By Joshua Maloni
In took a pandemic to bring Josh Groban the one thing he hadn’t earned over the course of his storied career: a break.
Over the course of 20 years, the acclaimed, classical-pop crossover crooner garnered Tony, Emmy and Grammy award nominations, selling more than 35 million albums worldwide behind hit songs such as “You Raise Me Up,” “Believe” and “The Prayer,” and Platinum-plus albums “Josh Groban,” “Closer,” “Noël” and “Awake.” Groban scored roles on “Glee,” “The Simpsons,” “The Office,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” “The Crazy Ones,” “Muppets Most Wanted” and “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” He landed a choice Broadway debut in 2016 with a lead part in “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812”; what followed was a starring role in the 2018 Netflix series “The Good Cop.”
When the coronavirus shuttered concert venues in 2020 and parts of 2021, Groban found time to, as he said, stop and smell the roses. While this brought benefits to his life and craft, Groban was eager to return to the live stage. In fact, he said it was as if the favorite part of his musical life was “torn away.”
Though Groban would perform virtual shows for fans, the experience wasn’t the same.
At the end of January, with COVID-19 numbers declining, Groban announced a “Harmony Summer 2022 Tour,” inspired by his latest release, “Harmony.” He said, “It is with huge excitement and gratitude to announce that I’ll be back doing what I do best and love most with the ‘Harmony Tour.’ It will be more than a concert for me … it will be a celebration of connection with my friends, fans and colleagues who have been my anchors during the last couple of years and during the course of my career. I hope you’ll join us for these beautiful nights of music.”
Groban’s tour began over the weekend and will see the singer stop at some of the top outdoor venues this summer – including Red Rocks in Denver, The Greek in Los Angeles, The Budweiser Stage in Toronto and the Darien Lake Amphitheater.
The performer and philanthropist shared more about the past two-plus years, his return to touring, and pairing with top musical partners, in this edited Q&A.
Josh Groban, “Harmony Summer 2022 Tour.” (Photo courtesy of BB Gun Press)
Q: There are four shows you're doing within like a four-hour drive of us, so we're actually calling it “The Summer of Groban” out this way.
Josh Groban: (Laughs.) Good. Excellent. Well, it's a beautiful area. I know for us, I think selfishly, we just did that so we can have a little more time there.
Q: So, if my math is correct, you’re two shows into this new tour. I'm hoping things are going well so far. What can you tell me about the first couple of nights? How has it been?
Josh Groban: We're settling in now. They were amazing shows. We were kind of flying by the seat of our pants, because I didn't get to rehearse for this tour. I had COVID going right into Detroit. I tested negative like the day before I got to Detroit, and so my band and my production team had to basically do all their rehearsals without me. So, Detroit was kind of like my first rehearsal (laughs). There was like a huge adrenaline to that.
You know, when you've done 5,000 concerts, my body knows what a concert should feel like; but they were amazing. It was so incredible to be kind of shot out of that cannon and be out in front of an audience, and to be with my band, and to feel that connection again after so much time doing it virtually – and so rarely. It was great.
So yeah, we got through them. They were really a lot of fun – and can't wait for the next one.
Q: Of course, you are a consummate professional, a consummate showman. You mentioned in the press release about how you felt torn away from the favorite part of your musical life these past two years, not being able to be out there and touring live. How challenging were those years for you? Were they also, maybe, a time for you to regroup or reorganize or reprioritize? What was the experience of the past two years for you?
Josh Groban: It's such an interesting thing from talking to so many people – and especially people within the artistic community – is that it was kind of both. I think that we all, psychologically … we all were kind of kicked off the hamster wheel together.
There's peaks and valleys to any one particular singular career – whatever career you're in; there's always going to be ups and downs. But for everybody to be in a down at the exact same time is something that I really don't think anybody has experienced – certainly in this generation; my parents either. And I hope we don't have to again anytime soon, or ever.
