Despite his current success in the music business, it would be incorrect to assume that everything Shapiro touches immediately turns to gold.
The late Bill Graham may be considered the greatest American Jewish rock music promoter but upstart Peter Shapiro could be close at his heels.
The publisher of longtime jam band magazine Relix Magazine is also owner of multiple music venues throughout the United States, organizer of the jam band LockN music festival and the promoter of literally 10,000 shows.
He’s also the mastermind and miracle worker who reunited the surviving members of The Grateful Dead for five concerts in 2015 to celebrate the band’s 50th anniversary.
Shapiro’s long, strange trip is detailed in The Music Never Stops: What Putting on 10,000 Shows Has Taught About Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Magic, released this week.
Shapiro, a young and active 50 year old, nearly lost it all many times, including the time in his mid-twenties, when as a young promoter, he had to part with 10% of his bank account in 1997 to pay Marty Balin, founding member of the Jefferson Airplane, his guaranteed fee.
Each of the relatively short 50 chapters feature a title (such as Black Lily, Soldier Field Part I, Green Apples), a concert, a venue and a show date. The legendary concert promoter and all around mensch, regales readers with entertaining and informative stories and anecdotes of celebrities, music venues, concerts and music festivals he has planned and executed.
I was delighted to relive three memorable concerts I personally attended: Greateful Dead alumni Phil Lesh and Friends at the Cap, LockN, and Lesh and the Dead’s Bob Weir at Radio City Music Hall, in 2018. Shapiro name drops on every page, but not to show off – he really has meaningful, caring relationships with so many people from all walks of life. Shapiro forms genuine relationships with just about everyone he meets, including disparate figures from Robert Plant and Peter Fonda to Jimmy Fallon.
The Manhattan Upper East Side resident recounts his formative years, which encompass a myriad of non-music interests. He covered play-by-play for high school basketball, interned at the short lived National Sports Daily tabloid and, while a student at Northwestern University, produced a film about Deadheads, which included an interview about Acid Tests icon, Ken Kesey. The film premiered at Sundance.
Shapiro went on to make additional films for the NFL, produced U2 3D and the IMAX concert film All Access: Front Row Backstage Live, and created the Jammy Awards. He also put on massive Earth Day Celebrations and almost produced John Kerry’s Presidential Inaugural Celebration in January, 2005 – though it was eventually called off on account of Kerry never actually being elected president.
SHAPIRO’S MUSIC lessons to date come from years on the ground, including owning and running Wetlands in NYC in his mid-20s, founding and owning the Brooklyn Bowl – the famous music venue with music, bowling and food experiences in Brooklyn – and the entire franchise which now includes locations in Nashville, Philadelphia and Las Vegas – and regularly packing his Capitol Theater in Port Chester, NY night after night with the likes of Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, Steely Dan and of course, Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead, who regularly performs a residency there.
“To those who want to work in the concert business, treat any task that is presented to you as a career opportunity, no matter how minor it may seem. If you do the job right and people enjoyed working with you, it increases the odds that you’ll get another chance,” writes Shapiro the book, written with Relix editor, Dean Budnick.
Shapiro is never content to simply admire his successes and stay put. He is always on the move. He expanded the 1,800 seat Capitol Theater to also house Garcia’s, a lobby bar in honor of the late Grateful Dead guitarist and singer, who considered the rock palace to be one of his favorite venues in the country. In recent years, Shapiro added the very clever Rock and Roll Playhouse to Garcia’s offerings. The family concert series is a place where parents can introduce their kids to the Grateful Dead for Kids, as well as Phish, Beatles, Queen, Dave Matthews and Bob Marley – all for kids.
Despite his frenetic schedule, which has literally involved flying back from a Hawaiian family vacation for a day to be at a show, Shapiro often serves on boards or takes leadership roles – lessons he learned at home from his family. He has helped produce Earth Day, the Climate Rally on the National Mall in Washington, DC, and he is actively involved in Head Count and Central Park Summer Stage.
Shapiro no doubt learned a thing or two about chessed (kindness) and tikkun olam from his father, Daniel Shapiro, who he mentions in the book, and from his grandfather, Ezra Shapiro. Daniel Shapiro was president of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies (forerunner of the UJA-Federation of New York) in the early 80s. He also offered legal counsel and helped Peter out of countless jams while operating Wetland. His grandfather, Ezra, was once world chairperson of Keren Hayesod.
One additional family fun fact: Peter is the great-grandnephew of Joel Elias Spingarn, an early leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Shapiro casually and unselfconsciously makes use of Jewish terms and references throughout the book. He mentions bar mitzvahs taking place at the Capitol Theater and writes of the Brooklyn Bowl, “When Prince died on a Thursday, we hosted a shiva that night with Questlove spinning.” He uses this vignette to illustrate the importance of quickly changing course when necessary. “Since we’re open seven nights a week, we also have the ability to pivot and program quickly.”
While most music fans are impressed and even in awe of Shapiro’s ability to work his magic to pull off the seemingly supernatural, like reuniting the members of the Grateful Dead. But some fans and even members of the legendary Grateful Dead have gone so far as to suggest that Shapiro actually has supernatural powers.
He opens the book, “Fans of legendary music business figure Peter Shapiro are still debating his role in the legendary rainbow, which appeared over Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California at the Fare The Well: Celebrating 50 Years of the Grateful Dead, on June 27, 2015.One reviewer suggested that Shapiro himself had ponied up $50,000 (NIS 169,000) to make the rainbow appear. Even Mickey Hart, the Jewish drummer of the Grateful Dead, emailed Shapiro to ask, “How did you do that rainbow trick? I won’t reveal your power.”
Let’s hope Shapiro continues to use his special powers to produce more tricks and teach more valuable life lessons.