Opening acts. Music fans tolerate them (might discover a cool new band), venues love them (more time to sell booze and merchandising), and stars like them (more time to prep).
Why did Brandi Carlile have two opening acts this year? Why was Nile Rodgers setting the table for Duran Duran? Why did Broadway star Ben Platt reach out to Aly & AJ to warm up his audience?
In short, relationships.
This is how the first parts of concerts usually go.
Platt’s relationship with Aly & AJ dates back to the age of 9 or 10 and a children’s theater production in Los Angeles in which Aly Michalka played his older sister.
“We lost touch,” said Platt, who tapped the sister act Disney launched to open to him two weeks ago at Target Center. “They were kind of an iconic presence in my upbringing. When this opportunity came up, I assumed they would be too cool for me, but they were so into it.”
Sometimes these are personal relationships. Sometimes it’s a manager, agent, or connection to a record company. Sometimes the headliner chooses.
Guitarist/producer Rodgers has worked on several Duran Duran recordings, dating back to 1984. He is considered the unofficial fifth member of the veteran British band, but he has his own longtime American band, Chic, so they were a natural opener. , as the leader of Duran Duran. Simon Le Bon explained.
“The overall feeling we’re trying to create is the best party you’ve ever been to in your life with music, lights and nice people. Chic and Nile Rodgers have a wonderful party vibe about them. is an evening of quality entertainment.”
This is the objective of Carlile, who selects his openers.
“I like to think about the whole arc of the evening for the public,” said Carlile, who had the famous Lake Street Dive with her this summer and the underrated Celisse (who had collaborated with Carlile’s supergroup the Highwomen). . “At the end of the day, I’m an artist more than a songwriter and more than a singer, so I like to choose my first acts on what will be the most entertaining and enjoyable experience for everyone. in the room.”
However, some artists think of themselves more than their audience. Taylor Swift told the Star Tribune that she likes to tap artists she likes to hang out with because they’re on tour for weeks. Same for Maren Morris. But for the country-pop star, it’s more than just hanging out.
“I just choose artists that I’m a fan of,” said Morris, who landed the Lone Bellow to open his Armory concert on Oct. 21. “I bring out people that I like and think my audience will love.”
Not that it’s always a good deal to be an opening act. The remuneration is generally modest, the sound system not always pleasant, and the crowd not necessarily attentive. It’s a gig celebrated sarcastically by Mary Chapin Carpenter in a 1990 song with the obvious title “Opening Act.”
“You don’t have a backstage room of your own
You just have comments in your microphone
‘Cause you don’t have a soundcheck
‘Cause you’re not worth the time
You’re gonna have to face it
You’re no better than mud
You do not know me; I am the opening act”
Fans are looking for openers
There is a long history of opening acts in show business, apparently dating back to the late 1800s. The opener is there to “warm up” the audience. And to lengthen the show, which means two things: giving fans their money’s worth and giving venues more time to sell booze and other concessions.
In the 1950s and 1960s, comedians often opened for musicians and vice versa, especially in Las Vegas. When rock concerts started to take off in the late 60s and early 70s, some stars invited their older heroes such as Muddy Waters and Jerry Lee Lewis to open for them.
These days, some established stars want to give newcomers a break.
When country favorite Darius Rucker played a sold-out theater tour this year, he selected rising Nashville talent Caylee Hammack “who needed to play in front of people.” They even sang a number together.
Morris found herself like this newbie several years ago with her self-released song “My Church” catching the ear of country superstar Keith Urban.
“He heard some of my songs on Spotify and offered me a whole tour [as opener]”, said Morris. “We had not even met.
Some fans love discovering new talent. Gina Smith of Montrose, Minnesota, who usually arrives early enough to stand close to the stage and try her hand at opening act, recalls seeing the lowest pair open for Trampled by Turtles at Mankato in 2014. Now she’ll see the lower pair headline Oct. 15 at the Cedar Cultural Center.
Don Butler, a Minneapolis-based concertgoer who attends six or seven concerts a week, usually shows up before showtime to check out new bands, which he researches in advance on YouTube and other sites.
“I discovered one of my favorite bands, Imagine Dragons, when they were in the middle of three bands at Triple Rock,” he said of a 2012 gig at the club today. disappeared from Minneapolis. Now, of course, Imagine Dragons are one of America’s biggest rock bands.
Package tours: 1+1=3
Some stars are very strategic in their thinking, concerned about aesthetics as much as business.
With Bonnie Raitt playing in US amphitheaters this summer, she was aware she had an established opening act that could draw fans in.
“I can’t attract the same number of people without having a major co-project,” said Raitt, who has featured Lucinda Williams or Mavis Staples on tour this year. “It’s a great complementary situation – not too similar, not too different.”
Complementarity is crucial, especially if it’s a co-headlining gig or a multi-act package. Take Def Leppard, who toured this year with the 80s rock extravaganza starring Mötley Crüe, Poison and Joan Jett. A few years ago Def Leppard shared a tour with Journey. The idea is that the sum is greater than the individual parts or 1+1=3.
It’s easier said than done because, well, musicians have egos. Sometimes big egos. So who is headlining a co-poster of two big names?
“We headline where we believe our fans are strongest and [Def Leppard] title where they feel their fans are strongest,” Journey’s Neal Schon said at the time. “It just worked out perfect.”
The bands’ respective managers hatched the tour three years in advance, but “we kind of have the final say,” Schon said. “We never dated someone we couldn’t stand.”
Sometimes stars are prescient in picking an up-and-coming, up-and-coming act. It wasn’t until 2016 that Justin Bieber released Post Malone to sing his debut single “White Iverson.” And now Malone is hotter than the Biebs.
Whether performing at an arena, state fair, or club, most nationally known artists tour with their own opening acts. Sometimes promoters are asked to find an emergency replacement.
“The agents will let us know the criteria and we will submit a list of names with links [to music]”said Nate Kranz, chief executive of First Avenue, whose venues put on 1,100 shows a year. But the agents — or their acts — have the final say.
Kranz cited two recent examples. Last year, when Jenny Lewis pulled out of a Trampled by Turtles show in Duluth, the Twin Cities stalwarts Jayhawks were drafted as the opener. And for next Saturday’s Broken Social Scene concert in St. Paul, Kranz enlisted nationally-known local band Poliça after the scheduled opening was canceled.
Sometimes artists speak for themselves. That’s what Lizzo did in 2015, reaching out to First Avenue to see if she could open for Sleater-Kinney there. She’s been on the rockers’ entire tour and now, Lizzo is a household name.
Pairing acts is an art, not a science, and some artists just don’t want to have opening acts.
“I don’t use them,” David Crosby said, often against the grain. “I love a new audience.”