The farewell tour is one of the oldest tricks in the rock-star playbook. If fans are on the fence about whether or not to see a show, there’s no better way to cajole them than by saying this will be their final chance. And even though everyone from Kiss to Cher, Ozzy Osbourne, Tina Turner and Phil Collins have continued to tour after their supposed farewell treks – sometimes just about a year later – the gambit continues to work. It’s become an especially potent tool in recent years, as many key baby-boomer acts have reached their seventies and their threat to never tour again suddenly feels credible. Here’s a guide to six of the biggest farewell tours hitting the road this summer.
Background: Paul Simon has pledged never to tour again at many points throughout his career, but now that he’s just three and a half years away from turning 80 it feels legit. “It feels a little unsettling, a touch exhilarating and something of a relief,” he wrote in a letter to fans. “I love making music, my voice is still strong, and my band is a tight, extraordinary group of gifted musicians. I think about music constantly. I am very grateful for a fulfilling career and, of course, most of all to the audiences who heard something in my music that touched their hearts.” Homeward Bound – The Farewell Tour kicks off May 16th in Vancouver and wraps up September 22nd in New York City. A venue hasn’t been announced for the last date, but Central Park seems like a decent safe bet if we’re throwing out wild guesses.
Odds It’s Real: 85 percent. This just comes down to age. Simon says he wants to continue playing charity shows and other one-offs, but any sort of extended tour after that seems very unlikely. That doesn’t mean Simon & Garfunkel might not do something at some point. At the moment the pair aren’t even on speaking terms. Their relationship has rarely been worse, which is really saying something considering their history. But imagine a How Terribly Strange to Be 80 tour in a few years. If they agreed to do it for just six weeks they’d earn an absolute fortune. It might even be enough to get them speaking again. That said, this is very, very likely Simon’s last solo tour.
Background: Elton John has toured like an absolute maniac during the past couple of decades, mixing his Las Vegas residency with an endless series of arena gigs all around the planet. But not only did he turn 70 last year, he’s got two young kids in school. Nothing matters to him more than spending time with them. That’s why he’s launching the Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour in September. It will keep him on the road for three years, averaging about 100 shows year. When it finally wraps, he says that’ll be it for him.
Odds It’s Real: 65 percent. Elton has been saying he’s done with tours all the way back to 1977. The sheer amount of shows he’s played in recent years has driven down demand for tickets and caused him to play shows in tiny markets that most acts of his caliber never go near. A high-profile farewell tour is the perfect way to raise ticket prices and bring people in that maybe felt they’d heard him play “Crocodile Rock” enough for one lifetime. He says that he might continue to play residencies and stray gigs when this ends, but don’t be shocked if he actually tours again at some point as well. That doesn’t mean we won’t be first in line to see this show. It’ll surely be incredible.
Background: Ozzy is old. He’s tired. He’s sung “Crazy Train” and “Paranoid” so many times, the words probably slip out of his mouth while he’s sleeping by this point. “I’ve experienced fantastic things; it’s been an incredible journey,” he told Rolling Stone when he announced No More Tours 2 earlier this year. “I just need to slow it down a little. I enjoy being a grandfather. I don’t want to go through another generation of Osbournes without seeing them grow up.”
Odds It’s Real: 50 percent. The mere fact this is called No More Tours 2 should give everyone thinking of buying tickets a little pause. The original No More Tours run was back in 1992. It was followed by the Retirement Sucks tour less than three years later. That said, Ozzy does turn 70 later this year. If he waits another 26 years for No More Tours 3 he’ll be 96. It’s very easy to imagine this is the last one, though he says that he’ll continue to perform. “I’m just not doing world tours anymore,” he said. “I’m still going to be doing gigs, but I’m not going on tour for six months at a time anymore.” In other words, he’ll be singing “Iron Man” until the moment he dies. Who would want it any other way?
Background: Few bands have walked a harder road than Lynyrd Skynyrd. A 1977 plane crash killed frontman Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and backup singer Cassie Gaines. They reformed 10 years later with Ronnie’s brother Johnny on lead vocals, but since then they’ve slowly lost most of the original band. The only remaining member in the current lineup is guitarist Gary Rossington, though guitarist Rickey Medlocke was briefly a drummer in their pre-fame days. (Drummer Artimus Pyle and guitarist Ed King are still alive, but no longer in the band.) This summer, they are saying goodbye with the Last of the Street Survivors tour. “It’s hard to imagine, after all these years, the band that Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins and myself started back in Jacksonville, would resonate for this long and to so many generations of fans,” Rossington said in a statement. “I’m certain they are looking down from above, amazed that the music has touched so many.”
Odds It’s Real: 35 percent. The group has yet to announce an end date for this tour, though they claim it’s going to run for two years. But audiences willing to shell out money to hear “Free Bird” and “Sweet Home Alabama” are never going to go away. Most of them care little about who is actually onstage as long as the ticket says “Lynyrd Skynyrd” and they play the hits. The group is really going to leave their money on the table after this tour wraps? It’s quite possible, but we have our doubts.
Background: Joan Baez is retiring from the road at age 77 for a very practical reason: she’s losing her voice. “Nobody can really imagine the effort it takes to keep up with these vocal cords,” she told Rolling Stone earlier this year. “They don’t do what I want them to do anymore. When I stay in the low range, they do, pretty much. And I like the sound. But I can’t do shit in the upper range anymore.” Her Fare Thee Well tour wraps will keep her on the road through next March. She has yet to announce an end date.
Odds It’s Real: 90 percent. Baez has been a touring machine for decades, but her frank comments about the limitations of her voice are very credible. The strain of this long tour will likely only exacerbate the problem, and she’ll be pushing 80 by the time it’s over. She’ll probably become a figure like latter-day Peter Seeger for the rest of her life and pop up at numerous benefit shows and other special events, but her Fare Thee Well run seems like the real deal.
Background: Metal bands – especially ones that play as fast and loud as Slayer – face a real predicament as they age. Is it really possible to headbang when you’re 60? Kerry King and Tom Araya have decided to not try and are retiring Slayer after an epic farewell tour. The group has yet to discuss the matter publicly, so it’s unclear if it’ll continue after the current run of dates wraps up December 2nd in Berlin. Will Slayer live on in some way? Will they welcome estranged drummer Dave Lombardo back onto the stage at any point before it ends? Right now, nobody seems to know.
Odd It’s Real: 50 percent. King and Araya can make a hell of a lot more money playing together then they can playing apart. In the grand scheme of aging rock stars, they are relatively young at the respective ages of 53 and 56. This might be the last tour for a very long time. It may even be the last one they ever do, but then again it might do what many a farewell tour has done in the past: pave the way for a reunion tour.