Grateful Dead promoter plans to do right for shut-out fans.

March 9, 2015

If you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of Grateful Dead fans who got shut out of tickets for the band’s 50th anniversary shows July 3-5 in Soldier Field, promoter Peter Shapiro has some good news for you.

“We’re going to try to create ways to experience the show outside the stadium, using technology,” Shapiro says. “Whether you’re at home, or out in the community, we’re working on a way to bring the show to fans who aren’t in Soldier Field with high-level audio and video.”
 
When Peter Shapiro, 42, was a teen studying at Northwestern University in Evanston when he attended a Grateful Dead concert at what was then known as Rosemont Horizon (now Allstate Arena). It was a life-changing experience. (Denise Truscello, WireImage)
The format –- pay per view, online streaming, a simulcast -- hasn’t been determined, he says. “We’re exploring all ideas. But this is a way that technology we didn’t have in the '90s can really help make this event as Grateful Dead-fan friendly as possible. They couldn’t beam shows in the '90s into your house, your phone, another place where people gather. And we’ll have that.”
 
The double-edged sword of technology, the blinding speed with which more than 200,000 tickets could sell out three Grateful Dead anniversary concerts, preoccupies Shapiro. He’s upset that tickets are on the secondary market selling for thousands of dollars. “Those numbers aren’t real, and they have nothing to do with the music. … (But) with the technology and bringing the show to fans who couldn’t get tickets, to enable them to see it, we want to do a reverse jujitsu against the secondary market.”
 
Shapiro, 42, was destined to help put together what is turning out to be one of the most in-demand concerts in rock history.
 
In 1993, while the New York City teen was studying at Northwestern University in Evanston, he attended a Grateful Dead concert at what was then known as the Rosemont Horizon (now Allstate Arena). It was a life-changing experience that he remembers in exacting detail, from the performance by word-jazz pioneer Ken Nordine to the multisensory experience inside and outside the show in the snow-ridden parking lot. It was so inspiring that the next day he began working on a documentary on the band and the community and culture it created. 
 
Years later he became a concert promoter in New York City and has built the multicity Brooklyn Bowl franchise and owns the famed Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, N.Y. He’s booked numerous shows by Dead spinoff bands led by Phil Lesh, Bob Weir and Mickey Hart, and forged a relationship that brought him into the band’s inner circle when Lesh, Weir, Hart and Bill Kreutzmann began discussing a 50th anniversary celebration. The core members will be augmented by Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio and keyboardists Bruce Hornsby and Jeff Chimenti.
 
In a Tribune interview, Shapiro addressed some issues about putting together the concert and instant sell-out ticket sale, with tickets now on the secondary market selling for tens of thousands of dollars.
 
On the overwhelming demand for the shows: “It’s just nuts. This thing has taken on a life of its own. The response to these on-sales, both online and mail, shows the power the band had, and the music. It made everyone say, ‘Whoa.’ No one expected how big this has turned out to be.”
 
On the huge mark-ups for tickets on the secondary market: “I don’t think that’s real. I wave my hand at these prices. When you post (an asking price on the secondary market), it doesn’t mean you definitely have the ticket on you. Doing this in 2015, technology has its benefits and challenges. The benefits are that I hope we can share this show and many can experience it as if they were there. The challenge is the secondary market -- you create a false impression of what these tickets are worth. I can’t control it. We’ve talked about what we do about it.”
 
What about additional Grateful Dead shows? “I’m not going to go there. There’s no extra dates planned. For Chicago or anywhere else.”
 
greg@gregkot.com
 
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