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edge staff writer


Concert impresario Peter Shapiro’s long strange trip to 10,000 shows

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Concert impresario Peter Shapiro’s long strange trip to 10,000 shows (photo by Dave Vann)

Most any concert regular will tell you that one of the reasons they keep going to shows is to obtain a dose of sustaining energy sparked by a magical night of live music. That buzz isn’t limited to the audience or the musicians. Leading indie concert promoter Peter Shapiro has always approached his job as a live music fan.

Shapiro says he’d much rather attend a live concert than write about it but when the opportunity arose to share his story, he saw it as a way to stay connected to live music during an extended period of silence.

With nothing but time on his hands during the pandemic when live shows weren’t possible, Shapiro took stock of his long strange trip to date by collaborating with writer, historian and professor Dean Budnick on the book “The Music Never Stops: What Putting on 10,000 Shows Has Taught Me About Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Magic” (Hachette Books).

Shapiro says he believes live music is needed now more than ever, and on a personal note, he needs several concerts per week just to feel normal.

“Live music empowers you but the energy I get from a live show only lasts about 72 hours then I need another one,” Shapiro said during an interview with The Maine Edge.

Shapiro’s book filters 50 of the more than 10,000 shows he’s presented to serve as touchstone moments that tell his story.

From his initial transformative live experiences with Phish and the Grateful Dead to later bringing those worlds together with the Dead’s 2015 golden anniversary Fare Thee Well shows, Shapiro’s love for the jam scene and its fans is a constant thread throughout the book.

His book also contains one-of-a-kind stories and encounters involving a variety of music legends and pop culture icons including U2, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Dave Matthews, Derek Trucks, Blues Traveler, The Roots, Al Green, Ken Kesey, Marty Balin and Wavy Gravy.

Shapiro admits that conducting business during daylight hours isn’t as much fun as going to the shows but “The Music Never Stops” contains a number of the lessons he’s learned about the business of music.

As former owner of the Wetlands Preserve music nightclub in New York City, and the current owner of the Brooklyn Bowl in New York, Brooklyn Bowl Las Vegas and the historic Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York, Shapiro zeroes in on some of the triumphs and challenges he’s faced as the guy who always gets the call if something goes wrong.

Shapiro’s name is attached to a lengthy list of music-related productions dating back to the mid-1990s.

He produced the IMAX concert films “U2 3D” and “All Access: Front Row. Backstage. Live!” which brought Trey Anastasio of Phish together with B.B. King and The Roots.

In the 1990s, Shapiro produced the films “Tied Died: Rock and Roll’s Most Deadicated Fans,” devoted to the Grateful Dead’s nomadic tribe of fans, and “American Road,” chronicling his road trip through 48 states set to a score from Phish.

Shapiro is founder of the LOCKN’ festival, a four-day jam-band focused music festival in Arrington, Virginia. He’s also the publisher of jam-focused Relix Magazine and owner of the popular website

The following interview highlights were excerpted from a lengthier discussion that aired in its entirety on the web-based jam-band station

The Maine Edge: After presenting more than 10,000 concerts, how challenging was it to select just 50 to tell your story in this book?

Peter Shapiro: Most books like this come later in life but I’m about to turn 50 and that’s one of the ways we got to 50 shows. I’ve been doing this pretty much every night for 27 years and for me it all becomes one big night. I could only have done it with Dean’s help. He’s the only guy who could’ve done it like he did. It took a few years to finish and thank God for the internet on some of the dates.

TME: You write that your connection to Phish was immediate from your first show on December 5, 1992, at The Vic Theatre in Chicago. What was it that made you want to fill your life with more Phish?

Shaprio: The trampolines (laughs). I had a great spot that night and The Vic taught me about layering. It has multiple levels on the floor. I was at the first elevated layer, so I was really close, about 20 to 30 feet from the stage. They pulled out the trampolines and did their synchronized moves with the music, bouncing and turning around. I had never seen anything like that. I was only 20 and I’d been to Lollapalooza and a few other shows but Phish was absolutely on fire in those early years. They still are, really. The energy and approach they bring to playing, the improvisation, the jams, the nature of Tom Marshall’s lyrics – I was hooked and started going to more Phish shows right away.

TME: How did seeing your first Grateful Dead show the following March at the Rosemont Horizon further shake up your world?

Shapiro: It was like one of those sliding doors moments for me. You know that movie “Sliding Doors?” Your life path gets altered by whether or not you make the train by slipping through the door before it closes. If you don’t make it, you end up with a different life than if you had. I went to a Dead show, got turned onto that kind of vibe and got on the bus.

TME: Your reputation and association with both Phish and the Dead led to the amazing “Fare Thee Well” Grateful Dead 50th anniversary shows in 2015 with a very prepared Trey Anastasio on guitar. The stories you relate in this book about those shows are riveting.

Shapiro: There was a lot of pressure with “Fare Thee Well” because once it happens it’s a memory. I think I say this in the book. At the end of any great show, I’m ready for it. It’s a good feeling when it’s in the books and people go home because nothing can change their memory of that experience.

We had a stadium full of people and a lot of people watching the live broadcasts so whatever happened at these shows I knew would be with me forever but I’m glad today that I’m sitting here talking to you and it all went the way it did because it’s a lot better that way.

TME: I didn’t know that you had hired a skywriter to appear before the first show (June 27, 2015) in Santa Clara, but I loved reading that story.

