Due to a crippling fear of flying, Detroit resident Aretha Franklin hasn't performed on the West Coast in more than two decades. But that's about to change, with the Queen of Soul plays two shows at Los Angeles' Greek Theatre this weekend and two at the House of Blues in Las Vegas next week.
The Franklin crew are spending a week driving three buses across the country. "She just felt more adventurous," says her Los Angeles agent, Dick Alen. "She's been expanding her trips for the last number of years. This year, she had to go to Albuquerque for some matter. When she got to Albuquerque, she suddenly realized California is not that far."
It's a busy time for Franklin, whose managers had to map out a particular Detroit-to-Los Angeles highway route because she refuses to drive over mountains. The singer is also unwilling to be exposed to direct air-conditioning. (While the seating in the Las Vegas venue will be air conditioned, the stage will not.) Her next record, which Alen says she's finishing up, will reportedly include duets with Mariah Carey and Gloria Estefan. The singer also recently formed an independent label, Aretha Records, to put out her future albums and possibly those of other artists.
Franklin's discomfort with travel began after a bad flight in the early 1980s -- her father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, died around the same time -- and a source close to the singer says she "borders on agoraphobia" (the fear of being in public places). "This is a big deal with her," adds the source. "Her albums don't sell the way they used to -- she's got to tour."
Given Prince's arena-size comeback success and Celine Dion's highly profitable stay in Vegas, could a more elaborate Franklin tour be a blockbuster? "If she stuck to 4,500-to-6,000-seat theaters, it would do quite well," says Randy Phillips, president of concert promoter AEG Live, adding that the singer has no new album (for now) to push. "I wouldn't go into full arenas -- that might be a little tough."
Aretha Franklin tour dates:
9/17: Los Angeles, Greek Theatre
9/18: Los Angeles, Greek Theatre
9/24: Las Vegas, House of Blues
9/25: Las Vegas, House of Blues
10/17: Marshall, MO, Crossroads Amphitheater
10/23: Iowa City, IA, Hancher Auditorium
11/6: Mississauga, ON, Living Arts Center
11/14: Robinsonville, MS, Horseshoe Casino
11/16: Little Rock, AR, Robinson Center Hall