In mid-March, as the coronavirus pandemic arrived in America and threw the live business into disarray, few responded as effectively as management company 11E1even Group, which represents artists such as Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Twiddle and Goose, and quickly established a new revenue model for its clients.
“The idea, first and foremost, was us jumping immediately into survival mode of ‘How do we make sure we’re going to be able to keep these bands afloat that we represent,’ which then obviously turned into a bigger concept of helping bands and crews around the country through our platform,” says 11E1even owner Ben Baruch, who with 11E1even manager Dave DiCianni co-founded Live From Out There, an inventive pay-per-view streaming festival that brought its acts, and soon many others, to the masses of jam and jam-adjacent fans yearning for new music in quarantine.
“Those first few weeks, I think every single time I called them they were in the office working out the kinks,” says Twiddle singer and guitarist Mihali Savoulidis. “They got it up and running very fast, from the platform to the artists and the scheduling, the whole look and vibe of the thing. They were really the first to get the virtual musical festival experience going.”
By March’s end, Live From Out There was hosting live and archival streaming sets, along with non-musical sessions, including “Sanitize Your Spirit” (yoga), “Flattening Your Curve” (home workout) and “For Takeout Only” (cooking). As the pandemic continued, Live From Out There upped its game, enlisting artists such as Billy Strings, Taj Mahal, Real Estate and Chromeo; assembling all-star tributes to John Prine, Bill Withers and the songwriting duo of Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter; and hosting the digital edition of Illinois jam festival Summer Camp, which was to have its 20th annual edition Memorial Day weekend.
“Each night, there would be multiple fan bases watching the entire event, so we saw a lot of crossover in the fanbases,” Savoulidis says. “The huge benefit of streaming, and something we’ve learned from Live From Out There, is the ability to connect with a bigger audience than you normally would just playing a regular show.”
Three months into the shutdown, with closures in place indefinitely in most major markets, Live From Out There keeps growing. The venture has already grossed upwards of $600,000 and moved more than 40,000 digital tickets, with revenue split between artists, the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund’s COVID-19 Fund and social justice organizations. The next frontier? Virtual tours for 11E1even artists.
“Live From Out There, the festival model, gave us a good indication of what the demand was for particular bands within our lineups, and just in general for livestreaming,” DiCianni says. “The further out the cancellations were going and pushing throughout the summer, we wanted to engage the specific fanbases rather than the greater live jam community in a unique way.”
In the coming weeks, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Twiddle and Goose will stage virtual events affiliated with Live From Out There, which have already sold 4,000 tickets combined and could blaze new trails for both 11E1even and streaming generally.
“This touring model has opened up a whole new world for what we can do,” DiCianni says. “Really, in a lot of ways, it’s a better way to generate revenue for particular artists.”
Since 2010, jam-funk band Pigeons Playing Ping Pong has hosted Domefest annually at various locales in Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and the event was set to return to Marvin’s Mountaintop in Masontown, W.V., for a second consecutive year in May, before the pandemic hit.
“We know for all the people that go to Domefest, it’s more than a music festival – it’s like a family reunion,” Pigeons singer and guitarist Greg Ormont says. “As soon as we made the decision to move the festival to 2021, we immediately started thinking about what we could do in lieu of the physical event. And the name Homefest was perfect: just one switch of a letter and we can express to our fans that we’re going to celebrate the people you love, one way or the other.”
Like other 11E1even artists, Pigeons had already made regular appearances on Live From Out There, with archival sets and new, pre-recorded performances that manager DiCianni urged the band to bank when the coronavirus-induced shutdown appeared imminent.
“He was at the forefront of this idea and really continued to keep his finger on the pulse of how concert venues and governments were reacting to all of this, and kind of predicted the future,” Ormont says.
