Longest Touring Bands

Now the half-time air was sweet perfume
While the sergeants played a marching tune
We all got up to dance….

“American Pie” by Don McLean

The longest touring bands continue to go out on the road year after year and decade after decade. Of the 10 top-grossing tours of 2006, seven of the bands have been playing concert tour dates for more than 20 years: The Rolling Stones, Madonna, Billy Joel, Jimmy Buffet, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith and Barbara Streisand all started playing concert tours before 1986. The Rolling Stones had the top-grossing tour of the year, bringing in $437 million, a number that’s expect to climb closer to $500 million when a series of make-up shows are completed.

For every major band that does a concert tour, there are hundreds or thousands of lesser-known bands touring smaller venues at the same time, trying to support their record sales. Bands with a new CD and the backing of a record label can often tour for months at a time. A number of well-known musicians got out of the business over the years because of the stress of doing back to back concert tour dates on their family- Steve Perry of Journey is just one example. But the fans keep the bands on the road; the special communion between performers and audiences that’s never replicated by a video or a CD.

Anthony Pierpont of St. Paul, Minnesota tells Took My Chevy to the Levee about the history of some of the world’s most successful and longest touring bands that are also his personal favorites.

Bands with Unlimited- and Unstoppable- Concert Tour Dates by Anthony Pierpont of St. Paul, Minnesota

The bands that have been touring the longest continue to follow the creed of the music industry: Make a CD, and then go on a tour. Repeat. Stop. Threaten to Quit. Quit. Get Back Together. Revive Career.

Some of our favorite bands started booking concert tour dates as early as the 1950’s and 1960’s- and they’re still going strong today. A lot has changed since these long-time touring bands started going on the road. In 1973, KISS concert tickets sold for less than ten dollars- today, ticket prices range from $75 to $150 before the show to twice that amount on the day of a concert. Times sure have changed! Take a look at some of our favorite bands, who started touring before some of their fans were born:

Bob Dylan Concerts – A Mix of Music, Poetry, Politics and Societal Angst
Bob Dylan, a 1960’s pioneer poet musician who gave voice to a society pining for one, started doing concert tours in the late 50’s and early 60’s, and his shows have been a hot ticket almost since the beginning. Dylan has also toured almost non-stop since 1988 with various artists (Van Morrison) and other backing bands. Tickets to a Bob Dylan show average $65 from Ticketmaster to more than $200 from online brokers. Bob Dylan, like most of the artists on our list, has a fan club that lets you buy discounted tickets before general sales open for shows.

Paul McCartney – Most Successful Musician and Composer in History
Paul McCartney, songwriting partner of John Lennon’s and primary face of the Beatles, first did a concert tour in 1960 with the Silver Beetles, an early incarnation of the Beatles. McCartney then toured from 1961 to 1966 with the Beatles, briefly as a solo artist in 1970, and from 1972 to 1979 with Wings. McCartney found an easy cure to the problems felt by other musicians on tour for months at a time. Linda McCartney, Paul’s wife, accompanied Wings on the road, and often sang back-up for the singer. Paul McCartney took a break from touring after John Lennon died in 1980, and didn’t hit the road again until 1989. McCartney’s last tour ended in 2004, and another tour is rumored to be scheduled before the end of the decade.

The Grateful Dead Concerts – Elevating Awareness through Improvisation
The Grateful Dead, purveyors of contemplative and improvisational blues, bluegrass, folk, rock n roll, jazz, and gospel, were one of the world’s most unstoppable touring bands, booking concert dates around the U.S. from 1965 until 1995, when Jerry Garcia passed away. The band toured constantly, with a few breaks here and there to record CDs or to travel abroad to play. They allowed fans to record their concerts, resulting in a never-ending supply of bootleg tapes available from Deadheads. Various incarnations of the Grateful Dead, including original members, still do concert tours today.

The Rolling Stones Concerts – R&B, Blues and Rock n Roll
The Rolling Stones started humbly enough, booking concert tour dates in 1964 in their native England. Today, the Rolling Stones 2006 “A Bigger Bang” tour gave them the all time record for a top-grossing tour by any band in the world. This beats out the previous record by U2, whose 2005-2006 Vertigo tour racked up a gross of $377 million. A good portion of the concert profits comes from ticket sales; tickets for the Rolling Stones 35 North American tour dates averaged more than $250 each. But it’s the Stone’s licensing and merchandising agreements that really bring in the money. The sales of t-shirts and band and concert memorabilia at the shows pay the band well, considerably adding to the bottom line profits. Bands like the Rolling Stones are a brand now, an enjoyable commodity that’s a huge money-making machine.

Bruce Springsteen Concerts – Poetic Rock n Roll Fused with East Coast Work Ethic
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band formed in 1972, and it was after the “Born to Run” album was released in 1975 that the band started touring with a vengeance. Every one of Bruce Springsteen’s 1984 concert tour dates, many lasting up to 4 hours, that supported the “Born in the USA” album was a sell-out. The New Jersey rocker has toured fairly regularly all over the world ever since.

Aerosmith Concerts – Hard Rock, Pop, Blues and Rap
Aerosmith has been touring since 1973. The legendary band cleaned up their act years ago, publicly denouncing their past drug and alcohol use. The band’s energy and enthusiasm is a testament to their renewed vigor; the party-free lifestyle agrees with them!  Aerosmith shows are still popular and shows rake in an average of $1 million dollars a concert.

KISS Concerts – Face Paint, Comic Book Stage Outfits and Theatrics
Fans have been buying tickets to KISS concerts since 1973. Kiss, like the Stones, is a mega moneymaking machine, with plenty of merchandising tied to the KISS brand. Profits from tickets sales for KISS concerts pale in comparison with decades of sales of merchandise that includes everything from wastepaper baskets to alarm clocks. The band approaches every concert tour date with an enthusiasm and energy that’s appreciated by the KISS army, their dedicated fan base. KISS fans often show up for concerts decked out in costumes and make-up reminiscent of the band’s unique style, making them fun people-watching events.

Jimmy Buffet Concerts – The Parrothead Following
Jimmy Buffett started doing concerts with the Coral Reefer Band in 1974. “Come Monday” was an early hit song for the band and the shows were almost non-stop until 1982. Over the years, Jimmy Buffett’s concerts, populated by his legions of fans, endearingly named the “Parrotheads,” are almost always sold out. Like KISS fans, Buffett’s fans often show up in costume, but they dress in the laid-back style of a Florida beach bum. Jimmy Buffett’s popularity is legendary, and his enthusiasm for his concert tours has been unflagging for more than 30 years.

Michael Jackson Concerts – Evolutionary Pop and Entertainment
Michael Jackson started touring with the Jackson 5 in spring 1979. Michael Jackson’s last tour was in 2001 and was a reunion of the Jackson family. Michael Jackson’s court trial in 2003 played a large part in his inability to tour in recent years. Rumors of a comeback indicate Jackson may release an album in 2007 and start booking concert tour dates in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2008.

Prince Concerts – Creator of the “Minneapolis Sound”
Prince started touring in 1979, and did a number of popular, theatrical shows in the 80’s to support his movie and soundtrack, “Purple Rain.” Prince is known for his outrageous concerts, wearing outlandish costumes and spouting sexually explicit lyrics onstage. It makes each show more than memorable, and fans eagerly anticipate every concert tour. Prince’s last tour in 2004 was the year’s most profitable, grossing more than $87 million. Prince’s next tour is slated for August 2007.

We thank our contributors:

  • Anthony Pierpont St. Paul, Minnesota

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