Musicians reflect on Bieber’s world tour exit

TORONTO — Justin Bieber is finally offering fans an explanation for backing out of his Purpose World Tour, and while he’s not sure many will understand his decision, some fellow road-weary performers say they can relate.

The Stratford, Ont.-raised pop star posted a lengthy Instagram message on Wednesday detailing why he abruptly exited his tour last week, leaving ticket-holders chasing refunds.

“I’ve learned the more you appreciate your calling the more you want to protect your calling,” he wrote.

“I want my career to be sustainable, but I also want my mind, heart and soul to be sustainable. So that I can be the man I want to be, the husband I eventually want to be and the father I want to be.”

While jet-setting around the world and staying in five-star hotels might seem like a nice lifestyle to outsiders, country singer Keith Urban says he can sympathize with Bieber. He says life on the global tour circuit is a constant struggle of “trying to keep a balance” between meeting the expectations of fans and staying healthy.

“People keep adding into artists’ schedules more and more,” says the Grammy-winning musician, who has frequently toured for more than 15 years.

“At some point you have to say, ‘I’m just a human being, I can’t do all of these things and deliver a great show.’”

Bieber abandoned his tour with only 14 shows left on the schedule — including two at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre — and originally offered little explanation.

The “Love Yourself” singer had played 153 concert dates since the tour launched in early 2016. It was an astronomical amount by any measure, with only a few month-long breaks interspersed between the marathon runs across six continents.

Few other artists embark on such a gruelling schedule. Superstars like Rihanna, Drake and the Weeknd book their own world tours with far fewer dates.

Singer-songwriter John Mayer came to Bieber’s defence, tweeting: “when someone pulls remaining dates of a tour, it means they would have done real damage to themselves if they kept going. We’ve lost so many great artists lately. I give Justin (thumbs up) for realizing it was time to call it. You should too.”

How some pop stars manage to pull off massive tours is a wonder to Urban, who notes that each show comes with its own set of responsibilities in the digital age.

For example, he says what used to be a simple “meet and greet” with a small group of fans before a concert has ballooned in size as corporate sponsors jump on board and increase their demands. In some instances, that can include line ups of contest winners, the families of the company’s executives, and others who somehow landed on the guest list.

And musicians are often expected to pose for selfies with each fan that’s purchased a VIP ticket package, which are sold by artists and record labels looking for new revenue streams. Bieber scrapped his meet and greets in early 2016, saying they made him “drained and unhappy.”

Then there’s press interviews, the sound check, and eventually the actual performance.

Once the day is over, it starts all over again in a different city or country — often a different time zone.

Vancouver rockers Brian King and David Prowse of Japandroids say their gruelling 230-date tour for their album “Celebration Rock” nearly destroyed their friendship, even though they were the ones who kept agreeing to more shows.

“For a long time the band had this mentality that we’ve got to seize all these opportunities because we don’t know how long it’ll last,” Prowse said in an interview earlier this year.

“We just had a really hard time saying no.”

But as the duo crossed through South America, Europe and Asia, they started to feel exhaustion and depression setting in.

“We just didn’t have any time to recover,” Prowse said. “It’s pretty easy to feel a bit dark when you’re touring that long.”

Billy Talent guitarist Ian D’Sa says the Toronto-based band learned from experience that extensive tours can be damaging. They used to play months of tour dates at a time, but now pledge to keep each leg of concerts limited to about a month.

The guitarist likens the monotony of tour life to the movie “Groundhog Day,” in which Bill Murray is caught in a day that repeats over and over.

“I’ve seen other bands implode because of the touring schedule,” D’Sa says.

“It’s just being around each other so much that … you’re going to eventually get on each other’s nerves.”

But deciding when to call it quits when an entire crew of musicians, roadies and management are relying on the tour’s income can be painful.

David Clayton-Thomas, singer in Grammy-winning rock band Blood, Sweat & Tears, learned that early in his career.

“You’re carrying a big load, you’re feeding a lot of mouths,” he says.

“When it came time to vote, ‘Do we go on tour, how many dates do we do,’ everybody voted for as many as possible.”

But the singer says few people, outside the band itself, were tied to the responsibilities of the entire tour’s hectic schedule.

“If the trumpet player blew his lip out halfway through the tour they sent in another trumpet player,” he says. “Of course the singer can’t do that. I had to be there every show.”

Clayton-Thomas left Blood, Sweat & Tears in 1972 after touring became too much to bear. He would play solo performances for decades, but eventually made the call a number of years ago to limit his time on the road.

“You don’t want to be the one to say, ‘OK guys, it’s over,’ but at a certain point in your life you have to make that decision,” he says.

“You can’t keep doing it forever.”

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