Live From Out There’s success naturally inspired a digital iteration of Domefest, and Pigeons quickly recruited artists including Kitchen Dwellers, LITZ and Mungion to supplement its own traditional five sets. Under the moniker Scrambled Greg, Ormont will host the event, which will also include cooking and yoga classes and nostalgic video programming. And with Homefest, which takes place June 11-13, Pigeons wants to harness the community facets enabled by streaming.
“That’s what separates festivals from concerts,” Ormont says. “The human connection that is just unmatched at Domefest is you walk in as strangers and you leave as best friends. We’re trying to incorporate that social aspect into the livestream.”
Though Pigeons’ streaming slate is a creative and financial stopgap until touring resumes, Ormont thinks it’ll remain part of their offering afterward.
“There’s nothing that compares to playing live and feeling the energy of the crowd,” he says. “That will always be our bread and butter. But this pandemic is creating a whole new landscape that we all need to explore. One silver lining is learning about a new way to connect with fans no matter what.”
Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic.com / Getty – Virtual Road Warriors
Twiddle, pictured at a sold-out Troubadour gig in March 2019, will stream from several empty Vermont venues for its Live From Out There-affiliated “Roots Tour 2020” in July.
LIVE FROM VERMONT VENUES
As some municipalities have eased shelter-in-place orders, venues have started to host audience-less streaming shows, and, from July 9-26, Vermont band Twiddle will celebrate its 15th anniversary with several such concerts, working its way through the Green Mountain State establishments that facilitated its rise.
According to Savoulidis, he and Baruch conceptualized Twiddle’s “Roots Tour 2020” to give fans something “different than just a virtual tour, just streaming shows.” Because of the band’s deep Vermont bonds – it formed at the state’s Castleton College, and on a 2018 live album, Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced Twiddle as “one of the great bands in Vermont” – presenting a tour through that lens made sense.
The virtual tour will stream from progressively larger Vermont venues to mirror Twiddle’s rise, beginning at Castleton, then moving to clubs such as Nectar’s, Higher Ground and the Paramount Theatre, and the band plans to nod to the past by reproducing vintage merch, playing period-accurate gear and constructing setlists to evoke certain Twiddle eras. Additional content will include footage old and new; Savoulidis even plans to return to the Castleton dorm rooms he and keyboardist Ryan Dempsey once occupied.
Ironically, Twiddle had contemplated 15th anniversary plans before coronavirus struck, but might not have realized them without the pandemic.
“It’s difficult to pull some of this stuff off when you’re constantly touring,” Savoulidis says. “This actually gave us some time to really think and try and be creative and focus and have the ability to actually achieve it.”
Like other Live From Out There participants, a primary impetus for Twiddle’s streaming has been supporting its crew – “Their skill set is very specific to Twiddle and what they do for us, and honestly they’re just as important as any of the four of us,” Savoulidis says – but aiding the now-shuttered physical spaces that elevated it over the years was crucial, too.
“We love all these venues and we were all so nervous they were going to close,” he says.
None of it would’ve been possible without Live From Out There and the long hours 11E1even logged to hone the series. Says Savoulidis: “It’s just a really pro operation they’ve got going.”
Kendall McCargo – Birds of a Feather
Goose, one of 11E1even’s buzziest artists, opens for Pigeons Playing Ping Pong at Chicago’s Riviera Theatre on March 7. The show sold 2,427 tickets and grossed $71,208.
One of 11E1even’s buzziest acts is Connecticut jam outfit Goose, which has quickly risen since its 2017 formation. The band’s propensity for out-of-the-box ideas lends itself to streaming, and its “Bingo Tour,” which consists of five concerts at the fictional Goose Community Rec Center from June 19-28, will test virtual touring’s boundaries.
Beyond the $50 five-show “Bingo Tour” streaming pass, Goose will offer $10 setlist bingo cards, with each card purchased increasing one’s chances of winning prizes like merchandise and VIP experiences. The bingo element runs both ways: Goose will perform setlists created randomly in real-time, and its members will also follow the non-musical instructions – running laps, doing push-ups, shirts coming off – printed on certain balls.
