Jeff Timmons speaks with an energy belying his more than 20 years in the music and entertainment business.
The 49-year-old Stark County native bounces from topic to topic as nimbly as when he performed choreographed moves as a member of 98 Degrees during the vocal group’s heyday in the late ’90s and early aughts.
During a telephone interview earlier this week, the 1991 Washington High School graduate’s enthusiasm never waned, shifting from talk of the first rock concert he attended — Guns N’ Roses with Skid Row opening — to being excited about a free downtown Canton show that had been scheduled for Saturday.
Unfortunately, the concert was canceled Thursday afternoon due to unforeseen circumstances, said Joel Murphy, program director for Alpha Media Canton, which includes the local radio stations Mix 94.1 and WHBC 1480.
The show was set to feature AJ McLean of the Backstreet Boys and Trevor Penick of O-Town. Timmons said it would have been his biggest hometown gig ever.
Timmons, however, said he will appear at the Mbar from 10 p.m. Saturday to 2 a.m. Sunday in Jackson Township. The martini bar and cocktail lounge is at 5252 Dressler Rd NW in the Belden Village shopping area.
The Mbar adjoins Jerzee’s Sports Grille.
Expressing disappointment over the cancellation, Timmons said he will perform a couple of songs with a band while also meeting fans, taking photos and signing autographs, all at no charge.
“It’s a bit bittersweet because I was hoping to put on a great performance with some colleagues of mine … but for me, I’m happy to be back here, and I’ll be able to be up and close and personal (at the Mbar on Saturday night).”
McLean had been planning to reroute his tour bus to Canton during a break while touring the country this summer with the Backstreet Boys.
“The promoter of the event didn’t end up coming through with some logistics on his side, making it impossible for all of the parties to come in,” Timmons said on Thursday.
“We wanted to go on with the full bill as advertised instead of one or two of us,” he added. “There are definitely plans (to reschedule the show).”
“Every one of the artists on the bill were 100 percent into doing this, including AJ,” Timmons said.
Timmons said he’s close friends with McLean, Penick and Chris Kirkpatrick from *NSYNC.
“People in the past obviously thought the bands were competitive and didn’t like each other, but that wasn’t the case … because we shared a similar journey,” Timmons said on Wednesday.
Timmons and 98 Degrees experienced Billboard chart success around 20 years ago during a pop music boom. MTV still played music videos in heavy rotation, CD sales were robust and social media was in its relative infancy.
The band’s 1998 album, “98 Degrees and Rising,” has sold more than 10 million copies. 98 Degrees also scored a No. 1 hit single and Grammy nomination for “Thank God I Found You,” a collaboration with Mariah Carey and Joseph “Joe” Thomas.
Earlier this week, Timmons performed at a private party on July Fourth with Boyz II Men.
98 Degrees will be performing this summer at the EPCOT Food & Wine Festival in Orlando and at Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort in the Turks and Caicos Islands, southeast of the Bahamas in the Atlantic Ocean.
The pop/R&B singing group recently released a catchy song with country music artist Brett Kissel that has surpassed 5 million listens and views. And Timmons has been busy with online meetings about his various television-related projects, including developing a documentary for a major streaming network. Other plans include a Christmas tour featuring legendary pop music acts with shows in 12 American cities and 10 international performances; more details will be announced later, he said.
In April, Timmons was honored as a member of Washington High School’s newest class of Distinguished Citizens.
“It means nothing without your roots,” Timmons said of his success. “You can go out and achieve all of this stuff … and travel the world and perform at amazing places.
“… You never want to forget your roots, and I think with 98 degrees, we are still experiencing great success and have been blessed … to have all of these tremendous experiences.”
Canton-based radio station Mix 94.1 and Jerzee’s Cafe were presenting the now-cancelled event. Opening acts were to be Vara Gianna, Carly Underwood and country artist Justin Fabus.
“Superfan” tickets were sold out. The $29 tickets would allow for closer access to the stage and other accommodations. Refunds for those VIP tickets are available at the point of purchase through www.eventbrite.com/, according to event organizers.
