Get Peter Shapiro's The Music Never Stops book in the Goldmine shop
By Ray Chelstowski
At one time, concert promoters had names that were as recognizable as the bands they represented. Guys like Ron Delsener, and of course Bill Graham, followed the course set by rock tour pioneer Frank Barsalona. He birthed the idea of multi-city and multi-act tours right after seeing The Beatles perform their first Washington D.C. show in 1964. Since then, the business of promoting shows and tours has become a corporate act, with Live Nation leading the field. But back in in the day, these impresarios were infamous for their ground–breaking marketing tactics and ”go with their gut” decision-making that almost always delivered remarkable results.
Now one of those tour veterans, music promoter, filmmaker and venue owner Peter Shapiro has captured his own experience through the lens of 50 specific shows in a new book titled The Music Never Stops: What Putting on 10,000 Shows Has Taught Me About Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Magic.
Described as “perhaps the most notable independent concert promoter since Bill Graham,” Shapiro is best-known for his long-standing relationship with the Grateful Dead and the many offshoot projects they helped launched.
His roots in the scene go back to when he acquired and ran jam band destination the Wetlands in downtown Manhattan — while still in his 20s — to opening Brooklyn Bowl and expanding the franchise to Las Vegas, Philadelphia and Nashville. His portfolio also includes the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York. He also infamously staged the Grateful Dead’s 50th anniversary “Fare Thee Well” tour, featuring the co-founders Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann with Phish’s Trey Anastasio which led to the formation of Dead & Company, an act still on tour today.
The Music Never Stops was written with Relix editor Dean Budnick and it covers a good amount of ground; through industry consolidation and disruptive changes that occurred in advances, venue operations, ticketing and touring. It also provides invaluable insight for those looking to enter into the live music and event business.
The book is a fun-filled read whether you tackle it start to finish, or sharp shoot right to the shows that interest you most. In total, the writing style goes down easy and what sets this apart is Shapiro’s willingness to admit where he didn’t hit the note or when he wasn’t as sure of his ability as people might have thought. It’s honest, enlightening, funny, and filled with fun facts that seem to appear on every single page. This book goes down like hot buttered popcorn!
Among the artists covered are Bob Dylan, Robert Plant, Leonard Cohen, U2, the Roots, and personalities like Anastasio, Lesh, Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, Questlove, NBA Hall of Famer Bill Walton, Blue Note Records president Don Was and “Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon have contributed quotes for the book’s back cover that speak to the capacity of a person responsible for some of rock’s most memorable live moments.
Goldmine had the opportunity to chat with Schapiro about how the book came about, what live shows just missed the cut, and where he sees live music moving in a post-Covid world.
Goldmine: Why did you decide that this was the moment to write this book?
Peter Shapiro: One of the things I do is work as publisher/owner of Relix. Dean Budnick who is a co-editor asked me a few years ago if I had ever written down any of my experiences, and I hadn’t. It was at the beginning of Covid and at the time I had a little health hiccup. This isn’t a memoir but is instead a story of 50 shows. Ironically Dean was at a bunch of them. He offered to do the lion’s share of work and that allowed me to just talk on the phone all day. (laughs) Covid was that one time in my life where I was able to “come off the wheel," so to say. I had the time and I’m really happy that I did it now because I couldn’t do it in 30 years. I wouldn’t remember it all! I actually don’t get how people can wait so many years to write something like this. I barely remember it now. I feel relieved.
GM: Given your Relix relationship, Dean seems like the perfect writing partner. But beyond that what was it that he specifically brought to the process?
PS: Well remember that he was at a lot of these shows. He went to Wetlands and The Jammies and has been around me for years. Dean actually directed a documentary film that was aired on the Sundance Channel about Wetlands. From the beginning it’s been a partnership. What helped a lot is that Dean is a Harvard graduate with a PHD degree in American history, has a huge love of music and his knowledge of it is so strong that he wrote the definitive book on jam bands, so it was a “no-brainer.” What helped as well was the internet. Getting the set lists for all 50 shows, confirming who played, and getting it all right was a two-plus-one proposition; Dean, myself and the internet. The details matter and they are what really makes this book so special.
