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From Bob Seger to Elton John to KISS, farewell concert tours abound, and business is booming


A flurry of farewell tours are taking place in 2019, featuring (from top left) Elton John, KISS, Ozzy Osbourne and Bob Seger. (Photo: Composite of Journal Sentinel, Getty and TNS Photos)
In 1992, Ozzy Osbourne hit the road for his farewell "No More Tours" run.
In 2019, there's the sequel, "No More Tours II."
That would seem to contradict the whole "farewell" thing, but such is the way with rock 'n' roll. 
It's become as predictable as the concert encore. Time and again, artists book "one final tour" and make a load of cash, only to book another tour a few years later. Cher, LCD Soundsystem, the Who — they've all said goodbye, and they've all stuck around. 
Over the past two years, we've seen a flurry of farewell tours, more than ever before, from Joan Baez to Lynyrd Skynyrd to Paul Simon to Slayer.
At least four more of them will be in Milwaukee through July: Bob Seger (Jan. 24 at Fiserv Forum), Elton John (Feb. 19, Fiserv Forum), KISS (March 1, Fiserv Forum) and Osbourne (July 4, the American Family Insurance Amphitheater, during Summerfest). 
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But with the artists allegedly bidding goodbye often in their twilight years — and the deaths of music supernovas like David Bowie, Tom Petty and Prince still fresh in our memories — fans are taking these farewell tours seriously, and the tours are making some serious money. 
"These artists are getting older, and they're seeing their friends pass away," said Dave Brooks, founder of Amplify, a live-music news site acquired by Billboard last year.
Seger is 73, John is 71, Osbourne is 70, and KISS' Gene Simmons is 69.
"With the farewell tour," Brooks said, "you can go out on top and make some good money."
Last chance to say goodbye 
KISS — which is embarking on the second farewell tour of its career — is doing three times the business in Milwaukee compared with the band's previous Milwaukee show in 2016, said Charlie Goldstone, co-president of FPC Live, the show's Madison-based concert promoter, and a partner company with Live Nation. 
In 2018, for the start of John's "Farewell Yellow Brick Road" tour that will extend through 2021, the shows grossed on average $2.5 million a night — a 56 percent increase from his previous tour average in 2016, according to data from concert trade magazine Pollstar. 
"There is a sense with a lot of these older bands that, if you don't see them now, you will not be able to see them again," said Steven Hyden, an Appleton native and author of last year's classic rock retrospective "Twilight of the Gods." 
"With Bob Seger and Elton John, artists on the road a long time who tend to come around on a fairly regular basis, billing this as a farewell is a way to motivate people to buy a ticket, and to buy more expensive tickets," Hyden said. 
John concert tickets on average cost $134.81 in 2018, according to Pollstar, up from two years ago when the average ticket cost was $121.22.
In Milwaukee, KISS tickets are going for $1,000 for the front row. A second row John seat will set you back $1,500. 
Sir Elton John is retiring from touring, but not before embarking on a massive world tour! A previous version of this video misidentified one of his Tony-winning musicals. USA TODAY
'The perfect generational mish-mash' 
People are willing to pay big bucks for an artists' goodbye. But in 2019, with the economy still strong, people are paying a lot for live music, period. 
The top 100 grossing tours worldwide last year made a staggering $5.64 billion, according to Pollstar, just shy of 2017's $5.65 billion tally, when the industry celebrated its sixth consecutive year of record growth. 
And acts bidding adieu in 2019 can appeal not only to longtime fans and fellow boomers, but to millennials.
"Right now, we're in the perfect generational mish-mash," said Scott Leslie, co-president with Goldstone of FPC Live. "An 18-year-old who loves KISS says, 'I need to see a KISS concert before they stop touring.' And they're in line with their parents or an uncle who have seen KISS since they were 18 and want to see them one more time, too. That is what is breeding heavy ticket sales."
Play the hits 
Besides being easy money, a farewell tour is an easy artistic endeavor with just one key rule: Play the hits.
