Fowl Play: Goose Grows Its Flock And Takes Flight

Fowl Play
Adam Berta
– Fowl Play
Goose performs at Legend Valley in Thornville, Ohio, June 18, 2021.

Goose was looking forward to some time off. After months on the road, traversing the country and playing to the largest crowds of its career as the live industry restarted, the hot Connecticut jam band had free time allotted on the calendar for August.

But when Peter Shapiro rings, you take the call. The jam impresario and Dayglo Ventures founder, who has had his hand in everything from the Grateful Dead’s 2015 “Fare Thee Well” shows to Trey Anastasio’s 2020 livestreamed Beacon Jams residency, had an unexpected proposition: Lockn’, his annual festival outside of Charlottesville, Va., was moving from a single weekend to three, and he wanted Goose to anchor one of them.

The only catch?

“We had vacations planned,” says Goose singer and guitarist Rick Mitarotonda. “At first, we declined, reluctantly.”

But Shapiro insisted, and within a couple weeks the band announced FRED The Festival, a three-day Goose-centric bonanza also featuring Dawes, Dr. Dog, Hiss Golden Messenger, Cory Wong and more. (Goose offshoots Vasudo and aGOOSEtic trio will also play.)

Lockn’ provides a microcosm of Goose’s rapid rise in the jam world. In 2019, while agent Ethan Berlin was at the festival with his clients Khruangbin and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, he formalized Goose’s signing to Paradigm. (Berlin and Goose co-agent Karl Morse took Goose with them when they moved to Arrival Artists in October 2020.)

Before the pandemic hit, Goose was booked for the event’s 2020 iteration, halfway down the bill. Now, they’re holding down one Lockn’ weekend – with the other two built around seasoned jam vets Joe Russo’s Almost Dead and Tedeschi Trucks Band.

“Goose is the young band with the momentum in the scene,” Shapiro says. “You can sometimes just feel when a band has the momentum and musical skills and charisma and everything that goes into being a band that can have a long-term career in live music.”

The pandemic couldn’t halt Goose’s momentum; if anything, it accelerated it. Shortly before live’s shutdown, the band packed Denver’s 450-cap Cervantes’ Other Side; in July, Goose moved 9,657 tickets over two outdoor gigs at the city’s Sculpture Park. Two weeks after FRED, Goose will play one of Bonnaroo’s coveted late-night slots, before embarking on a mostly sold-out fall tour routed through venues that, like Sculpture Park, dwarf those Goose was previously playing.

“They’re moving into that top tier,” Shapiro says. “Goose has had the fastest rise of any band I’ve seen in this jam world since Phish.”

Denver Domination
Adam Berta
– Denver Domination
Across two July nights, Goose moved 10,000 tickets at Denver’s Sculpture Park, among the band’s biggest plays yet.

The northeastern U.S. is hallowed ground for jam bands. Several famed Grateful Dead shows took place there, and Vermont heroes Phish further entrenched the region as a jam haven in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Today, jam fixtures including Twiddle and Lettuce hail from New England.

“There’s something to be said about population and market density,” says 11E1even Group’s Dave DiCianni, who co-manages Goose with colleague Ben Baruch. “For a band to develop in that region, you could go play Bridgeport, Conn.; Hartford, R.I.; Providence, R.I.; Boston. Those are all two-hour drives, so there’s the ability to jump around that whole region with relative ease. For people who want to play lots of shows and lots of songs and long jams, the region lends itself to that.”

Rick Roll
Adam Berta
– Rick Roll
Singer and guitarist Rick Mitarotonda played in other bands with future members of Goose before ultimately forming the band in the mid-’10s.

Mitarotonda and Goose bandmates Peter Anspach and Trevor Weekz grew up in Wilton, Conn., where that history loomed large. In middle school, Mitarotonda recorded an album in his basement with friends and sold it to classmates – “Made like 600 bucks, pretty sweet,” he says – and by high school, he was immersed in music theory and improvisation, as well as jazz, Phish and the Dead.

