U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost is unlike any politician this country has ever known. For one thing he moshes. This can be seen on a viral video from June when he took the stage at Washington, D.C.’s Capital One Arena to sing an incendiary version of “Misery Business” with Paramore’s Hayley Williams.
For another, he’s worked at Coachella and Stagecoach. Also, he’s a trained drummer and percussionist, worked in production at venues, managed artists, produced a festival and even did credentials at the Pollstar Live! Conference (and also drove for Uber), before he made his way in 2023 to Washington, D.C.’s hallowed halls where, at 26, he is the 118th Congress’ youngest member.
Across the street from the U.S. Capitol, in the Longworth House Office Building, is an office decorated like no other. For one thing, inside Representative Frost’s office is a turntable and a number of vinyl records showcasing his deep love and knowledge of a wide swath of music—like someone who actually knows and listens to music. This includes such albums as Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters, Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark, John Coltrane’s Blue Train, The Kinks’ Give the People What They Want, MF Doom’s Operation: Doomsday, Blood Orange’s Freetown Sound and J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive. In the course of our conversation he effortlessly name-checks artists like Frank Zappa, Isao Tomita, Lykke Li, Chance the Rapper, Jaco Pastorius, The Wiggles, The Strokes and, thankfully, GWAR.
This is not Pelosi or McConnell fare.
CAPITOL HILL OUTSIDER: 26-Year-Old U.S. Congressman Maxwell Frost giving a speech outside the Capitol on May 18, 2023 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Much of the legislator’s love of music can be traced back to his multi-instrumentalist dad, a native Kansan who married a Cuban American and filled his son’s heart and mind with music and placed drumsticks in his hands.
He attended Osceola County School for the Arts (where he was student council president, naturally) and played in two bands, The Charter and Seguro Que Sí, while working in the music business.
While he uses the parlance of his Gen-Z peers, dropping words like “sick” and “flex,” underestimate him at your own peril. He has no problem going deep on the arcana of ticketing, artist equity, visas or exorbitant venue insurance rates and sees issues concerning the live business as bipartisan.
Pollstar caught up with Rep. Frost, 2023 Pollstar Impact: NextGen cover honoree, in his Capitol Hill office to find out more about his love of live, getting into the business, his live industry advocacy and, of course, GWAR.
Pollstar: How did you develop such a deep connection to live?
Maxwell Frost: My dad’s a full-time musician so I grew up with it. His studio was in the middle of the house, so there was always music playing. He’s a multi-instrumentalist, plays steel pan, trombone, piano. He was in the first graduating class for the master’s degree in studio composition from the University of Miami. Growing up music was always a big part of my life. I grew up with him taking me to gigs.
And your mom’s from Cuba, right and you’re bilingual?
Yes. She came here from Cuba during the freedom flights when she was like 13 or 14. She came here not knowing any English, had to go to school and learn English and learn subjects in English at the same time, which is crazy.
How did you start playing music?
I always wanted to gig, I thought it was cool. My dad was always bringing me around. And then in the second grade, he gave me a drum set, and I started seriously playing and taking lessons. I auditioned to go to Osceola County School for the Arts where I was for seven years and it was there that I developed my love of live music.
What shows inspired your love of live?
It was seeing Bruno Mars’ Super Bowl halftime show (in 2014). I was obsessed with it and my friends were, too. He played “Treasure” and all the hits, he was like James Brown. We watched it over and over, because the band was such a big part of the performance. Seeing the horn players singing and dancing and the emphasis on the band was just a beautiful show and we fell in love with live music. To the point where I was student government president and started doing a lunchtime concert series because we wanted to do a big pop show inspired by the Super Bowl halftime show. We replicated it to a T doing all the songs and adding our own flair.
What was your first live concert?
My truly first live concert was The Wiggles when I was a kid. And then some orchestral things. After that it would be Maynard Ferguson, the trumpet player my dad took me to see when I was in fourth grade.
When did you start a band?
After the Bruno Mars show, I was getting into doing shows. So we started two bands: One was Seguro Que Sí and the other The Charter. The Charter was like your typical high school pop-rock band with some of my best friends which kind of came out of the lunchtime concerts.
What were some of your first shows?
We did this program called “Bringin’ Down the House,” which Live Nation used to do with House of Blues. It’s a pretty cool program. You audition, they pick five local artists around different House of Blues around the country. You do five sessions where you learn how to market your music and then they let you do a show and you each get like 20 to 25 minutes on stage. They give you a bunch of free tickets for your friends and you move tickets. We headlined our show and it was insane we had like a thousand people there.
