Chris Varias, Special to Cincinnati Enquirer
Here he comes again, for the second year in a row – jolly old Saint Nick Lachey.
Lachey and 98 Degrees did their first holiday tour in 2017. It went so well that, in the middle of it, the vocal group decided they’d do it again.
Proud of his Cincinnati roots and always up for discussing what’s happening here, Lachey touched on the topic of Lachey’s, the Over-the-Rhine bar he and brother-bandmate Drew closed earlier this year. He also assessed the state of his beloved Cincinnati sports scene and gave his professional take on what Cincinnati could use in terms of a very specific venue upgrade. (Check out his answers to our last two questions.)
Question: What sticks with you from your first Christmas tour last year?
Answer: Just how much fun people seem to have with it. We didn’t really know what to expect. We had never done one before. Having a Christmas album, we thought it was the natural thing to do to support the record. It’s the time of year when everyone loves to be in a good mood, is in a good mood, wants to have a good time. We obviously had a couple great shows in Cincinnati last year. We had the benefit concert in the afternoon for our manager at the bar (Ellie Richardson, who was shot outside Lachey's Thanksgiving 2017), and we had a meet and greet in between, and then we had the night show. That day, in particular, of all the days on the tour, was such a whirlwind.
: That had to be an emotional experience.
A: Putting together that benefit show clearly was important for Drew and me. It meant a lot to us, and it was really dynamic to see how many people came out and supported that. We had some great corporate sponsorship. We had fans who said, “Hey, I’m coming tonight, but I want to support and raise some much needed and much deserved help for Ellie.” I’ve always had an enormous amount of pride in my hometown, as had Drew, but to see the city rally around that situation and make the best of what was an awful, awful chapter in our lives, it meant a lot to all of us. That was a special day. It was kind of a numbing day, but very special show, and happy to say that she’s doing great. She’s recovered and is living a full life again. It could have been so much worse. A bad situation turned out about as well as it could have.
Q: With the Christmas show, you seem to have found a formula that works and is repeatable. Did you apply that same logic to closing Lachey’s – this isn’t working, so you end it?
A: The bar business is a tricky one and everyone told me and Drew that before getting into it. It ebbs and flows. There are a lot of factors that feed into it. Frankly, the shooting was kind of the nail in the coffin, unfortunately. We really saw a huge dip in business after that. That’s one of those life tragedies where the bigger concern was Ellie and her health, and thank goodness that turned out the way it did, so at the end of the day I can live with anything that happens with the bar. Drew and I walked away with our heads held high. It didn’t work, so you move on.
Q: What has you feeling optimistic or angry about Cincinnati sports?
A: Incredibly excited to see what the Bearcats do this year. I’m talking about football and basketball. We’re starting to build something special again with football. And basketball, with the new arena opening up, it should be a great year for Mick (Cronin) and those guys. The Bengals have shown the good, the bad and the ugly at times, but they have a lot of potential this year, and if they can put it together and keep people healthy, we could make a little run and maybe finally win that elusive playoff game. And then you got the Reds. It’s hard to see a year go by and not be competitive, but you just got to believe that they’re starting to build something. Maybe David Bell’s the guy and next year will be the year we surprise people. It’s tough to be a baseball town, so to speak, and not have a baseball team that feels like it has any traction. But eventually, that will turn. It always does.
Q: Why hasn’t UC booked a 98 Degrees show at the new Fifth Third Arena?
A: Funny enough, we took a tour of the arena when it was still under construction. There may have been some talk of that, but either way, if we end up playing there, that’d be great. But that team has deserved a better facility for a long, long time, and it’s nice to see them finally get it. It would have been cool to see them go down to U.S. Bank Arena and redo that building, but it is cool to have an on-campus facility like they do and have it be top notch.
Q: As someone who performs in venues around the country, what’s your impression of U.S. Bank Arena?
A: It’s been a source of frustration for me and hopefully other people in the city for a long, long time. Obviously, we need a new arena. There’s no question about that. It’s so antiquated. And frankly, it’s embarrassing when you’re out on a tour. We toured a few years back with New Kids on the Block and Boyz II Men, and the only reason the tour even went to Cincinnati is because we were from there, and it made sense to go to our hometown. When you see state-of-the-art arenas day in, day out, on tour and then go to U.S. Bank, there’s such a drop-off there, both with sound quality and acoustics and just the facility in general. It needs to be replaced. There’s been so many lost opportunities, whether it’s the Republican Convention or March Madness tournaments or, frankly, concerts. Riverbend gets first-class concerts because it’s a great facility. In the wintertime, concerts often skip Cincinnati, because they don’t have a facility up to par. Clearly, we need it. Just who’s going to pay for it? That’s been the dilemma for years.