered the song and began requesting that it be added to the set list.
“We just disliked what [the song] did to the chemistry of the band,” Shaw says — and Styx never played it after [Shaw] rejoined in the 1990s. But as the song climbed Styx’s Spotify page (today it’s the second most listened to song behind “Renegade”), Shaw began to kick around the idea of bringing it back for the band’s 2018 tour.
“But we had no idea how to play it live,” says Shaw. Looking for ideas, he logged into Spotify and found a rock cover of the song by The Protomen. Shaw said it was the band’s rock-centric approach to the song on their excellent 2010 covers album The Cover Up that laid the groundwork for Styx’s new approach to the song.
“As soon as I heard that, I said, ‘That’s how we play it,’” Shaw says, “and we’ve been playing it like that ever since.”