On This Fictitious Rascal Flatts Farewell Tour

Bad poker faces and fingerless gloves (via CBS)

Look, we already know that the biggest fake out move and cash grab in all of music is the farewell tour. From Barbara Streisand pulling it off half a dozen times, to KISS recycling the farewell tour idea year after year, to Mötley Crüe making a huge deal about how so many bands announce farewell tours as a way to scam their fans, and swearing they wouldn’t do the same by signing legally-binding statements contractually forbidding them from ever being able to tour again—only to rip them up and hit the road once more, we’ve seen this song and dance over and over. Ozzy Osborne is currently on his “No More Tours II” tour. His first “No More Tours” tour was in 1992. Ozzy Osborne played seven more tours in between.

Announcing a farewell tour is simply a gimmick to drive ticket sales, sort of like that local furniture store that’s always going out of business. Now Rascal Flatts is doing the same, but this one seems even more circumspect than normal if you actually listen to what they’re saying. But unfortunately, like with so many other things these days, some of the media didn’t listen before reporting the news Tuesday morning, and the echo chamber got roaring with certain outlets posting postmortems and career retrospectives that feel very presumptuous at this point.

Certain traditional country fans were cheering Tuesday morning, and long-time Rascal Flatts fans were crying when Jay DeMarcus, Joe Don Rooney, and Gary LeVox appeared on CBS This Morning to announce their 20th Anniversary “Rascal Flatts Farewell: Life Is A Highway Tour” would be kicking off in June. But the chances that this is truly the final curtain call for Rascal Flatts are slim to none. “We’re not going to sign some pact that says we’re not going to tour again or anything like that,” Jay DeMarcus said in the interview. “We all still love each other. But we do make music, and we’ll all make music maybe individually, maybe collectively, who knows?”

This was one of many statements from the band that can and will be utilized in the future as back out clauses. They even said they’re likely to have new music coming in the new year. This is farewell tour business is all an effort to refocus the spotlight on a band that’s stuck in that mid-career malaise where you’re nowhere near new and shiny, but you’re not quite a nostalgia act. The true motivation for this supposed “farewell” tour was spelled out pretty expressly by Gary LeVox when he said:

“You get to a certain point in your career where we’ve been blessed enough to have so many hits, and so many #1’s that you actually compete with yourself on radio, and it’s tough year after year to outdo the tour that you’ve done previously the year before.”

This isn’t a Rascal Flatts farewell, this is a Rascal Flatts reset. This is an effort similar to the one Lady Antebellum went through recently to re-stoke an appetite for their music after years of blending into the background. With mild, yet innocuous bands like Rascal Flatts, people get tired of their “brand.” Like Gary LeVox said, you lose your ability to launch singles—something that Lady Antebellum also cited before their hiatus. And in the mainstream side of the business, not turning in gross touring receipts higher than the previous year is considered a failure. A band like Rascal Flatts can’t grow old with their music, downsize to theaters, and keep their dignity, at least not without disappearing for a while. That’s not the way of the mainstream.

This also means that retrospectives on the career and impact of Rascal Flatts are premature. Sure, it’s pretty easy to pass the trio off as a pop country version of a boy band with their ridiculous hairdos and simple songs. But like so much of the country acts first launched 20 years ago, when you compare them to many of today’s mainstream country performers, it doesn’t appear nearly as bad, and you find yourself uttering the old cliche, “Some of their early stuff was pretty good.”

It was also interesting to hear Jay DeMarcus say during the CBS interview, “Pop music is today’s country music, because the music we grew up on Top 40 radio is almost non existent anymore. So what we do now I consider to be more mainstream in the country world than ever before … Think about it, did you ever think you would hear Bon Jovi on country radio, or Nelly?”

And he’s right. Country music has become the pop station, as pop stations have become hip-hop, and a band like Rascal Flatts helped set a precedent of bringing more and more pop elements into the country format through the years.

Some day we might get to give Rascal Flatts a proper send off, whether it’s an apologist retrospective, or a ham sandwich and a swift kick in the rear on their way out the door. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that moment is today. This is a cash grab that will be proceeded by a 5-year hiatus to recharge the appetite of the public. Standard operating procedure.