When the Nebraska State Fair booked its concerts in mid-1989, it was aiming to catch the pop sensation of the moment by bringing Tiffany to the Bob Devaney Sports Center.
By the time, the show arrived, however, Tiffany, then just 17, had been supplanted as the hottest pop act going -- by her scheduled openers: New Kids on the Block.
So the Boston boy band with the giant hit -- “You Got It (The Right Stuff)” closed the show, sending the 10,000 teenagers who packed the arena into a screaming frenzy from the time they hit the stage to “Hangin’ Tough,” the No. 1 single in the country at the time, through the 20-minute version of their smash.
A year earlier, the tables were turned when Tiffany, then at the peak of her “I Think We’re Alone Now” popularity brought New Kids on the Block out on her arena tour, just when they’d released their debut album, “Hangin’ Tough.”
Tiffany wasn’t bothered by NKOTB’s meteoric rise, quite willingly stepping into the opening slot.
“The success of the New Kids is great,” Tiffany told the Lincoln Journal a few days before the show. “They came on the road with me last year and who was to say they weren’t going to be as big as they are now. I just thought they were really talented and very nice. Now, you see all the girls that go crazy for them and stuff like that. I look at them like my brothers.”
Danny Wood fondly remembers those days.
“She gave us a lucky break back then, having us open for her when we were nobodies,” said Wood, one of the New Kids. "It makes it special doing things with her. Now, we’re kind of returning the favor.”
NKOTB is paying Tiffany back by bringing her on “The Mixtape Tour,” along with late 1980s/early 1990s pop stars Debbie Gibson, Salt -N-Pepa and Naughty By Nature
“We took care in putting this package together,” Wood said. “If you’re going to call something a mixtape, you better have it represent well. We weren’t exactly sure what the response would be when we announced it. It’s been astounding.”
Wood was in rehearsal for the tour when we talked back in April and wouldn’t divulge specifics as how the tour would work, saying he’d leave that to Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube to give away after the first show.
Well, it’s out now -- down to a Spotify playlist -- and the Mixtape Tour is, well, like a mixtape. Making a mixtape, for those who’ve not dealt with the now antiquated technology, involved recording songs off albums or other tapes onto a cassette to create the mix -- a much more laborious, and usually more thought-out process than a click into a playlist.
So, New Kids on the Block open with a block of songs. Then it’s Tiffany and Gibson time. Then back to NKOTB, then Salt-N-Pepa, more NKOTB, then Naughty By Nature.
That’s, obviously, a huge departure from the standard support-headliner concert presentation.
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There, however, is a contemporary connection between NKOTB and Naughty By Nature. It’s shows on “80s Baby” and “Boys In The Band (Boy Band Anthem),” the two songs the New Kids have released for the tour.
Those tracks are filled with shout-outs and cameos -- including nods to Gibson and Salt n Pepa -- as NKOTB embrace their era and their genre, saluting boy bands all the way back to Motown.
“I sing on them, so I love them,” Wood said of the new songs. “It’s a group decision what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do them. Donnie (Wahlberg) wrote songs with Kay Gee, who’s Naughty By Nature’s DJ. So it was really easy this time. Now we’re trying them live.”
That Mixtape Tour, Wood knows, is playing to a lot of the same fans who saw NKOTB, Tiffany and the rest of the bill in their first runs -- along with a couple generations of new fans.
“You look out at the crowd and if a woman brought her daughter when she was 10 years old 11 years ago, she’s (the daughter) 21 and she’s there with her friends,” he said. “We see a lot of women in their 30s and 40s, they’re the hardcore fans. And they bring their daughters. When we toured with the Backstreet Boys they exposed us to their audience and them to ours, so we see some people of that age.”
Speaking of age, is it tough to sing and dance like you are 20 these days?
“It’s different for each guy,” said Wood, who turned 50. “I work out a lot, over 30 years I’ve been working out. It really isn’t an issue for me. When a tour comes along, I step up my game and I”m ready to go.
“Especially for the guys singing lead, we have to reel in some of the choreography so they can get their breathing right, their singing right. But after 30-plus years of being in the biz, every guy knows what they have to do and how they have to do it to make it work.”
And Wood realizes that most of those who come to see NKOTB and their Mixtape tour mates -- are there to hear the hits. For that reason, he’s baffled and amused when he learns that some veteran artists refuse to play their old popular songs.
“You experience a lot of people in this business that have careers, it’s funny when they say they have songs that they don’t like to do or won’t do,” he said. “To me, I’m thankful to have them and that people still want to hear them. I love doing them.”
And so does the crowd, which goes wild for the boys, screaming and dancing like it’s 1989.
“It’s very similar to the energy from our first run,” Wood said. “Obviously they’re older, but it’s a lot of the same.”