When Phish reunited after its second hiatus in 2009, during Mitarotonda’s senior year, “we all went to a bunch of shows,” he explains. “That was obviously really formative, and through that I got to know the jam band scene, in terms of development and touring and things like that.”

Mitarotonda landed at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, where he met future Goose drummer Ben Atkind, and with Weekz they formed proto-Goose outfit Vasudo; tours in 2012 and 2013 gave way to Goose, which debuted in 2014. Though Goose built a regional following and even scored a coveted January 2018 opening slot for Spafford, it was on the rocks internally. Identifying the need for a personnel change, Mitarotonda called Anspach, whose band Great Blue was winding down, in late 2017.

“Seeing Peter go around with his band, they were just having a ton of fun,” Mitarotonda says. “It felt like that was what the band needed, that spirit.”

Mitarotonda was right. A little over a year later, in spring 2019, 11E1even’s Baruch called DiCianni into his office, where he was watching Goose’s acoustic Relix session. Goose had recently supported DiCianni’s clients Pigeons Playing Ping Pong on some bills and the two managers began discussing bringing Goose into the 11E1even fold. Around the time 11E1even officially signed Goose, the band’s July 2019 set at Peach Music Festival in Scranton, Penn., turbocharged its buzz.

“There was a huge crowd at that stage before the band even started, and a lot of excitement that spread through the festival,” DiCianni says.

“That set just blew us away,” says Arrival’s Morse. “Instantly, we were like, ‘This is amazing. These guys have what it takes to go all the way.’”

DiCianni was on the ground, but Berlin and Morse – like many others – experienced Goose’s Peach set through the multi-camera, self-produced footage the band uploaded to YouTube.

In August 2019, with Berlin at Lockn’, “we signed them,” says Morse, “and, maybe hours later, we were tasked with moving up all their venues on the fall tour, which had blown out.”

Tre Cassetta
– Rockn’feller
In December 2020, Goose staged its annual Goosemas event as a Twitch livestream from Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center.

Goose began 2020 with a late-night slot at Dead & Company’s Mexican destination fest Playing In The Sand and a stint opening for Pigeons, but already was eyeing its own April headlining trek. The pandemic forced the Pigeons tour’s premature end, and as Goose was dejectedly headed home, Baruch and DiCianni called, advising the band to start recording sets for streaming immediately.

Adam Berta
– Anspachalypse
Peter Anspach, typically behind the keys with a guitar slung over his back, joined Goose in early 2018, and the band’s rapid ascent began soon after.

“They were in their house … banking sets for future streams within 48 hours of being home,” Berlin says. “They saw the writing on the wall, and they took advantage.”

Soon, Goose was streaming fresh sets via 11E1even’s Live From Out There series. Three months later, it staged the “Bingo Tour,” a series of five paid streams from the fictional Goose Community Rec Center that pushed the possibilities of streaming concerts, with $10 bingo cards giving fans a shot at exclusive goodies and balls dictating Goose’s setlists and other non-musical directives. The shows were viewed in 10,000 households.

By December, Goose knew it could harness streaming for its traditional Goosemas event – staged annually in Norwalk, Conn., since 2014 – even if cold weather prevented an outdoor show with a physical audience.

As Baruch and DiCianni worked their network for a New York City venue, Shapiro caught wind and got in touch with Gus Field, a friend at Tishman Speyer, the firm that operates Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center.

“It turned out [Field] was actually a Goose fan!” Mitarotonda says. “They were deep into the conversation before he found out that it was us, and just coincidentally, he had gone down to Mexico and seen us at Playing In The Sand.”

From the Top of the Rock, the stream garnered 70,000 live viewers and 200,000 more afterward, and raised over $50,000 for charity.

“Now, it’s just built into the fabric of our show,” Anspach says of streaming, which Goose has continued to do even when playing for physical audiences. “It’s definitely really positively affected the growth of the band.”

Home Turf
Adam Berta
– Home Turf
Drummer Ben Atkind and Goose play Westville Music Bowl in the band’s native Connecticut on June 13. In December, the state will host Goose’s first arena play.

