From The Rolling Stones to J. Cole, Four of Summer's Biggest Tours to Watch

Associated Press
The Rolling Stones

Juanes and The Who will also be packing venues coast-to-coast as the Summer of 2015 cranks up.

As the summer touring season kicks into gear, artists from all genres take to the road to engage fans through the most robust sector of the music industry. The touring industry continued on its healthy streak in 2014, with a record year in North America; the number of shows reported to Billboard Boxscore increased 6 percent in 2014 as acts increasingly turn to touring to build careers and make money, and fans remain enamored of the live experience.

This year shows no signs of slowing down, with promoters reporting robust ticket sales and a high level of touring traffic. Billboard takes a look at four significant tours that will be packing houses coast to coast as the Summer of 2015 cranks up.

THEATERS AND ARENAS // Juanes

After playing intimate "unplugged" venues in U.S. clubs in 2013 and the Austin City Limits and Made In America festivals last year, Colombian rocker Juanes returns to the U.S. this summer with a "transitional" tour of theaters and arenas in support of his latest record Loco de Amor. Juanes manager Rebeca Leon (also a vp with promoter AEG Live) says the artist "absolutely loved" the more intimate tour, so "we tried to replicate that to a degree, going into cool rooms, doing the right things." Among those "right things" are a first-ever show at the Santa Barbara (Calif.) Bowl "one of the coolest places to play in the U.S." on Aug. 7, and a return to the Nokia Theatre in L.A., where Juanes has the record for most Latin shows performed. Sandwiched between smaller venues like the Rosemont (Ill.) Theatre and the Grand Theater at Foxwoods Resort in Mashantucket, Conn., are stops at Madison Square Garden in New York and American Airlines Arena in Miami. "This tour is tailor-made for what he wants and what his fans want," says Leon.

Juanes will also return to playing electric guitar on stage for the first time since 2011. Although Juanes sings in Spanish, his audience is general market, to a large extent, and Juanes plays a lot of markets not frequented by Latin artists. "You go to his shows and a lot of the audience doesn't speak Spanish," Leon says. "The people are into the music, the band, the experience, the live show, and it translates."

ARENAS // The Who

After selling out two nights at London's O2 Arena in March, The Who began the first U.S. leg of its 50th anniversary arena tour on April 15 in Tampa, rolling through a half a dozen shows (including New Orleans JazzFest) until the tour was forced to postpone three shows due to singer Roger Daltrey's swollen vocal cords. The tour resumed May 11 in Nashville, with the first leg culminating May 30 at Forest Hills Stadium in Queens, N.Y., where the Who played in 1972. The band will play to an estimated 65,000 at Hyde Park in London June 26 then close out the Glastonbury festival two days later.

The tour, produced by AEG Live, is called The Who Hits 50, "because they feel that 'hits' describes the set list," observes AEG Live senior VP Larry Vallon, who is overseeing the tour with AEG senior vp Debra Rathwell. With "gigantic" hi-def video screens, five cameras on the band, and an "incredible" sound system, Vallon says the show "comes screaming at you," even in the cheap(er) seats. "The visuals are very Who-like, very Carnaby St., mods and rockers, and full of Keith Moon and John Entwhistle images," Vallon adds.

Ticket sales are "robust," according to Vallon. "We think we've got it priced properly, and we've got a great VIP program," he says. "The VIPers come in to the arena about 4:30, watch them do about a half-hour sound check, then go enjoy English-themed food and drink in a Who environment." The tour returns to the U.S. Sept. 14 in San Diego and runs through Nov. 4 in Philadelphia.

AMPHITHEATERS AND ARENAS // J Cole

J Cole's statement-making tour in support of 2014 Forest Hills Drive, a strategic trek conceptually broken down into four distinct legs or "acts," is solidifying his status as an elite touring artist. By the time Cole gets to Act III, made up of U.S. arenas and amphitheaters coast-to-coast, he will arguably be headlining the hottest urban tour of the summer.

