How The Ten Tenors Navigated the Pandemic, Took the Hits and Returned to International Touring
The Ten Tenors are an Australian musical export success story disguised as a classical crossover act.
TTT is an evolving franchise, its hard-working label has been recognised on several occasions over the years in the export categories at the Queensland Premier’s Awards for Excellence.
They’ve sold more than 3.5 million tickets, and performed 2,000-plus concerts around the globe — numbers that continues to grow.
The singing act — yes there are ten of them on stage at any time, and they are indeed tenors — are used to playing 200-280 shows in a normal year, with the vast majority of those tickets sold outside of their homeland.
Normal years are something of a distant memory.
New members come into the group from time-to-time, and, over the 27 years since inception, 71 tenors have counted themselves as band members.
The mainstay is Dmand owner D-J Wendt, TTT’s manager and producer, the impresario who keeps the machine well-oiled and constantly moving, swerving craters along the road.
The pandemic served up craters like no one has seen.
TTT has just completed a run of the United States, South America is coming up and Australian dates kicking off mid-year.
To get back on the road, Wendt and Co. navigated the sketchiest of roads.
TIO caught up with the veteran artist manager and Q Music vice president for a glimpse at TTT’s roadmap of the past 26 months, and their return to international touring.
Brazil is a tough nut to crack. Football and samba is the religion the beating heart of its 212 million residents, though music and live entertainment courses through the country’s veins.
Homegrown singer Anitta is on the verge of mainstream success in the United States, and the country’s recorded music market is hovering around the IFPI’s Top 10 list.
So, when the members of TTT were sat at Sydney airport, set to take off for their first ever tour of Brazil, a palpable sense of excitement spread among the lads.
There was also a nagging dread, thanks to rumours circulating on border closures due to the global surge of COVID-19 cases.
Wendt, a road warrior, seasoned from doing overnight bus touring since 2004, reached out to the Brazilian promoter.
The conversation was an uplifting one. Everything was fine, and would stay that way. The shows were sold out, it was all set to be a triumph.
The date was March 13, 2020.
The group headed to Sao Paulo via Santiago. By the time the flight landed, matters had changed considerably. Word had spread that Tom Hanks had caught the virus and was quarantined in Australia, where he was filming Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis biopic.
Officials in Santiago didn’t want to let TTT and its entourage off the plane because of the “Big” star and his big problem back home.
After a considerable time grounded on the tarmac, TTT was allowed to leave, but they had nowhere to go.
“Once we all finally got to Sao Paulo the promoter advised us that the government had closed the 3,500-seat venue that we had sold out and they had also closed the 2,800 seater in Rio de Janeiro that we had also sold out,” recounts Wendt. “The tour was no longer viable.”
The promoters had lined-up TV appearances which would have exposed — in the best possible way — the vocal group to an estimated 75 million Brazilians.
The Tom Hanks story spoiled that party, too. Those TV appearances were cancelled, a return to Australia beckoned.
Changing flights for 16 people took three days of admin, five days to get everyone home, “just in time to go into home isolation, the first of many,” notes Wendt.
The light wasn’t far down the tunnel.
Toward the end of November 2020, Wendt connected with his promoter partner and friend in Western Australia, Brad Mellen of Mellen Events, to mull over co-promoting a Valentine’s Day concert at Perth’s Kings Park.
Those plans snowballed into a national tour with TTT mid-year. A 32-show run was constructed, starting July 1, 2021 through to Aug. 2.
“Ticket sales were great, we sold around 35,000 tickets by the start of the second week of the tour and had about 40,00 tickets available left to sell, to completely sell out the tour,” recounts Wendt. “We thought, ‘you beauty, we are back.’”
The tour was scheduled to start in Brisbane, a fitting send off for the 25th anniversary tour in the home city of TTT.
A string of dates up the Sunshine State would follow, but none would go ahead as planned thanks to a three-day lockdown. “That’s about $475,000 of ticket sales that need to be rescheduled,” says Wendt.
The band kept fresh and healthy by isolating in a “tour bubble.” In the end, the act performed 42 concerts. “We rescheduled some shows five times, the tour finished on Dec. 24, we did two weeks of quarantine three times, and a few of the guys had to do it four times.” Though having that support with Mellen “made it possible to get through that 2021 Aussie tour.”
Some of those scrapped dates are rescheduled for later in 2022, continues Wendt, “so yeah, I guess I know a little bit about overcoming adversity to keep things moving.”
Touring is back, everywhere. Many promoters and bean counters are expecting this year to be one for the books, though setting up and packing down shows during a pandemic isn’t without its glitches.
For Wendt and TTT, the punishment of the past two years is tough to calculate. The 2020 Brazil tour cancellation was a “massive sliding doors moment,” with shows, TV and an album launch (one of 20-plus LPs released by the outfit) all lined-up like dominos.
“Apart from that there’s probably about $6 million of turnover across the 18 months,” he continues, “but the biggest loss or impact has been on people. Office staff, crew guys, Tenors… I lost some really great people and many of my current people are still just trying to get back to themselves. Lockdowns, uncertainty, financial hardship has taken a massive toll. Previously happy-go-lucky people are now fragile and deeply affected by the past two years.”
The band returns to Brazil later this month, kicking off their long-overdue tour with a show at Convention Center Ulysses Guimarães in the capital, Brasília.
Australia dates start June 29 at Albany Entertainment Centre, with the first of several rescheduled Highway Men shows. And a 43-show tour of north America wrapped in April.
Would Wendt go through it all again? The answer is a resounding yes.
“I love what I do. Being on the road with the guys for this full nine-week tour (of the U.S.) has been invaluable because I have a much better understanding on the impact of touring issues and I know what to try and avoid, if possible in the future. Plus, we’ve had a ball.”
Tickets for TTT’s upcoming tour of Australia can be found here.
This article originally appeared on The Industry Observer, which is now part of The Music Network.