Like streaming, Goose embraced socially distanced drive-ins and podded shows with gusto – and to great success. Tickets flew, from two sold-out podded gigs at South Farms in Morris, Conn., that grossed $75,000 in September, to two sold-out drive-ins at Maryland’s Frederick Fair Grounds that grossed $150,770 in May. Even the pricier tickets distanced shows necessitate didn’t deter fans hungry for Goose. As Goose resumes traditional touring, its distanced gigs have provided valuable experience.

“They were big productions,” Berlin says. “They had to learn a lot on the fly on how to put on a good show.”

That seasoned Goose was on display at Denver’s Sculpture Park and at Westville Music Bowl in New Haven, Conn., where the band sold 4,706 tickets and grossed $266,707 over two June nights. Behind the scenes, Berlin and Morse parsed data from a ticket lottery system – where demand was “triple or quadruple” available inventory in Denver and New Haven, per Berlin – to inform booking for Goose’s fall tour.

Meanwhile, amid its 2021 touring, Goose released its second LP, Shenanigans Nite Club, a slick set that – outside of periodic epic jams – leans more indie-rock than heady psychedelia.

“They have the pop vocals that could work to sell records,” Shapiro says. “That melding of improvisational skill with strong lyrics and strong vocals is a unique mix in the jam world, and it’s what’s elevated them.”

“It’s a really new sound that marries really, really strong songwriting with musicianship,” Morse says. “Oftentimes, it’s one or the other.”

Some Shenanigans songs, like “Madhuvan,” a 10-minute opus that can stretch to twice that length live, were already staples of Goose’s repertoire.

“The live thing has moved a lot more and a lot faster over the last few years than [the studio] front,” says Mitarotonda, adding that a new studio project will likely drop in 2022. “It’s a fun challenge trying to get that stuff caught up to date and also just honing and learning how to do it better and faster.”

Park Place
Adam Berta
– Park Place
Goose’s Peter Anspach (left) and Rick Mitarotonda (right) face a crowd of nearly 5,000 in Denver’s Sculpture Park in July.

Goose is gaining steam well beyond its core jam audience. In December 2019, “Time Crisis,” the Apple Music 1 show co-hosted by Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, released an episode titled “Grammys, Garcia and Goose.”

“We were driving back from a show late at night and I was checking out Ezra’s radio show,” says Anspach, recalling that when he saw the episode’s title he thought, “Wait a minute. What is this? This can’t be us!”

Koenig and Goose met up after the latter played L.A.’s Troubadour in early 2020, and the Vampire Weekend frontman later encouraged the band to record a jammed-out cover of his group’s “2021,” which was greeted positively when Goose released it in January.

When Goose discovered there was a “pretty decently sized support budget” for FRED, Mitarotonda says, it wanted to book outside of its “contemporaries in the jam scene,” and its overtures were met with enthusiasm.

“Every band they asked to open said ‘yes,’” Shapiro says. “Bands want to be around this live music scene, this jam world, this Lockn’ world, because these are people who buy tickets and go to shows on the regular.”

Goose’s flock keeps growing: Its fall tour features huge plays including doubles at Atlanta’s 2,200-cap Eastern, New York’s 3,000-cap Terminal 5 and Denver’s 3,950-cap Mission Ballroom.

“It’s a very unique situation of how they’ve grown and what they’ve had to go through,” Baruch says. “There’s so many people that still, today, have not seen them yet.”

And those dates are just precursors to Goosemas VIII, booked for Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun Arena – Goose’s first arena play.

“We want Goosemas to be at Mohegan, and it’s our goal to get you there,” Berlin recalls telling Goose when he met them in 2019. “It happened a lot sooner than I thought in that moment.”

Not that Goose is intimidated.

“Each step of the way, it hasn’t taken us that long to adapt,” Mitarotonda says. “We’re just some guys from Connecticut who have been playing in bands and putting it together for a long time. We’ve kind of just stuck with it.”