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A few years ago, Kid Rock was at a concert, watching T-shirts sell for $40. He had more reason than most stars to wonder why they were charging so much. He has a T-shirt company of his own, Made in Detroit, and he knows exactly how much it costs to produce and transport the shirts.
"So I had banners made that said 'F the economy,'" he said in a later interview, "and sold all my T-shirts for $20, and people responded. And I thought, why couldn't we do this with concert tickets?"
Kid Rock decided to approach Live Nation about doing a $20 tour, but he didn't stop there, even though the executives already thought the concept was crazy. No, he wanted 12-ounce beers to sell for $4, as well as cheap food, parking, and merchandise. The executives agreed to go along with the Southern rocker's vision, noting the impressive amount of confidence he was putting in his fan turn-out.
Then again, confidence has always been one of Kid Rock's strong suits.
The "$20 Best Night Ever Tour" kicked off June 28 and includes Kid Rock's longtime friends ZZ Top and Uncle Kracker, along with — strangely enough — Kool and the Gang. His business model may be risky, but there's a genius in it that's peculiarly Kid Rock: The idea is to make each show pulsate with endless, upbeat energy, providing the feel of a gigantic backyard barbecue, diverting his fans from their everyday lives and the struggling economy. In short, he's chosen to bring back the way concerts were originally supposed to be — popular music and a solid live show that doesn't cost an arm and a leg.
He's always had a knack for appealing to the blue-collar working man (and woman), showing off rock-star indulgences that waver between curiously lust-worthy and half-baked. His mix of Midwestern hip-hop, Southern rock, rap, and country — with a mix of hostile, boastful, and wistful vocals — has reached a vast amount of fans, all of them hungry for a hybrid style that reads, somehow, as distinctly American.
And that's just it — Kid Rock has always represented one idea of the American Dream, a normal guy who made his money from the ground up doing what he loves, waving his patriotic flag with songs and a penchant for all things American. Which makes sense, since some of his influences include such diverse American Dream legends as Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Run-DMC, and Bob Seger.
Take the song "All Summer Long," for example, with its up-front sampling of "Sweet Home Alabama." And there's 2010's "Born Free," chosen as Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign song, and his 2012 album, Rebel Soul, featuring "Let's Ride," a war anthem dedicated to the U.S. military. Collaborations with artists like Seger, Sheryl Crow, and Mary J. Blige have put him in front of fans across the pop-music spectrum, many of whom wouldn't have gone near his rap-rock hits in the late '90s.
Forty-two years old and 28 million albums in, Kid Rock knows he doesn't have to rake in the chips on his live shows. He also knows what he represents to the fans who buy his shirts — $24.95 apiece from his online store — and go to his shows and listen to his songs about working hard and living the good life. For most acts, cutting ticket prices so deeply might be a gamble. For Kid Rock, it's good art and good business.