That was through Live Nation?
The have a 501(c)(3) called Music Forward. It’s cool. I just found out recently that, and I’m pretty sure it’s true, that Phoebe Bridgers also did the program but in New Orleans.
THE HOUSE (OF BLUES) FLOOR: U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost, performing in 2016 with his former band The Charter at the Orlando House of Blues. (Courtesy Office of Rep. Maxwell Frost)
People jump all over Live Nation these days, but they do a lot of good things.
There’s good and bad everywhere, right, but that’s a good program. I think it still exists maybe in a different form.
So you get a thousand people. Did you keep playing?
Yes, we kept playing and doing shows. This was also my first round at trying to be artist manager. I was the drummer and managing the band. I made and bought merch we sold at shows, and that was my first run at (managing). It’s super hard. I booked us some shows around Florida and was always trying to pull together a tour and then we graduated and people started moving away. Then I started managing a hip-hop artist in Orlando, Enso-Stranger, while I was working on campaigns and that went better.
How did you like being a manager?
I loved it. Obviously, it’s super hard and I don’t like to use the word impossible but it’s damn near impossible. It’s hard to make it a career. A manager that finds an artist and goes all-in, not making money for year, that’s a labor of love. I have so much respect for the success stories you hear about and I respect it a lot more now. I get that if Enso blew up or The Charter blew up, and not even like crazy famous, but just being able to pay the bills with your art, is hard to get to. That’s why I respect my dad a lot because he was able to do that.
And you interned at a venue in Orlando?
Venue 578, it was right after the Bruno Mars thing and I was trying to be involved in [the industry]. Gary Garrison was the production manager. I ran into him at a show and was like, “Hey, I’d love the work here.” And he was like, “We’re hiring interns if you want.” So I started volunteering at first, getting paid in pizza. I started showing up to these shows as a stagehand and it’s like Chance the Rapper, Earl Sweatshirt, Machine Gun Kelly, all these big shows. It’s like a 2,000-cap venue and it’s had many different names. I worked a GWAR show.
Did you get soaked in viscous fluids?
I worked the show so there was a lot of that.
Were you back or front of house?
I did backstage. I was a stagehand at first, and then I got hired to do more backline tech and stagehand work. My best friend Niyah (Lowell), who does a lot of shows with me, also started working there. I’ve always known the basics of audio from my dad because he’d go to gigs and would set up his PA. Gary wanted to teach all of us. He had like a crew of young people just coming in and helping out. And then after a while, certain people stayed and got work with him. And now he owns a stagehand labor company in Orlando. And during my campaign, actually, I did a few gigs with him because I needed to pay some bills.
Did you want to start a venue?
I was in limbo. I was really into doing shows and honestly, even after I graduated and started working in politics, I was still actively pursuing a full-time career in music. After the first few campaigns, my friend Niyah and I got this idea to start a music festival in Orlando called Mad Soul. Right out of high school, we wanted to do a festival and were like “Let’s bring the Paramores and Chance the Rappers to Orlando and make a big music festival. It’s going to cost $2 million. Let’s get investors.
We started knocking on doors of businesses, laundromats and bars but no one was giving. We emptied my bank account hiring this guy who made a book called “How Not to Promote Concerts & Music Festivals” named Hal Davidson. We paid him a few hundred bucks so he could give us a few lessons. And he helped us make an investor deck and connected us with two investors and they hired a guy named Ken Deans.
Ken Deans from Coachella helped us with paperwork because we’re a bunch of kids. The whole thing didn’t work out. A few weeks later, I got a call from Ken Deans and he’s like, “We had someone drop out at Coachella. Can you come out next week for two months?” And I was like, “Yeah.” And I just ended a campaign and that’s when I started working at Coachella and Stagecoach.
What were you doing?
When I first got there I did credential managing for staff for pre- and post-show. And then I did dispatch for production and vehicle escorts. Then I got moved to work in the command center doing dispatch for the festival production. Which was just one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. You sit in this double-wide trailer and there’s like 20 desks with all the screens and you see the whole festival and it’s like you got the fire department and everyone solving problems.
Probably a little different than your Mad Soul festival. What did you learn from the live music business that’s helped you get to where the heck you are now?
Planning and promoting shows is a huge reason why I wanted to organize in politics. And there’s so much transfer value between them. It’s a movement in a community.