“It’s not hugely different from what we do live, anyway, we’re just making the calls instead of the balls,” says singer and guitarist Rick Mitarotonda, adding that the band considered the bingo concept for physical shows even before the pandemic. But, as bandmate Peter Anspach adds, “it’s more interactive than just a regular stream.”
As with Homefest, Goose’s “Bingo Tour” will serve viewers other content, including tutorials for healthy cooking and gardening.
“As soon as you have a theme, you can just build so much around it,” Anspach says. “The whole idea of the ‘Bingo Tour’ was we wanted to make it a full week of giving people a whole bunch of activities to get involved with other than our music. We’re trying to promote healthy lifestyle, and play some music and shred some faces off.”
The absence of shows has created a “huge market for being able to charge for a livestream event,” Anspach says, and Goose has started to contemplate what role streaming will play for it when touring returns.
“Traveling and touring is awesome, but it’s also not something that we will want to do all of the time,” Mitarotonda says. “Being able to connect with our audience and put out content while being at home and able to pursue other aspects of life, it’s an awesome thing that we’re excited to explore.”
Live From Out There initially partnered with nugs.net, a livestreaming pioneer and a leader in the sphere during the pandemic, but after Baruch client Big Gigantic participated in “Music Lives,” a 48-hour streaming event hosted on LiveXLive and sponsored by TikTok and Facebook, 11E1even decided to move the festival to the platform. The partnership has provided Live From Out There with technical backing for its ambitious, forward-thinking livestreaming concepts.
LiveXLive has a history streaming festivals such as Bonnaroo and EDC Las Vegas, and its subscription service offers both audio and video. And, “between the open distribution, the OTT platforms, the interactive chat and tipping and merch,” it was an appealing partner for Live From Out There, according to LiveXLive president Dermot McCormack, whose resume includes stints at AOL and Viacom. Plus, LiveXLive wanted to dip its toes into the pay-per-view world, which it did by partnering with Live From Out There.
“Nugs is definitely a great platform for bands presenting their own shows, but LiveXLive made a lot of sense for a day-long program like we’ve been doing,” DiCianni says.
Moreover, LiveXLive is dreaming big. The platform facilitates OTT devices like Apple TV and Roku, while its interactivity builds community and its tipping and merch integration boost revenue.
“We’ll never replicate the feeling of being in a live music venue, and we don’t want to, but we can create new ways to connect on a screen, and that’s really where we’re pushing toward,” McCormack says. “One of the key, key, key pieces of this idea of ‘Will people pay for live music in digital and on screens?’ is the creative conversation with the artist. You could have all the technology in the world, but if the performance and the artistic rendering is not there, then it doesn’t really matter.”
In a sense, Live From Out There is just the latest example of the decades-long bond between the internet and the jam world, which dates back to ARPANET-facilitated connections between Deadheads in the ’70s.
“The Grateful Dead and what they’ve done in the past, they were almost a predictor of everything that was ever going to happen in music, and still are,” McCormack says. “When they were out there, they basically gave away their music for free and they toured.”
That’s how many modern artists operate, he says, and echoing Mitarotonda, he suggests that as platforms expand monetization avenues, artists beyond jam may increasingly utilize streaming to reduce road time while maintaining revenue and exploring new artistic possibilities. (Singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco leads a Live From Out There stream marking the release of the Prison Music Project’s Long Time Gone and benefitting prison reform June 12.)
“In the jam scene, it’s going to only keep growing, because these people know that they can’t miss a show, and every show’s going to be different,” Baruch says.
Essentially, Live From Out There shows the deeper artist-fan bond livestreaming enables.
“That’s the greatest beauty of the whole thing,” Savoulidis says. “The streaming platform is going to be a staple and something that is always there now, so that nobody has to miss out on a show if they don’t want to.”