Though he has been touring since 2009, this is J Cole's time. He has been working his way up from clubs to theaters in 2013 on the What Dreams May Come tour. Cole has already sold out New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Denver, and markets like San Diego, Austin, Detroit and Cole's home town of Fayetteville, N.C. (where the tour wraps Aug. 29) are "quickly approaching sellout," according to Robert Gibbs, Cole's agent at ICM, who says "sales are amazing across the whole tour, in every region of the country, from Seattle to Chicago, Atlanta, Boston and Miami."

The 70-city tour began March 2nd with an "underplay" that took Cole & Dreamville (Bas, Cozz and Omen) to smaller markets and venues in America, followed by Act II, "The Journey," currently touring in Europe. Gibbs describes Act III, the "Hollywood Edition" in sheds and arenas as a "must see for the summer," and despite the big rooms, "an intimate experience." Also on that bill are Big Sean's "electric show," followed by YG, Jeremih, and Dreamville (Bas, Cozz & Omen). "I'm not sure what more a music fan could ask for," says Gibbs, "as this tour gives fans real music, and there's a little something for everybody."

STADIUMS // The Rolling Stones

Any summer with a Rolling Stones tour coursing through America is just cooler, and this summer the World's Greatest Rock 'n Roll Band is heading to the heartland with 15 shows at stadiums, festivals and speedways on the Zip Code tour, produced by AEG Live's Concerts West touring division.

The Rolling Stones have written the book on virtually every area of the live business, including production, sponsorships, branding, ticketing, merchandising, global routing, concert promotion and overall touring economics. They've also sold more tickets than any other band in history. "Nobody's even in the same zip code," says John Meglen, co-president of Concerts West with Paul Gongaware.

With no New York or L.A. on the route, the Zip Code tour will hit "places the guys have not been to in a long time, playing as special a venue to each city as we could," says Meglen. "The goal was to bring the ticket prices down from what they were in the Triple A markets to make it even more accessible, but we've also become very good at keeping the money from potential secondary market brokers out there, keep that [revenue] on the side of the artist, where it belongs."

Non-VIP ticket prices top out at $395 and include $69.50 and $39.50 prices levels, the lowest average ticket prices the Stones have had since the Bigger Bang tour of 2005-2007. Zip Code also marks the first full-on stadium run for the Stones since the 2007 leg of Bigger Bang, which grossed nearly $560 million, second all-time, according to Boxscore.

The "Zip Code" title is a nod to both the markets and the re-issue of the band's seminal 1971 Sticky Fingers album, which featured the iconic cover with a working zipper. While still carrying a "big production," the stadium shows will be relatively streamlined, at least by Stones standards,with Gongaware describing it as a "much more nimble, adaptable crew and band situation, a really tight and happy place." The sound will be analog, but the video will be hi-def, IMAG and massive. "You don't need bells and whistles, you just need the Rolling Stones," says Gongaware, "and to make sure everybody can see them clearly and hear them beautifully."

While scattered seats remain in most markets, Meglen says the dates are at 90 percent sold out and predicts the tour will go completely clean. "Our mantra when we went on sale was, 'if we sell out the first day, we've screwed up,'" says Meglen. "The grosses alone are already through the roof, the band is well into percentages already, it's a blowout tour financially."

The last three years have been a particularly active period for the Rolling Stones' touring, with two runs through America in 2013 (50 And Counting), and trips across Europe, the Middle East and the Pacific Rim ('14 On Fire). Since reuniting for their 50th Anniversary shows in late 2012, the Stones have churned out nearly $300 million in box office, selling 1.2 million tickets to just 48 shows, according to Boxscore, primarily in arenas. And it sounds as if they're not done.

"We haven't heard any plans for these guys to say 'this is it,'" says Gongaware. "Quite the contrary."

Still, even if the band members seem superhuman, there should be a sense of urgency around this particular tour, given that simple biology dictates that, for some of these markets, this could be the last time the Stones come to town. Meglen isn't buying that theory. "We look at it the other way; there are places here that the guys have not been to in a very long time, and it's very special to them that we can go to these places," he says. "And, they're important parts of America."

Adds Gongaware, "If they can't keep it up, they're not gonna do it, they won't ruin the legacy of the band. But right now, it's just the opposite: they're smokin' it."

This article originally appeared on Billboard.com.

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