ATLANTA — In the 1990s, somewhere between the novelty of MC Hammer and the genre-defining explosion of Nirvana, a slew of pop-rock bands and artists wound their way to the top of the charts.
Call it fate, call it coincidence or call your mom to ask her to dig out the Missy Elliott trash bag you wore as a Halloween costume in 1997, but the ‘90s are returning to Atlanta this weekend with tours fronted by Sugar Ray and Everclear and Barenaked Ladies and Blues Traveler, with Richard Marx thrown in the middle with a dose of ’80s-’90s hybrid material.
Too bad it’s too hot for flannel.
Mark McGrath knows a ’90s package isn’t reinventing the touring industry. But he also knows that no one else has capitalized on the potency of hits from dozens of acts from the era, so he and buddy Art Alexakis of Everclear figured, why not? He hopes “Summerland,” the tour they planned — named after an Everclear song — becomes a seasonal institution.
“Every decade has their nostalgia tour. The Turtles have their ’60s tour, Ringo (Starr) brings back the ’70s, Poison and REO Speedwagon represent the ’80s, but no one has galvanized the beautiful music of the ’90s,” McGrath said recently from his home in Studio City, Calif.
“There was such a hangover with the ’90s at the end of the millennium. The music industry imploded and they weren’t building any new rock stars. You’ve got about 50 million records sold among (these acts). The value is there.” McGrath, the frontman for agreeable pop-rockers Sugar Ray (“Fly,” “Someday,” “When It’s Over”), is a natural talker, a guy who fit perfectly as the host of “Don’t Forget the Lyrics” during its tenure and who drops pop culture references like the three-time “Rock ‘n’ Roll Jeopardy “ champ that he is.
He’s also candid, admitting he first reached out to ’90s comrades Smash Mouth (too busy, they said) and Collective Soul (doing their own tour, which wrapped here last week).
Jesse Valenzuela, guitarist for the Gin Blossoms, another “Summerland” hit factory (“Follow You Down,” “Hey Jealousy,” “Found Out About You”), loves that the band is participating rather than doing its own tour as usual in the summer.
His only question is, why no women on the tour? “Shawn Colvin, Suzanne Vega, somebody? Professionally speaking, I’d like to have a nice girl band or singer with us. Bring on the chicks! I’d love to tour with Shawn Colvin,” Valenzuela said.
McGrath scoffs at any intimation that females were intentionally excluded.
“I think we just went to bands we knew we could work with best to get this up and running. There certainly wasn’t any conversation of, let’s not get Alanis (Morissette). Believe me, there was no ban on females,” he said.
It will be enough of a challenge as it is for most of the acts on the roster to squeeze their hits into tight sets. The Gin Blossoms will play for 35 minutes — a “heavy-duty tour,” Valenzuela said with a laugh — while Sugar Ray and Everclear will play in the 40-45 minute range.
McGrath is also hopeful there will be some cross-pollination among the bands.
“Being the glory hog that I am, I can’t see myself not wanting to jump onstage in some capacity. We want to end the show with an all-star jam. There is definitely that spirit and desire to surprise the audience. We want people to request cover songs online and we want to have fun, too,” McGrath said.
Valenzuela joked that LSD — Lead Singer Disease — would also afflict Gin Blossoms frontman Robin Wilson.
“He’ll be singing leads with the other acts whether they want him or not. I’m sure he’s already picked songs from each of their catalogs! I’ll be just as happy watching TV on the bus, but I’ll go out if they ask,” he said.
The tour has also served as an inspiration for Sugar Ray and the Gin Blossoms.
McGrath, a dad to 2-year-old twins, has started writing music that he isn’t sure will be for the band or his first solo project.
“We’ve always lived in a free world, that’s how we’ve stayed together for 24 years. The band is always open and no one will ever be fired,” he said.
Valenzuela said he hopes to see a handful of new Gin Blossoms songs by next year. “I’d like to record a bunch and put them on our website. But I’m just one of five (band members) making that decision.” As for McGrath’s extracurricular activities, such as his TV co-hosting stint on “Extra” a few years ago, he’s open to anything if he feels he’s capable of doing it well.
“I’ve gotten more comfortable around the cameras,” he said. “But you know, for every Marky Mark (Mark Wahlberg) in the acting world, that highway is littered with a lot of Vanilla Ices.”
// Notes from the Road
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