Past performances with McLean and other boy band alums have drawn large crowds, Timmons said.
“Obviously, the nostalgia of all the groups and the curiosity that peaks with us being together brought people out,” said Timmons, who attended Malone University in Canton. “It’s an entertaining show.
“We do mashups and hits and sing together and introduce new songs and acts.”
Timmons was easygoing, conversational and grateful while covering an array of subjects during the interview earlier this week.
Edited for clarity and brevity, here’s the rest of the up-tempo discussion:
Inspiring others back in his hometown and home state
“There’s something real and tangible about our personalities that are relatable in these areas,” he said of the members of 98 Degrees. “You can go and try to live a dream … and you can go out and make a living doing things beyond your wildest expectations, and as much as I like to come back and perform … it’s really to show and signify how good things can come from this area … and hopefully it inspires people.”
The impact of music
“We’re part of a lot of of charitable organizations and like to contribute and give back … and one that means a lot to me is Make-A-Wish Foundation.”
Timmons met a young fan with a terminal disease, visiting her in a hospital in Illinois.
“I just became extremely close to her,” he said, noting the fan lived several years longer than doctors initially expected. “I just felt like we really inspired her.”
Timmons talked with her on the phone once or twice a month, sometimes for hours. “She had great medical care and a great support system, but I really feel like our friendship kept her hanging on for a long time.
“Unfortunately, she succumbed to the disease and illness later … but this was way beyond music; this is something so powerful I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is, but I was inspired by her just as much as she was inspired by me.”
The power of nostalgia
Fans have gotten married to 98 Degrees songs, Timmons said. Or they’ve met best friends at the band’s concerts. Others have broken up to songs or rekindled family relationships, the singer explained.
“I never thought about that when (starting out) and singing for girls at parties,” he said. “The music and impact that you have is a lot greater than you ever give yourself credit.”
Nostalgia draws fans to shows, he said. “That era, that late ’90s, early 2000s, a lot of people … they literally call it the golden era of pop, the pop explosion.
“It was pre-streaming … and (CDS were still selling for popular groups by the millions) … so literally it was the last era where you could go to the record store and buy this new material — there was an experience attached to it for a lot of younger fans and female fans.
“They attribute music to formidable years of their lives, so it was pre-9/11, so it was an innocent time … and not as polarized as the world is now,” Timmons recalled. “… All of that was a very unique time, and I think people think of that as a very unique time.”
Timmons’ friendship with Nick Lachey
“I think if anything, we’ve become closer,” Timmons said, recalling the highly competitive days with the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC. “We enjoyed it, but our eyes were always set on the prize (and working hard).
“Nick has been extraordinarily successful.” After getting back together as a band, “we said, ‘No matter what, we’re going to have fun.’ We’re like brothers. We’re having more fun than ever. Nick is the same guy he’s always been. … We’re just having a blast.”
Passionate for the arts
“I got encouraged early on in the arts. It came naturally to me, although we’re in the cradle of football (in Stark County). That was always my dream to play football … but hte arts and singing and acting and speech and debate, that was always really easy for me, and I wasn’t as cool amongst my peers, but adults, teachers, friends and family, and my grandparents and parents always encouraged it, and I shied away from it.
“My life turned out like a dream,” Timmons said, noting he wrote out his life goals years ago. “Every single one of them came true and then some. … I’m living a dream, and it continues to unfold in from of my very eyes.”
What advice would he give to his younger self?
After initially resisting the pull of the arts, Timmons said that “ultimately, it went better than I expected and kept getting better, and has been a dream (with) lows and highs.”
But “I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I would encourage (my younger self) to develop any talent, and I think I would have reconciled that I should have done music and the arts a little sooner and stopped resisting it.”
Aging with his fans
“We had moms and daughters the first time around, and now we have moms and daughters again. Those women who were kids in the early 2000s when we were doing Nickelodeon, now have kids of their own.
“They’re loud and as boisterous as ever, but now they drink, and they’re a little more raucous than before believe it or not. And I’m relishing every second.”
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