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Some of rock’s high-mileage road warriors are heading for the off-ramp.
Neil Diamond and Paul Simon are among a handful of headliners who recently announced their retirement from touring, and the trend is likely to expand as classic rockers face their golden years. A few, like Elton John and Ozzy Osbourne, are staging massive final treks.
“2018 is the big year for farewell tours,” says Dave Brooks, who covers touring and live entertainment for Billboard. “And because of the long rehearsals, extensive planning and sheer cost of taking a true world tour, it’s not surprising that some acts want to make one last run while also making some serious money saying goodbye. We live in a FOMO [fear of missing out] culture, and there will be fans young and old who are willing to spend a big chunk of their entertainment dollar this year for one final show from these icons.”
Retirement has always been the genre’s kryptonite, as stars rebelled against Father Time to revel in arrested development. A number of musical heavyweights — including Cher, Kiss and the Who — have undertaken splashy farewell tours, only to return to the spotlight full time.
But many hotshots of the ’60s may be cooling on the idea of the endless highway. Touring is a grind, and even nightly applause loses its appeal against the daily monotony of bus travel, hotels and backstage buffets.
And health can enter the equation. Eric Clapton, 72, has hinted strongly about retiring, as playing live became more difficult and painful in recent years. He suffers from tinnitus, severe eczema and peripheral neuropathy. The British singer-guitarist has only one show scheduled this year, a set at London’s Hyde Park in July.
The exits don’t mean boomer favorites will suddenly vanish from the tour circuit. Plenty of over-60 rock acts continue to crisscross the planet with a regularity and stamina that dumbfound teenagers. Bob Dylan, 76, has been on his "Never Ending Tour" since 1988. Mick Jagger, 74, has been circling the globe with the Rolling Stones since 1962, most recently on the "No Filter" tour in 2017. Billy Joel, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and the Eagles remain huge draws.
“We should also remember that no one truly retires in music,” Brooks says. “Artists still write songs, still record and even still play occasional concerts after going into retirement. It’s never really over until it’s really over.”
There may be elder statesmen who tour forever. Or die trying. That was the case for soul great Jackie Wilson, who suffered a massive heart attack during a 1975 concert, slipped into a coma and succumbed eight years later. Likewise, ukulele-falsetto sensation Tiny Tim collapsed onstage from a heart attack in 1996 and died soon after. That same year, bluesman Johnny “Guitar” Watson died while performing in Japan. The same fate befell South African singer Miriam Makeba in Italy in 2008.
Here’s a look at a half-dozen acts that are pulling off the road for good.
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The metal god, 69, is closing out five decades of touring with "No More Tours 2," which launches in April and roams the planet through 2020. His first "No More Tours" was in 1992, but that exodus was short lived, and he resurfaced with his "Retirement Sucks Tour" in 1995. This time he’s serious. He wants to spend more time with his wife, Sharon, and their three children and three granddaughters (tour details and dates at ozzy.com).
The beloved singer-songwriter, 77, was in the midst of his 50th anniversary tour when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in January. He canceled the remaining shows in Australia and New Zealand. While retired from the stage, he intends to continue writing and recording. (In 2011, songbird Linda Ronstadt announced her retirement, and in 2013 revealed to AARP that she had Parkinson’s and could “no longer sing a note.”)
The legendary Rhymin’ Simon, 76, kicks off "Homeward Bound: The Farewell Tour" on May 16 in Vancouver, British Columbia. The decision to make it his last after 50 years of performing was “a little unsettling, a touch exhilarating and something of a relief,” he said in a statement, noting that time away from his wife and family has taken a toll (tour details and dates at paulsimon.com).
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After selling 300 million records over five decades, the Rocket Man, 70, plans an equally oversized swan song. He’ll play more than 300 shows on five continents over three years during his "Farewell Yellow Brick Road" tour, which gets underway Sept. 8 in Allentown, Pa. “I can’t physically do the traveling anymore,” he said at a press conference in January. “I really want to spend time with my children at home. [He and husband David Furnish have two sons]. I’ve had an incredible life, but life is all about change” (tour details/dates at eltonjohn.com).
The Southern rock band, founded in 1964, is unplugging its amps after this year’s "Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour," starting May 4 in West Palm Beach, Fla. The "Free Bird" group plans to celebrate its sign-off with a rotation of guests, including Bad Company, the Marshall Tucker Band and Hank Williams Jr. In a website announcement, founding member Gary Rossington, 66, said it was hard to believe Skynyrd had resonated “for this long and to so many generations of fans” (tour details and dates at lynyrdskynyrd.com).
The storied folk singer, 77, announced that she’ll leave the road behind after her "Fare Thee Well Tour 2018," a series of four one-month outings starting March 2 in Stockholm. That’s also the release date for Whistle Down the Wind, her first album of original songs in a decade and possibly her last album. Her reason for retiring? Aging has restricted her upper range and made singing tougher. She’ll remain visible as an activist and plans to paint (tour details and dates at joanbaez.com).