At a time when corporate interests control the music industry, indie promoter Peter Shapiro is an anomaly. He's not averse to working with the the big companies - Live Nation, AEG - but would rather do things on his own terms.
Shapiro has Brooklyn Bowl and the Capitol Theatre in New York and co-owns several Bowl spinoffs in Las Vegas, Nashville and Philadelphia (one closed in London). Initially known for taking over the city's hippie club devoted to Deadheads, Wetlands Preserve, in the mid-'90s when he was in his mid-twenties, the legend of Pete Shapiro, a.k.a. "Shappy" to friends, has grown ever since.
He tells all in his memoir, The Music Never Stops, written with Dean Budnick, about how he's devoted "100,000 hours working on live shows," adding in the subtitle: What Putting on 10,000 Shows Has Taught Me About Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Magic.
Shapiro sees himself as a magician, the keeper of the vibe, a jugggler of hundreds of ideas, many of which never come to fruition. But when they do, like his epic Fare Thee Well 50th anniversary Grateful Dead concerts in 2015, it's a thing of beauty. The book begins with the rainbow controversy at the Fare The Well show in Santa Clara on June 27.
My friend and co-author Shirley Halperin reported then at Billboard that the rainbow, which occurred during a spacy jam, was manufactured. At the time she texted Pete, "How'd you do that?" He jokingly wrote back, "I paid 50 grand for it." In the book, he refers to the rainbow incident as "one of the world's craziest conspiracy theories." Shapiro ends the chapter with this reply to the question of whether or not the rainbow was man-made: "My answer is yes... and the man who made it was Jerry Garcia." Of course, Garica died 20 years earlier.
Like Bill Graham and Ron Delsener before him, Shapiro's an impressario who cares. He match-makes musicians and bands with the greatest of ease. His phone number is known to many and he's quick to respond to texts. If you know Pete and want to be on one of his guest lists, then go straight to him. There are no barriers or filters. That's how he likes to play the music game, which Pete often compares to sports.
The book provides plenty of advice for would-be promoters. It's a self-help guide for the overally ambitious.
"Like Bill Graham and Ron Delsener before him, Pete Shapiro's an impressario who cares."
I've known Pete since he bought Wetlands in 1996. It was a popular haunt for the High Times staff and, as music editor, I was always waved in, whether I called ahead or not. We did a number of shows at Wetlands - one with Cypress Hill, another with Sublime, the High Times Doobie Awards and a promo night for Hempilation 2. We had another Doobies slated for 9/12/01, but that never happened; Wetlands was too close to Ground Zero. The club closed after one last show a month later.
Pete kept busy with the Jammys, the Green Apple Festival, several musical movie projects and some political events until he rebounded with Brooklyn Bowl in 2009 - a venue that mixed jam-band style music with bowling and quality food. Despite naysayers who thought noisy pins and balls would distract the bands, it turned into a success and spurred expansion to several more around the country and one in England. His next move was buying and restoring the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY, which he details in "The Original Rock Palace" chapter.
I've been to many of Pete's venues and events, including the Lockn' festival in Virginia. He recalls Dead & Company and Sheryl Crow performing there in 2018, the year I went. Though Pete loves the pastoral setting, he admits, with outdoor events getting more and more rain, it might be time to take them indoors, like his clubs and theater where you can at least control the climate.
Pete Shapiro's reply to the question of whether or not the Fare Thee Well rainbow was man-made in 2015: "My answer is yes... and the man who made it was Jerry Garcia."
Covid hasn't been good for the live music industry, though large concerts and festivals have made a comeback in 2022. During the downtime, Pete spent more time with his family - he's married with two children - fewer hours flying (he logged 100,000 miles in 2019) and also dealt with a health issue.
The jam-band scene, headed by the Dead and Phish, has many off-shoots and Shapiro discusses them all: Blues Traveler, Soulive, Disco Biscuits, Umphrey's McGee, Galactic, Grace Potter, Strangefolk, Gov't Mule, The String Cheese Incident and more. Most of his favorites have not crossed over to wider audiences, and he's fine with that. Pete's taste runs the gamut from The Dead to The Roots (the group's popular drummer Questlove earns a chapter) with a lot of jazz in between.
But ultimately he sees the big picture, like reuniting the surviving Grateful Dead members. Following that success, Pete decided to tackle a Led Zeppelin reunion next. Despite support from Robert Plant, whom he befriended, it hasn't happened yet. But I'm sure, as long as three original Zeppelin members are still alive, the persistent promoter will keep knocking on their door. Because, like the book title and Grateful Dead song it's derived from says: "The music never stops."
Sidebar 1: Cheech & Chong
P. 214: " In 2018, I booked Cheech & Chong for two shows on 4/20 at the Capitol, scheduling both early and late performances. This meant the two of them would be around to join me for some hang time in my cave. It was another one of those moments where I felt I was inside the movie."
Sidebar 2: The Great Went
Between Chapters 7 and 8, I'd add the following:
"Pete, Shirley and I drove to The Great Went on August 15, 1997. This was Phish's three-day festival at the Loring Air Force base in Limestone, Maine. It rained on the way up and the field was soaked when we arrived that night. I'd brought a tent. Pete didn't have one. Shirley found a bed in one of the hangers. I set up the tent and Pete climbed in and went fast asleep. I stayed in the car and listened to Phish radio as I dozed off and on. In the morning, I got up and looked for Pete. The tent had hydroplaned at least 10 feet from were I put it. Pete was still inside sleeping. The rain eventually stopped and we all had a great fest. That's how I bonded with Pete Shapiro."