It’s a gloriously sunny afternoon in June, and Elton John, sharply dressed in a salmon-pink pinstripe suit bedazzled with his name, is hobnobbing with his longtime band, his crew and his tour promoters in the garden of his elegant, expansive estate in Windsor, just 15 shows away from the end of his Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour that began five years ago.
But this isn’t just another pre-show soiree: it’s a special gathering organized by AEG’s chairman/CEO Jay Marciano to celebrate some historic chart milestones that Elton and his band have recently set.
The first is that the Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour has grossed more than $887 million and sold 5.7 million tickets, with over 300 shows in 20 countries, becoming the top-grossing tour of all time, according to Billboard Boxscore.
The second is that Elton John has become the highest-grossing solo artist and top ticket-selling solo artist ever, grossing nearly $2 billion and selling over 20 million tickets since Billboard Boxscore started tracking data 40 years ago.
“When I started out, I just wanted to play music…I didn’t set out to have the highest-grossing tour of all time,” John told the crowd as he accepted the two awards from Billboard’s editorial director, Hannah Karp, and Billboard’s evp of charts and data partnerships, Silvio Pietroluongo. “Ed Sheeran will be very upset,” the Rocketman added drily, tipping to the fact that his tour surpassed the previous Billboard Boxscore record set by his pal and mentee’s Divide Tour.
John’s generosity extends well beyond inviting everyone to a garden gathering at his home with husband and manager David Furnish. He lauds the many behind-the-scenes players who made the record-setting trek possible, from Marciano to tour director Keith Bradley to longtime agent Howard Rose. And he insists on a standing ovation for head chef Tony Liddell, declaring that the “food on this tour has been the best food ever” in his half century-plus of globetrotting. The audience, which includes tattooed guitar techs, chic designers and some neatly dressed business folk, seems to heartily agree, at least judging by the thunderous clapping.
And, of course, his band – Davey Johnstone, Nigel Olsson, Matt Bissonette, John Mahon, Kim Bullard and Ray Cooper – get their fair share of props, in addition to receiving their own sleek, individualized awards for being part of the top-grossing tour in Billboard Boxscore history. His longtime lyricist, Bernie Taupin, is also given an award for his contributions to John’s achievements.
“It’s quite a wonderful thing to see people rewarded and to see the band get the plaques as well. I couldn’t have done it without the band. They so deserve this,” John says. “I have the best crew and the best band in the world – and that means you, Bruce Springsteen,” he adds with a wink.
The rock icon also had kind words for Billboard, of which he’s remained an avid reader for decades. “Billboard, you know you’re my bible,” he says to Karp and Pietroluongo, also hailing Billboard’s executive editor Melinda Newman – whom he’s been interviewed by numerous times over the years – as a “great person.”
When Sir Elton takes his seat, Marciano assumes the role of emcee with relish (earlier in the show, he quipped, “you never give the concert promoter the mic – now it’s too late”). Marciano surprises John with a lush commemorative tour book that everyone who worked on the trek will receive (“no eBay!” John jokes to his band and crew) before Marciano announces, “And there’s more.” Sir Elton cuts in: “Are you gonna tell them I’m gay now? Sh-t.”
After hailing Furnish as the man with the “master plan of the tour” who overdelivered on his commitments (“I wish there were more like you”), Marciano announces he’s holding a $1 million check for the Elton John AIDS Foundation from Phil Anschutz, Jay Marciano and AEG Presents.
Following that, prizes are doled out – because what is a garden party if there aren’t prizes? And these ones were worth their weight in gold, quite literally. In the vein of the famed yellow brick road, gold bricks — custom designed by Dominic Jones, whose jewelry has been worn by everyone from Amy Winehouse to Beyoncé — were handed out as trivia rewards (each one was made of sustainable gold and minted by the Royal Mint). Earlier in the afternoon, while noshing and mingling, crew members were invited to answer a variety of EJ-related questions on digital kiosks. “How many shows has Elton John played in London over the years?”; “How many notes does Elton play on the Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour?”; “What does the DC stand for in DC Parmet?” [Parmet is John’s longtime tour manager]. The answers: 177, 82,500 and… well, perhaps it stands for “Deeply Confidential.” While someone got a prize for the most creative answer, Parmet teased that maybe, just maybe, the truth of that mystery will be unveiled on July 8, when the Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour rolls into Sweden for its final show.
“Most remarkable of all to us at Billboard, even as [Elton John] moves such massive, record-setting audiences from the stage, is the support and mentorship and love that he’s given so many people in his life on the most personal of levels,” said Billboard’s Karp. “Billboard doesn’t have a chart to track such data, yet. But if we did, we’re pretty certain he’d be at the top of that one, too.”