Feels Like the (First) Time: Foreigner’s “Farewell Tour” Comes to Plant City March 8

Foreigner 2024

By Michele D. Baker

FOREIGNER. An odd choice for a band name, but of course, there’s a story. Begun in 1976, the group originally included three Americans: lead vocalist Lou Gramm, bassist Ed Gagliardi, keyboardist Al Greenwood; and three Brits: lead guitarist, keyboardist and vocalist Mick Jones; rhythm guitarist and woodwind player Ian McDonald; and drummer Dennis Elliott. With half of the six original members from England and half US-born, no matter where they played, some members would always be “foreigners.”

Foreigner 2024 lineup
Foreigner is Bruce Watson, Michael Bluestein, Kelly Hansen, Jeff Pilson, Luis Maldonado & Chris Frazier. Not pictured: Mick Jones. Image courtesy of Foreigner, photo by Krishta Abruzzini.

Five Decades of Foreigner

In the five decades since, the band’s composition has changed many times, but the mighty songwriting and powerful rhythms have remained. Due to health issues, Foreigner’s sole remaining founding member, guitarist Mick Jones, doesn’t tour anymore, but many of the other six members of the current lineup have been with the group for 10+ years: lead vocalist Kelly Hansen (since 2005); bassist Jeff Pilson (since 2004); keyboardist Michael Bluestein (since 2008); rhythm and lead guitarist Bruce Watson (since 2011); drummer Chris Frazier (since 2012); and rhythm guitarist Luis Maldonado (since 2021).

Foreigner Top 30 songs

16 Hits In the Top 30

Foreigner has had nine “Top 10” hits – that’s the same as Fleetwood Mac and more than Journey – and 16 hits in the Top 30. Thanks to their songs being featured on TV and movies like “Stranger Things,” “Supernatural,” “Good Boys,” “Eternals,” and “Fall of the House of Usher,” younger audiences have discovered this classic rock band – audio and video streams top 15 million every week and Classic Rock radio audiences garner 20+ million each week. (Learn more Foreigner facts.)

The band’s album “Can’t Slow Down” (2009) proved that they can still pen the hits, but it’s the songs from 1977 to 1984 – with Lou Gramm as the lead singer – that most people remember and love. And it’s mostly these songs that are featured on this tour.

Foreigner continues its “Historic Farewell Tour” to all the places they’ve played over their nearly five-decade history; they will disband at the end of December. On March 8, Foreigner comes to the 2024 Strawberry Festival in Plant City before heading to Key West (March 10), St. Augustine (March 12), Fort Myers (March 13) and Miami (March 14-17) (more dates & tickets here).

Foreigner’s Keyboard Genius: Michael Bluestein

I recently caught up with Foreigner’s keyboardist Michael Bluestein to talk about the Farewell Tour.

Foreigner Michael Bluestein
Michael Bluestein, image courtesy of Foreigner, photo by Krishta Abruzzini.

Michele Baker: I read in your bio that you grew up on these songs. Now you’re part of Foreigner and playing those same songs on stage. What is that like?

Michael Bluestein: It’s one of those things, you know. I played classical piano as a kid, and then got into rock and playing pop and stuff and learning the music that was on the radio in high school and college. I studied jazz, became a jazz piano major, and really dove deeply into that. But all along, [there was] the music of my youth: classic 70s rock, Foreigner, Journey, The Who, Led Zeppelin. Everybody was listening to that stuff – it’s like a rite of passage. And if you’re into music, you’re discovering the music of the 60s, 70s and 80s.

I didn’t know where it was all going, I just knew that I was just following my muse. One thing led to another, I moved to Los Angeles in 2003 and some of the bigger opportunities started to open up for me. Yeah, it is pretty surreal. I remember the first time playing “Jukebox Hero” on stage. Kelly gets up there and starts singing, and the lights are behind him. I got goose bumps.

Michele Baker: My mom wants to know when you first knew that you didn’t need a second job, and that you could make a living as a musician.

Michael Bluestein: Really good question, not one that we get a lot, so kudos to your mom for a thoughtful question!

In college I started getting gigs, and I kind of figured out by my early 20s that I had enough skills and enough versatility to do this work. However, you always need some savings, a little bit of padding. You can live hand-to-mouth, but that gets stressful. When you’re just launching as a musician, you’re not usually rolling in the dough. You’re just kind of making ends meet, going from gig to gig.

I moved to San Francisco when I was 24 and I had some savings, and I started getting my name out around town, and people started to know about me. But the savings ran out before I could really get going. So I did a telemarketing job for a little while, and it got me through it. After a few months I was getting enough gigs to pay my own way. So that was the last time I ever did a non-musical job – over 30 years ago.

Michele Baker: In the video, Kelly Hansen mentioned that one reason [to disband] was that as he’s getting older, he is really looking forward to spending time with his family. Michael, you’re only in your mid-50s, a young guy. You’re not old enough to retire! What is your perspective on the farewell tour?

Michael Bluestein: Thanks for calling me a young guy (laughs)! There is some overlap with what Kelly’s saying about being home more with family. I have a 3-month-old daughter, my first child. And so it’s good timing for me to have more time at home. I can be more hands on, as far as that goes, because I never wanted to be that dad that was gone all the time touring so much – it’ll be 16 years next month. So yeah, so that that’s a big one for me being home a lot more.

