NORCROSS, GA: Hootie & the Blowfish’s reunion tour attendees may find themselves scratching their heads when a Jumbotron image of a Waffle House towers behind the band as they sing the 1990s hit "Let Her Cry."
The backdrop, which is actually live video of a Waffle House restaurant exterior in Nashville, Tennessee, is popping up on every stop of the band’s tour. Hootie & the Blowfish's production team produced the video for the backdrop and Waffle House facilitated where it was shot.
"It makes you feel like Hootie is playing in a Waffle House parking lot," said Pat Warner, the chain’s director of PR and external affairs.
The band, he said, just has a fondness for Waffle House, but that’s nothing new -- and it is completely organic.
"They have a big concert in Charleston every year and in 2016, they approached us about using this backdrop, which we, of course, said, ‘Yes,’" said Warner. "After that concert, it’s been used in other venues, including their current tour."
Warner said he can usually tell where Hootie is playing because he gets texts and messages from friends and Waffle House fans who are at the shows.
Back in 2000, Hootie’s album "Scattered, Smothered and Covered" featured a picture of one of Waffle House’s restaurants on the cover of the CD. Now, Waffle House is working with the band to promote its anticipated reunion album, "Imperfect Circle," set to be released on November 1. Warner could not go into detail on what exactly Waffle House will do, but he noted that the main "vehicle" the restaurant chain uses to promote artists is the digital jukebox that can be found at its 1,920 locations.
"We will work with artists and record labels to promote different albums and also work with our partners TouchTunes to do that," he said.
Hootie & the Blowfish aren’t the only stars endeared to the Waffle House brand. Donnie Wahlberg left a $2,000 tip for servers there two years ago. And in 2016, Late Show host Stephen Colbert and his guest, country music singer Sturgill Simpson, set out to get their own original track included on Waffle House's jukebox. The chain granted their wish.
Waffle House doesn’t go out of its way to capitalize on stars’ love for the brand. Warner explained that it might like or retweet a mention from a celebrity, but that’s as far as it goes. Being "genuine and authentic" and letting celebrities take the lead and talk about their fondness for the brand resonates with Waffle House fans, he said.
"We don’t want to come out and look like it is contrived or planned in anyway," said Warner. "On social, people know if it’s genuine or not."
The brand’s interactions with celebrities who publicly express their love for Waffle House typically happen offline, he explained.
"We reach out and thank them," said Warner. "They typically get a box of Waffle House items as a thank you gift. Sometimes they post about it, sometimes they don’t."
Hootie & the Blowfish may show up at the Tunie Awards in November, an event put on by Waffle House in partnership with TouchTunes to recognize the most popular songs and artists played on the chain’s jukeboxes. The Tunie Awards launched last year, inspired by the fact that in 2018, 30 million songs were played on Waffle House jukeboxes.
"It’s another way to talk about the music at Waffle House," said Warner. "It’s a very diverse list in the top 10 songs, hitting every genre, which is not that surprising. Everyone eats with us."
TouchTunes has an app where users can develop their own playlist and play it when they go to Waffle House.
"People might be singing or dancing at Waffle House, depending on the time of day," said Warner. "It’s all normal at Waffle House. That just makes it fun."
Waffle House does not work with a PR firm.