But I think we all kind of psychologically battled it in both of those ways. There were days when we were all just wondering what we were going to do next, and if we were going to do anything next; and kind of staring out our window – staring into the void.
I was lucky, though, that I had my health, and I had my family's health, and there were so many countless millions of people who couldn't say that. But I think we all tried, also, just to stay vital. I think it taught us, if there's any silver lining to the tragedy of it all, it was that it gave us maybe a healthy dose of perspective – and to really focus and hone in on really what the important things are in our lives: socially, emotionally, spiritually and artistically.
And so, it gave me a lot of time that I don't think I would have given myself otherwise – because I'm always go, go, go. My life is usually planned two years in advance – to really kind of sit and reflect and think about what excites me, and what I want to write about, what I want to do next.
I try to make lemonade as much as possible but, of course, it was very, very hard.
Q: That's an interesting response to the question. Like you said, you've done this, you know, 5,000 concerts – your body knows what a concert feels like. But having that time, and being able to look at your priorities and what's important to you, do you feel like you've come out of this with the potential to be a better artist, a better singer, a better performer?
Josh Groban: I think it's definitely given me a 32,000-foot view to kind of widen my scope a little bit about the things that normally would stress me out. I think that, going out there – especially these last two and I'm sure all summer – I was always grateful to be able to do what I do.
I kind of started doing this when I was a teenager, and so there hasn't really been a lot of time to back up and look at it all from that space, and that time away, since I started. And so, there's definitely a stronger sense of gratitude and of excitement to just smell the roses while they're in front of me, rather than kind of going back and looking at pictures of roses and trying to smell them.
I think there's a lot of that and, regardless of COVID, I'm at a point in my career where I feel very lucky that I can go left or right and make decisions that are exciting for me, because I want to do them, and because I feel like I've worked hard enough to have a fan base that allows me to move left and right as I want to.
And so, it just gave me that extra kick to kind of say, “Well, you know, blink and you miss it. Blink and you miss time here.” And “You might as well do things that just excite you. Don't worry about the stuff that's not worth doing.”
Q: Do you find that your audience has that same philosophy, or that same sense of gratitude or luck – or whatever you want to call it – to be able to go back out and to see live music? You did virtual shows, as you said; I know you've done some things at Radio City and that; but this is your first big tour post-COVID. Do you find the audience is also grateful to be able to have a performer like you that they can get out and see live again?
Josh Groban: I think that everybody's grateful to be able to do the things they love to do, whether it's seeing a concert of mine, or going on a trip with their family, or get back to work. I think that everybody is trying to – in the ways that feel safe for them – dip their toes back into the things that make them feel like full human beings. And music can be so therapeutic; and I've been very grateful that my listeners have come to my music, both in concert this summer and also during the last couple years. I get to talk to people and hear that it helped them through some really, really dark times.
And so, for us to be able to thank them with concerts, and to be able to perform for them like this, after doing virtual stuff and songs in my shower – just kind of trying to find new, creative ways to connect where it's very, very imperfect, but you're doing everything you can – they were right there for us for those things, too.
It goes both ways. We, me and my audience, we can't experience this (alone). It's a two-way street. We can't do this without each other. And so, I think we're just happy to be able to see each other and hear each other each night now this summer.
Q: This summer, you're going to be playing at some of the top venues around the country. As I said, we've got you four times, which we're very happy about. But tell me a little bit about your live show in the summer of 2022, and what people can expect – and particularly for those who may be coming out to see you for the first time.
Josh Groban: Every type of show I do has like a little bit of a different energy. And when we do a summer tour, one of the things I really like about the summer tours, there's just a little bit more of a casual nature to it. When I'm doing an arena show or a theater show, there's a kind of a feeling of formality to the production – like we're inviting people into a house. There's a certain element of putting on a show with a capital “S,” you know, in an enclosed environment.
