On Sunday, Shelby Staub, her mom and her best friend drove more than 250 miles from South Bend, Ind., to Cleveland to catch the opening night of a tour by her favorite stars.
She didn’t go to see Lady Gaga or Beyonce. To Staub, 17, it was much bigger. She went to watch Jack and Jack, two teenage comedians whose claim to fame are their viral videos on Vine, the social media app where they have more than 4 million followers.
“They’re just perfect,” said Staub, recalling how she cried the moment she found out she’d won backstage passes and would also get to meet her idols. “I could talk about them all day. They’re just so amazing, and I love them.”
The two Jacks, Gilinsky and Johnson, ages 17 and 18, respectively, became social media stars after one of their videos titled “Nerd Style Vandalism” went viral last year. In the video, Jack and Jack dress up like geeks and vandalize a 4x4 SUV by writing "= 16" on it with an erasable marker before taking off giggling. Now the pair are pursuing a career in music and are headlining an 18-city tour featuring other social media stars.
“Once we amassed this huge following on Vine we thought ‘Hey, why not do what we love and make some music?’” said Gilinsky, whose tour kicked off Sunday in Cleveland and includes a stop in Anaheim on Aug. 30.
Jack and Jack are the latest social media stars to leverage their Internet fame to put on live performances. Their tour is the first to exclusively feature stars from Vine, but artists from YouTube and other social networks have started to put on similar shows.
The live events offer fans another way to connect with their favorite social media celebrities while giving the video creators another way to make money, said Vivien Lewit, YouTube’s director of music partnerships.
“The ability of these artists to gather thousands of fans at an event is an incredible barometer for that level of fan engagement that’s created by them,” Lewit said.
DigiTour Media, the Los Angeles company behind Jack and Jack’s tour, has been putting on live shows featuring social media stars since 2011. The start-up put on its first outdoor music festival, DigiFest, this year, and it expects to sell a total of about 120,000 tickets in 2014, up from 18,000 last year. DigiTour Media is projecting sales of 250,000 tickets in 2015.
Each DigiTour concert, typically held at small venues such as Sunset Strip’s House of Blues, draws about 1,500 fans. By the end of 2014, DigiTour Media will have held more than 100 events in more than 40 cities including New York, Chicago and London.
“We’re just going to be churning out tours and festivals and delivering the social stars to the fans in real life,” said Meridith Valiando Rojas, co-founder and chief executive of DigiTour Media.
DigiTour Media is one of several social media concert promoters that have popped up in recent years. Nashville company Teen Hoot also puts on concerts featuring up-and-coming YouTube stars and late last year expanded internationally, sending its stars to perform for a sold-out crowd in London. This year, Teen Hoot has expanded its performances in the U.S. and abroad.
Often, the fans at these shows are teenage girls and the atmosphere can be a lot like Beatlemania, Teen Hoot Co-Founder George Daly said.
“There’s energy at this thing,” he said. “The girls, if they see somebody whose song they like, they really show it — their excitement is palpable and noisy.”
Another company joining the mix is Culver City’s Fullscreen, the largest independent YouTube network. Fullscreen will hold its first live event, Intour, on Sept. 13 in Pasadena. Fullscreen talent chief Larry Shapiro says these kinds of shows are the future of entertainment.
“There is no longer that distinction of these creators being social media stars. These creators are stars,” Shapiro said. “They come out of the world of social media, but to the fans, they’re just as big as any celebrity out there.”
But to the parents, they aren’t household names just yet. Jack and Jack said they’re often stopped at airports by packs of girls wanting to meet them, leaving the adults nearby confused.
“We just think it’s funny because they’re all just staring at us,” Johnson said, with Gilinsky adding: “Some of them even ask, ‘Who are you guys?’”
Older generations have no clue because these stars come from smartphone apps they don’t often use but are extremely popular with teens and young adults. On Vine and YouTube, the stars post videos daily or weekly and often interact with their fans in the comment sections or on other platforms such as Twitter.
That interaction makes the fans feel as if they’re watching and interacting with one of their friends, not some impossible-to-reach celebrity. The fans feel as if they’re part of the artists’ journeys, said Ivan Figueroa, director of digital marketing for MiTu, a media company that works with more than 1,000 Latino YouTube artists.
“YouTube and other digital platforms have really broken that barrier where now you have all these artists who are able to connect with their fans directly,” Figueroa said.
Peter Shukoff, known for his role on the popular YouTube series “Epic Rap Battles of History,” described the relationships with his fans as that of friends.
Shukoff, who recently completed a two-month tour featuring 34 shows in the U.S., Canada and Europe, said his shows consisted of performing his songs, holding rap battles with his fans and, perhaps most important, holding meet-and-greets, a staple of most social media stars’ live shows.
“Sometimes the show is something people are like “OK, I’ll sit through the show, but I really just want to say hi,"" said Shukoff, who is planning his next tour and may go to far off locations like Singapore and Malaysia where he has fans who want to see him.
“We’re just as excited to go somewhere and have an experience as we are in making a ton of money from it.”