Dead's Last Gigs Streamed Live On Multiplatforms

The Grateful Dead’s historic “Fare Thee Well” extravaganzas cemented the band’s legacy as the most powerful multiplatform music brand to emerge from the Summer of Love. And Peter Shapiro, the ultimate Deadhead and promoter extraordinaire, who engineered the reunion, made sure the shows were so much more than live events, with streaming on screens big, small and in-between part of the mix.

“It’s the new model,” says Shapiro. “We wanted to go direct to the consumer, whether that was cable and satellite on-demand, or pay-per-view digital and YouTube.”

From the get-go, Shapiro had a blueprint for the five sellout events that brought the original Dead members together for the first time since the death of the band’s founder, Jerry Garcia, in 1995. Shapiro saw it as a jam extravaganza to be viewed around the world. This was going to be a global media happening, reverberating far beyond the 440,000 who snatched up tickets for the live shows. 



And that’s what happened. The $50 million ticket sale tally for the three shows in Chicago (July 3, 4 and 5) and two preceding in Santa Clara, Calif. were estimated to be more than doubled by theatrical showings and live streaming pay-per-view. Viewing options included YouTube -- as the platform’s first pay-per-view music event, according to Shapiro -- and several cable providers, as well as a webcast provided by Add in the estimated $10 million in Dead “Fare Thee Well” merch, and the inevitable concert films distributed on multiple platforms, and you have Billboard estimating that the total revenue for the reunion could approach $150 million. Shapiro demurs and says that number is probably overly optimistic. But the figures are still coming in.

Peace, love & ancillaries have long been part of the Dead’s pioneering business plan, but Shapiro is the guy who put digital dollars into the mix. The aggressive multiplatform approach has the savvy fingers of the 42-year-old rightly touted as the “Bill Graham of the 21st Century” all over it. A veteran concert producer, club owner, filmmaker and publisher, Shapiro’s empire includes the successful Brooklyn Bowl franchise (with venues in Williamsburg, Las Vegas & London), and the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, N.Y. He's also produced a number of music festivals and concert films (“U2 3D” among them). In addition, he owns Relix, the music magazine that celebrates the jam bands that have carried on the Dead tradition.

Shapiro traces his roots in the business back to a chilly March in 1993, when, as a budding film student at Northwestern University, he went to his first psychedelically charged Dead concert in Chicago and became a convert. That summer he went on the road, making a documentary about the Deadheads who tirelessly follow the band.

Ever since Garcia’s demise, promoters have attempted to get the Dead to reunite — and all failed. Shapiro, however, had a couple of decades of close ties to band members, as well as with Garcia’s daughter Trixie, who partnered with Shapiro for Garcia’s, the bar adjacent to the Capitol Theater. Original Dead members have played Shapiro venues with solo projects; bassist Phil Lesh even has an exclusive deal to play there.

Still, Shapiro admits it took months of negotiating to get the crew reunited. He ultimately succeeded where others failed because of his Deadhead cred, a reputation for state-of-the-art sound and video production, and his plan to boldly distribute the band throughout the digital frontier. For example, he wisely knew to use the MLB Network to support the back end for the digital pay-per-view. “The Dead were on board with the direct-to-consumer approach from the beginning,” he says. “From a revenue perspective, this will probably end up being the biggest musical pay-per-view event ever.”

Phil Lesh once told me that he works with Shapiro because he “thinks like a musician — he understands the spirit of the music.” True. But Shapiro also has a deep understanding of the 21st century media ecosystem, where live events need to be on every screen everywhere. And the “ripple” effects will continue to be felt.

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