I learned that the first time I was playing lunchtime concerts and making flyers and sending out my friends to interrupt classes and be like, “Hey, sorry, can we talk about
the show?” And then we show up and the whole school’s there. So that’s a movement. It’s organizing, it’s talking to people and that’s really what organizing is. Through live events a lot of stories have been told to me, my life has been changed by music. My first time working Coachella changed my whole life, it changed my perspective. My first time
working for Bernie (Sanders), I produced shows for his rallies.
Which artist did you get?
I didn’t do the Strokes show, I did that Lykke Li and Miike Snow show, we did a bunch of different artists. That energy reminded me of Coachella and the Bruno Mars halftime show. I was always like, in politics, if we were to replicate that for good, it shows people community, which is what all this is about. Right now we’re planning our own music festival for October, to help get young people registered to vote and our goal is to make it a yearly thing. There’s so much going on in Florida that’s negative politically and we’re fighting really hard. There’s so much joy and relief that comes through the arts. I want to put together a music festival and don’t want people to look at the lineup and say like, “Oh, this is a political rally.” I want people to look at the lineup and be like, “This is a place where we can go and be ourselves.” And when you enter the space, we present opportunities to get involved politically. It’s like a mesh of my two worlds.
Campaign Beat: Maxwell Frost campaigning and playing drums during the Pride Parade in Orlando on Oct. 15, 2022 before his mid-term election the next month. Maxwell, who was 25 when he won the race is well below the average age of 58 years for the U.S. House of Representatives. (Photo by Giorgio VIERA / AFP)
Can you talk a little bit about how you’re crossing the aisle with music?
We’re in very divided times and I’m a very opinionated person and very vocal about what I believe in. But I will say music brings people to shows and involving people in this fight in the industry, we have the opportunity to open people’s hearts on other issues. For instance, we’re working on a bill to help get grants to independent artists. It’s all about equity. We know under that it’s about class and helping making sure artists who don’t have a lot of money still have a chance. I hope we’ll be able to get bipartisan support and hopefully, that will open people’s hearts and minds to equity in other spaces.
So ticketing is a beast and there’s was a lot of grandstanding at that Senate hearing and I’m sure you got complaints from constituents who wanted Taylor Swift tickets, what’s your take?
The Taylor Swift thing put a spotlight on a real problem in the industry that’s impor-
tant that we fix. Obviously the spotlight’s on Live Nation, but it exists outside of the
Live Nation and it’s something we have to figure out. I think there’s some good legislation out there. NIVA is a huge leader with Fix The Tix. So we’re looking at the best ways we can be supportive. We’re part of this fight. We want to make sure the conversation is nuanced and we think about the different parts of the industry and at the top of that we want to make sure that consumers aren’t getting screwed.
What’s your take on the secondary?
I’m fully against the secondary market essentially selling tickets they don’t have, speculative ticketing. That needs to be illegal and that’s a big problem. It’s bad for fans and bad for everybody. There needs to be some regulation, but we’ve got to make sure it doesn’t stifle people’s ability to sell tickets. But a good bill will actually allow the industry to sell more tickets to more people.
So another big issue is artist visas, which could be so exorbitant that artists can’t afford to tour here and make their nut back.
This is something our office has been leading on in Congress. When USCIS came out and said they were two main visas artists needed to get over here and they were going to bump up the price for both of them by about 250% we said, “No. We can’t do this”…. so we led a letter with a few other members of Congress and just found out a couple of weeks ago that USCIS is going to pause for about a year and a half and then revisit it. It sounds like we might be in a good place at lowering it pretty drastically.
I saw the video of you with Paramore doing “Misery Business,” it’s remarkable to see a congressman lose themselves and thrash around to music, what’s that experience like for you?
I do lose myself at live shows. A lot of shows I’m dancing and having a good time. Or depending on what it is, maybe I’m just standing there and crying (laughs). I allow the music to do whatever. My dad taught me from a young age let the music take you where it takes you. Being on that stage was surreal and I’ve never been a front person. I’m the drummer.
What would your advice be to kids who are told no and have doors are slammed in their faces?
I’m someone who’s always had a lot of wild ideas about doing different things and for every 20, like only one usually happens. There’s a ton of stuff I’ve tried that just didn’t work out. When I think about the things that worked out, almost always it’s because the people I loved were involved with it. Maybe I got it started, but when I tried to do it by myself it just never worked out. I feel incredibly privileged and blessed to have had a lot of these experiences in my short life so far. But it’s not all just me, it’s really based on the people who love me and who have thrown down for me, and not just for me, but because they want to be a part of what we’re putting together.