 "If you're an artist looking at a farewell tour, there's something kind of liberating about it," Brooks said. "You're performing your most popular songs. You don't need to reinvent yourself. You're celebrating your accomplishments."
And that sort of celebration feeds into something for these aging musicians that may matter more than their bank accounts: their ego. 
"We're talking about people who have already made millions of dollars doing this," Leslie said. "When you get to that point of rare air, how you are remembered really matters. Every performance is a legacy-defining exercise for these guys."
Not to mention literal exercise, with the demands of the stage taking their toll, to speak nothing of the touring grind. 
"It's hard to get on the road every night in your twenties and thirties, let alone your sixties and seventies," Goldstone said.
"It's physically hard to tour, and I think these artists don't want to sacrifice their performance." 
After 45 years rock and rolling all night (and partying every day), KISS say they're pulling the plug while they're still "on top," with a farewell world tour. (Oct. 31) AP
That's the motivation for KISS calling it quits — again — frontman Paul Stanley told the "Rolling Stone Music Now" podcast last fall.
"It only makes sense because of the nature of what we are," Stanley, 66, said. "We're not a band of guys in jeans and sneakers, standing on stage, playing. We're athletes. We're Superman playing a guitar. So yeah, at some point you look at each other and go, 'How long can we do this the way we want to do it?' … If you're smart, you plan so that you can make the most of something, rather than just kind of sail off into the sunset. I didn't want that to happen. … I'd rather take a victory lap."   
'Father Time doesn't lie' 
Taking a victory lap is something Prince didn't get to do. Or Milwaukee native Al Jarreau, who retired from touring just a few days before he died in 2017. Or Neil Diamond, who abruptly retired from the road early last year, and canceled planned 50th-anniversary tour dates, after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.
"Tom Petty died a week or two after the end of the 40th-anniversary tour," Hyden said. "Some musicians feel like, 'I don't want to die on the road, I need to retire and stop before that happens.'
"Whether you want to look at farewell tours as cynical marketing or not, Father Time is not a cynical marketer. Father Time does not lie. At some point, he cashes in."
Fun facts about the iconic Detroit rocker. Wochit
It's why Susan Reinholz, 60 from Whitewater, is seeing Seger in Milwaukee, a rocker she's loved since she was in high school. She's never had a chance to see him live.
"He's not a spring chicken anymore," Reinholz said. "You don't want to miss out. With (the Eagles') Glenn Frey and Tom Petty, I'm glad I got to see them before they passed. You've got to take advantage when you can." 
Different kind of touring 
Even if this is indeed the final run for Seger — who underwent spinal surgery in 2017 — that's not to say all the performers on their farewell tours will be gone forever. Osbourne has said so himself. 
"I'm not retiring from the music business; I'm just not doing world tours anymore," he said at a press conference announcing "No More Tours II" last year. "I'll be doing gigs." 
Not only are farewell tours flourishing, but so are concert residencies, where star artists can avoid the hassles of travel and have audiences come to them.
"Springsteen on Broadway" did boffo business for the Boss, grossing $88.3 million in 2018, according to Pollstar. And the idea of the Las Vegas residency has drastically changed in recent years, where even younger pop artists like Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys and Lady Gaga are having great success. 
"There used to be this connotation with Vegas that there were all these old people and it was cheesy productions," Hyden said. "But people of all ages go to Vegas, and the shows are often quite lavish." 
John's done plenty of Vegas residencies, and likely will again when "Yellow Brick Road" comes to an end. KISS, undoubtedly, is exploring the same thing. 
But even if their farewell tours are fake-outs and they hit the road again, the fans will no doubt forgive and forget and flock to their shows. 
"People have emotional connections to these artists and they want to hear these songs again and experience the way these songs make them feel again," Leslie said. "I don't think anyone bought a ticket for a farewell tour and asked for a refund when the artist decided to tour again."

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