Plus, being on the road has its challenges. It’s kind of hard to maintain a healthy lifestyle. You know you can do it, but it’s just tricky. It’s nice to be in one place for a while. I want to work on some projects that have been neglected around here as far as creative things and being at home with local people.

Michele Baker: About 12 years ago, in your early 40s, you beat colon cancer. It’s completely in remission – congratulations. You’re pretty young to have had cancer. Can you tell me about that?

Michael Bluestein: Thank you so much. Yeah. Luckily, I caught it early enough. But it just goes to show you got to take care of yourself and get checked out, stay on top of that stuff. No matter what your age.

Related: Healthy Geezer: The Hard Truth About Constipation

Michele Baker: Yes, especially with that little girl at home waiting for you! What are you most looking forward to about this last little piece of the farewell tour? Just a few more months, and then that’s it, done.

Michael Bluestein: Well, these guys have all become good friends of mine. Everybody in the band. We enjoy each other’s company. There’s a lot of camaraderie, a lot of humor and just fun on the road, and it’s a great, amazing catalog of songs to play. We don’t take that for granted. It’s incredible to look out every night and see that everyone knows and loves these tunes. They know every single [song] that we play. So I’m just kind of savoring that as a last hurrah and enjoying the time together with the guys. Just being present for all of that.

Michele Baker: I bet that’s pretty heady, being on stage and having thousands of people yelling and screaming.

Michael Bluestein: It never gets old. It’s quite a blessing and a gift to play these amazing tunes. We’re not having to win anybody over with the songs – they’re well known and loved. When we’re playing these tunes, people are so receptive and so excited about it.

Michele Baker: I love the fact that you’re pulling in local choirs in each city to join the band on “I Want to Know What Love Is.” Tell me about that.

Michael Bluestein: Yes, that’s the tradition. Sometimes these choirs will do a performance before the show. They’ll have a contest, and the winning choir will sometimes do some a capella songs they’ve prepared and do a quick set.

During the March 8 concert, 25 students in the Plant High School A Cappella Group in Tampa will accompany Foreigner during “I Want to Know What Love Is.” Choir director Ms. Shelby Zellen says her choir was selected for this honor because the choir has a good reputation and is active and well-known on social media.

“We are so honored and grateful to be performing with Foreigner at the Strawberry Festival. In addition to the huge chance to sing with Foreigner, this is the first time many of these kids have ever been to the festival, so it’s a win/win for them.”

Shelby Zellen, Choir Director

Foreigner is also donating $500 to the choir as part of its ongoing support of local arts programs in schools. “We’re using those funds to go to New York City,” finishes Zellen. “Since COVID it’s been hard to travel, but these funds will allow us to finally make it.”

Michele Baker: All the members of Foreigner are rock legends in their own right. But if you had the chance to meet your favorite rock star and ask them one question, who would it be? And what would you ask?

Michael Bluestein: Okay, so I’m a big Steely Dan fan. I never met Donald Fagen, who is the voice and the surviving original member of Steely Dan and the singer for all the hits and songs that we know. And being a keyboard player, Steely Dan is kind of hallowed ground. And with my jazz background – Steely Dan fuses a lot of jazz and funk elements into their music – I would love to meet [Donald Fagen], and I would love to ask him, “What keeps you going? How do you continually find the inspiration to write and to create?”

Michele Baker: Nice segue. What is your ongoing inspiration to write and create? You’ve probably got 25 years ahead of you playing music. How are you going to keep that creativity going?

Michael Bluestein: Great question. You have to stay involved and keep pushing and searching. As you know, I’m a keyboard player, but I’ve got a bunch of guitars, too. I branched out and play a lot of guitar these days. I’m just pushing myself, getting outside of my comfort zone. Writing and playing on different instruments is a good way to jumpstart your creativity. I’ve been playing piano my whole life, and sometimes I want something different. Get out of the familiar and stir it up a little.

I also listen to new music, trying to find people that are pushing the envelope with their creativity and writing interesting new things. It’s hard to find. There are 60,000 songs uploaded every day to Spotify. There’s such a glut of material, and it gets difficult to wade through it all and find the gems. But just keep looking for stuff that inspires you.

Also just revisiting the classics, the legends: Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin, Led Zeppelin. All the people that have created this amazing body of work, and little riffs and ideas that you can borrow and make your own.

Michele Baker: Do you think you might try to bring up this new, impressionable young daughter as a musician?

Michael Bluestein: Actually, my fiancée is a singer, and we collaborate. We’ve put out music under the name Tina Blue, cause she’s “Tina,” and I’m “Blue.” We harmonize all the time. We sing and play constantly. Tina grew up singing in the church and harmonizing with her friends, so it’s kind of effortless. We love writing and doing cool arrangements and tunes. And yeah, we’re hoping that surrounding our daughter with songs and singing all the time, that she’ll just organically fall into it. But you can’t force it.

(Find out more and listen to Tina Blue on their website, Facebook, Instagram, and Apple Music and watch the happy couple sing to Baby Bluestein.)

Michele Baker: Thanks, Michael. Keep rocking and take care of that beautiful new baby girl.

Michael Bluestein: Appreciate it, and I will. Really lovely talking to you.

Get tickets to the March 8 concert in Plant City or see tickets to all upcoming concerts.

Related: 60+ Great Years of The Beach Boys


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here