Shapiro: We didn’t announce that; it was supposed to be a surprise. It was late afternoon before the show started and people were walking into the venue. We got a skywriter to create a giant peace sign in the sky. It started out great. He did a perfect circle. Then he started doing the top line of the peace sign; that was good. He did the bottom center; that was good. He got to the final line on the bottom right and he missed it. It was way off. I remember standing there with (fellow promoters) Don Sullivan and Mike Luba in the parking lot. This was our big moment. We’d spent a year working on these shows. It was going great and then – oh no – wait a minute. You can’t fix it.

Things happen sometimes. Sometimes it rains. You work hard to set it all up and it rains. Sometimes the peace sign guy misses the mark. But sometimes a rainbow will appear. A couple of hours after the peace sign, at the end of the first set a giant rainbow showed up and that’s what people remember, not the peace sign.

TME: The image of that double rainbow canvassing the stadium at the perfect moment graces the front of your book. Some people (including Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart) thought you had somehow created that rainbow which is a story that even made it to print.

Shapiro: It was just so perfect how it arced over the stadium in Santa Clara. I was watching the show by the soundboard with Trixie Garcia (daughter of Jerry Garcia). When the rainbow appeared, I turned to her and said, “That’s your Dad, right?” She was like “Yup.”

Shirley Halperin, a writer, fan and a friend, was there covering the show for Billboard. She said to me “That rainbow couldn’t be real. Did you make that happen?” I said “C’mon, you can’t manufacture a rainbow.” She kept saying “C’mon it was too perfect, tell me the truth.” We kept going back and forth and I finally said something like “OK, maybe it was 50 grand.” At the end of the article, she wrote something like “There’s a rumor that promoter Pete Shapiro paid $50,000 for the rainbow.” I saw the story at the end of the night and said, “Oh my God, Shirley.” I woke up the next morning and the story had been picked up by Reuters, so in London they had their own story with the headline “Grateful Dead creates rainbow.” That’s how it happens sometimes (laughs).

TME: Phish and the Grateful Dead are very different bands in many ways yet there’s a significant percentage of crossover fans. Was it satisfying to bring those worlds together for the “Fare Thee Well” shows?

Shapiro: When you see Phish or the Grateful Dead, it’s more than just going to a show, you feel like you are part of a community. I don’t think I’m that brilliant for knowing it would work. Anyone who was a fan of both would know that one plus one is like four. That’s why for me, putting Trey with the Grateful Dead was such a perfect thing. I had seen Trey at the Warfield (San Francisco venue) in April 1999 when he and Page (McConnell, of Phish) played with Phil and Friends. I’ve done some other things with Trey occasionally playing Grateful Dead music with Bob Weir and I know the magic that gets created so putting that together wasn’t a stretch.

TME: One of the remarkable things about Phish is that after nearly 40 years together, the music and their friendship seems much more important than anything related to business. Do you see it that way?

Shapiro: I see it as one blended world. I have to deal with business in the morning. Sometimes I wish I was a musician. They have managers and agents and promoters to do that.

The connection and friendship among the members of Phish is so deep and it needs to be that way for them to remain innovative and fresh musically. The music is better for it.

As a promoter I try to be creative as well in terms of the way you approach putting on a show. Sometimes that involves putting musicians together like when we’re doing something like The Jammy Awards, or back at Wetlands or the Phil Lesh and Friends lineups. We’re about to do nine nights with Phil Lesh in October at the Capitol Theatre. It will be three three-night weekends and each weekend is a different lineup that Phil pretty much lets me and my team put together. We’re bringing in new people who haven’t played with Phil before.

For me I try to be creative when I collaborate with the people I’m working with because all of the details are like playing notes on an instrument and every detail matters.

If something goes off, whether it’s related to ticketing, marketing, the box office on the night of, or the sound and lights, the bars, the bathrooms – if one of those goes off it can throw off the whole experience. Everyone knows what it’s like to go to a show and wait too long in line or the security vibe is off. It all matters and if you want to do it well you need to put a lot of time into it and that never fades away (laughs). It’s a lot of work so you might as well approach it as collaboratively as possible with friends. It takes a big team to do it all right.

TME: You write about some of the newer bands on the jam scene including Goose and Billy Strings. Goose has come a long way in a relatively short period of time. Do you think we’ll be talking about them in 20 years?

Shapiro: Yeah, I think they’ll still be playing. I can’t predict they’ll be at Phish’s level, but they have enough momentum and talent that I think Goose will be a band that’s with us for a long time.

A lot of the bands that came up after Garcia’s passing like the Disco Biscuits, String Cheese Incident, Umphrey’s McGee, moe., or Medeski, Martin & Wood - they’re all still active on the scene and it’s a very active scene with multiple generations. There are a couple of bands, like Baked Shrimp and Eggy, that are almost like the next post-Goose kind of thing. We have them play at Garcia’s at the Capitol Theatre. It’s a smaller room, 250 capacity. It’s cool to see it start to happen for them. You can feel that energy and you know that it’s going to keep going and growing.

TME: I hope you’ll write a follow-up to this book some day. You have many more shows and adventures ahead.

Shapiro: I’ll keep going but I’m glad I got it down in this book. You never know what’s going to happen in life. Remember how it felt in physics or chemistry after you took the final? It felt like that when this book was finished. I still love going to the shows, that part never fades and it’s what keeps me going. The daytime part of this job isn’t as much fun. It was only through doing this book that I discovered I’d done over 10,000 shows. Maybe I’ll do another 10,000 and we’ll see how it goes.

Last modified on Monday, 10 October 2022 07:59


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