And when you have, like you said, some of these top venues – these gorgeous outdoor venues – where the venue itself is already providing so much of the experience. When I go see a show at the Greek Theatre or Darien Lake, or if I go to Tanglewood, or if I go to Red Rocks, I'm always going for the artists that I want to see. And also, it doesn't hurt that I'm going to a venue that I just love sitting in that venue. People don't say that about going to a sports arena.
So, there's an element to the summer shows where we want to let the venue, and the experience of being out with us like that, do some of the talking. There's a little bit more, like, banter; and there's a little bit more kind of, like, “Well, maybe we should play this next?” Or, you know, I'm not going to be in a suit. There's certain elements, from the setlist to the style of the show – it's still going to be super high-quality, of course – we've got the best of the best of the best people out there – but it just has a looseness to it that I really like, for the summer shows.
People are drunk, too. It’s pure chaos at a Groban show. We make sure there's a mosh pit; you know, it's all over the place.
Q: OK, good. I'll take particular note of that. That's good to know.
You mentioned the different sort of vibe, and you mentioned the setlist, too. On any given night, there's 100 different songs that you could play that the audience will be thrilled to hear. How do you make those determinations on a night-by-night basis?
Josh Groban: That's a tough one because, yeah, my first tour, we had to find songs to put in the setlist, because I literally didn't have enough. Now, you know, with 10 albums and hundreds of songs, it's hard to know. And also, because I've always been like an album artist, not like a singles artists. So, you know, even though I have like a couple of songs that I can't get off stage without singing, the other 15, 16 songs, generally, like every fan has a different favorite from an album.
And so, it's very, very hard sometimes to choose stuff that feels right; and generally, we just kind of try to do it based on the energy of the kind of show we're doing at that time. And also, usually, like if I've released an album – like with “Harmony” – there's a style to that album that kind of dictates what the other songs should be around, and so there's no square pegs in a round hole.
We try to always mix it up with new songs, old favorites, stuff people aren't expecting, collaborations people aren't expecting. That's kind of our formula we like to stick to, and give people stuff that they really want.
Q: You mentioned playing with the best of the best of the best. You have some stellar opening acts. Tell me a little bit about them, and what makes them a good fit for you for this summer.
Josh Groban: Yeah, of course. Starting with Eleri Ward. I was taken to a concert of hers in New York by my friend Kevin Gore, who works at Warner, and it was one of those things where you could hear a pin drop. I know everybody says that, but it was like the silence – the reverence – listening to her voice and her interpretations of what she was doing that night – she was kind of deconstructing Sondheim songs, which, of course, is just completely right up my alley. And I just remember thinking to myself, “There's so much noise out there. There's so many histrionics.” To just hear this voice that was giving all of us goosebumps like this, I walked out of there and I just said, “Well, that's special. That was really special.”
And as we were looking at the tour, and we had a slot for that part of the night, I just said, “I wonder if Eleri would do it?” So, I called her, and we were lucky enough that she said, “Yes.” And as I watch her from the side of the stage, there's now thousands of people out there, and it's the same thing. Pin drop. She's bringing people to that.
So, she's incredible; I definitely recommend coming right at the start time, so you can see her.
And then, of course, I grew up listening to Preservation Hall Jazz Band. I try to see them live any chance I get. So, to be able to have them live on my stage every night, to get the audience – it's just a complete soul recharge to listen to them play. So much history and so much beauty in their sound – is just a blast. It's so great.
So, it's really eclectic. And then my friend, Lucia Micarelli, who's coming back on tour with us after 11 years away, 12 years away, doing so many amazing things on her own, as a special guest. It's a night of incredible musicians. And that's all I can ask for on a tour, is to give people really an amazing overall show – not just what we're doing.
Josh Groban brings his “Harmony Summer 2022 Tour” to the Darien Lake Amphitheater at 7 p.m. Friday, July 1. Special guests joining him for this show include the legendary New Orleans Preservation Hall Jazz Band, as well as violinist/singer Lucia Micarelli, and singer-songwriter Eleri Ward.
Watch the trailer here.
Josh Groban, “Harmony” (Photo courtesy of BB Gun Press)