GM: This book covers 50 shows. What was the fifty first show that just missed the cut?
PS: I actually felt good about the idea of “50.” The end of the book, which is now the middle of my life, finds me still going strong. So the chapters that aren’t in it are tied to things that are happening now.
GM: So is there another book in you waiting to come out? With this approach I can see a volume two, maybe even a volume three.
PS: That’s very bold of you to suggest there can be a volume three. (laughs) That puts a lot of pressure on me. You’re the first to do that. Full respect!
I put on my first show when I was 23 years old and I’m now 49 about to turn 50 and it was only through this book that we actually discovered that I’ve have put on over 10,000 shows. I didn’t attend every one of them but if something went wrong, be assured that I’d get the phone call because I’m responsible for the show, it’s my name. You get better with reps, as you do with any line of work, but what made this harder was that when I started out I didn’t know anyone, but your competitors do. It’s easier now, but not easy. It helps that I am friendly with the bands, their managers, and their agents. It’s just my world.
GM: The book is called The Music Never Stops. But with COVID it did. What lessons did you learn from the pandemic?
PS: The end of the book arrives at COVID where I am forced to start figuring things out and decide to stream Jason Isbell and others without an audience. It was about how you adjust to this uniquely challenging experience that we all went through. Brooklyn Bowl and the Capitol Theater were closed for a year and a half. You just have to bob and weave and figure things out the best you can.
GM: What do you think is the future of live music?
PS: One thing that COVID demonstrated was that you could stay home, stream everything and not go out. But in the end a lot of people realized how important the live experience really is. It can ever be replicated. I’m a guy who does a lot of streaming and I like that it makes shows more available to everyone. But it simply cannot replace that live experience.
I also hope that we don’t get too tech heavy with the live experience. Integrating visuals with the show is something I love to do, and for example the Capitol Theatre has projection mapping. But I hope we don’t begin to put too many overlays on top of that live show. Those kind of technological sprinkles have to be properly applied to lift and compliment the show. If you try to bring too many technical additions to what is essentially an analog show, you put everything at great risk.
GM: Your focus has been on jam bands. Are they easier to work with than other rock genres?
PS: Jam bands work live. They don’t really sell records. They stream well because every show is different. If you went this weekend to any market in the U.S., say Portland, Oregon or Portland, Maine, there will be a jam band playing in a local venue because it plays so well live. The jam band fan is a great customer. They have good vibes, they’re always with friends, they aren’t too sanctimonious about the show, it’s just about the experience, they’re pretty cool, and they tip well. And one important difference is that bands play two sets. You don’t headline with one set. So many bigger mainstream bands do and play a 75 minute set where the show ends at 10:15 PM. That’s a harder model, especially in smaller, mid-sized venues.
GM: In this digital-first world you have found a way to keep a print magazine not only alive, but thriving and relevant.
PS: There’s something nice about holding something when you read it. I think that with so much technology driving our lives it’s nice to have this kind of outlet and I think a few print magazines can survive. And what we have found is that print drives the digital. We just had the Lumineers on the cover and Jack Black is on the current cover. I’m not sure we would have secured those interviews without being able to offer them our cover. So print is a great overlay.
GM: Now that venues are reopening it seems like the market is flooded with tours. Is this sustainable?
PS: What do they say about Spotify? The top one percent is the top 99 percent. The top one percent of touring: Billy Joel, Springsteen, Elton John, McCartney, U2, the Eagles, Dead Co.; none of them will be around in 10 years. That will change a lot. There will be new Green Days and Chili Peppers, but you’re going to lose a lot of the arena touring universe. But just like how the whole jam band scene came out of Jerry Garcia passing, the need for certain kinds of music doesn’t just go away. Garcia passing created the entire jam band scene. Some went more blue grass, some went more southern rock, some went more toward jazz, and some went electronic. People just had to find a new fix.