Guest Post: Dean Budnick On Peter Shapiro’s ‘Rosebud Moment’

By Dean Budnick
“The Music Never Stops” co-author and Relix editor-in-chief Dean Budnick ruminates on what makes Peter Shapiro – promoter, venue owner, entrepreneur, unicorn and so much more tick while uncovering his “Rosebud” moment.

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Authors In Arms: Dean Budnick and Peter Shapiro at NYC’s Strand Bookstore on Aug. 9, 2022, where Shapiro discussed his new book. Courtesy Shorefire Media

I’d like to yield the floor to Jimmy Fallon: “Peter Shapiro is a unicorn. He has a magical/mythical quality to him.”

After 25 years of my own interactions with Peter, I will concur with that assessment.

He’s the guy who created the freaking rainbow at Fare Thee Well, after all. 

Okay, the rainbow remains a topic of debate and conjecture. If you ask Peter, he’ll point to another magical/mythical figure he believes had a hand in it: Jerry Garcia. 

Here’s the thing, though. I’ve seen Peter in action for a quarter-century and he remains a master of the creative sleight of hand. This is how he paired Bob Weir with Hanson at Wetlands Preserve, Talib Kweli with Phil Lesh at the Apollo Theater, Page McConnell with Roy Haynes, James Carter, Nicholas Payton and Christian McBride at the Jammys, and the list goes on.

The key to it all?

Despite working with him on many projects, most recently his book, “The Music Never Stops: What Putting on 10,000 Shows Has Taught Me About Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Magic,” I can’t quite identify a Rosebud moment. 

Having said that, the book includes an origin story of sorts, which as befits Charles Foster Kane’s sled, does involve snow. On March 11, 1993 as a college student, Peter attended a Grateful Dead show at Rosemont Horizon, during which he was so overwhelmed by Ken Nordine’s word jazz during “Space” that he lit out for the parking lot. There he encountered a Deadhead-infused winter wonderland the likes of which he had never previously encountered.  

 As he shares in “The Music The Never Stops”: “Eventually, we made it back to Northwestern. However, I never made it to bed that night. In the concert industry, we talk about being there at doors, which means being outside a venue waiting to be admitted as soon as it opens. Well, the next morning, I was at doors when the college library opened, for the first and only time in my life. I needed to learn more about what I had just experienced.”

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This led to a documentary film, which eventually resulted in Peter’s taking over Wetlands at age 24. There’s much more to it and, not to be glib, but if you’re intrigued then read the book.

Folks who have the read book, which is structured around 50 memorable shows, pinpoint a number of life lessons and business techniques that they feel are at the core of the narrative.

To my mind, though, if you abstract it all out, the essence of Peter’s approach comes from the fact that after all this time, he remains a fan.

Various promoters pay lip service to this idea but I don’t know anyone who embodies this ethos with the spirit and passion of Peter Shapiro. Nobody else consistently pushes for an additional special guest or elevated production element long after a show is sold out because he wants to witness it with his fellow concertgoers (which he does, out there in the audience, for some portion of every night). 

For Peter, that’s the glory of the gig.

He describes this in “The Music The Never Stops” but I’ve also seen it in practice, via early morning texts, mid-afternoon meetings and late night phone calls (those calls often provide a welcome distraction while I’m finally doing the dishes).

In 1997, when I interviewed Peter shortly after he became the owner of Wetlands, he told me: “Any night of the week, even when the club is nowhere near sold out, there still can be magic created in this room that will just overwhelm you.”

That’s still the case and the unabashed zeal of a music fan remains the heart of the matter. 

This is also why, whether or not you think Peter Shapiro is adept at making rainbows, he is certainly adroit at making memories.

Peter Shapiro Never Stops: Cap 10, A New Memoir & A Whole Lot Of Music Magic