THE NATURE OF MUSIC PODCAST WELCOMES CONCERT & FESTIVAL PROMOTER, PETER SHAPIRO
The renowned concert and festival promoter – a passionate supporter of sustainability and environmental activism – shares the backstory about how he became interested in environmental causes, talks about how he’s greened his venues, and reveals some of the musicians whose environmental actions inspire him.
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Between 2007 and 2009, I worked with Shapiro as San Francisco Sustainability Producer and then National Sustainability Producer of Green Apple Festival, which was America’s largest Earth Day event at the time. In partnership with Earth Day Network and the Discovery Channel’s Planet Green, we produced major outdoor concerts that included sustainable product marketplaces, clean energy and transport exhibits, speeches by environmental leaders, and volunteer actions that showcased the valuable benefits of climate crisis and “green economy” solutions. Shapiro was a ton of fun to work with – sometimes calling me late at night with ideas of how to make the events more educational and inspiring for fans. He’s a remarkable businessman with a huge heart – and yes he does strike me as a modern day Bill Graham.
During our conversation, we first explored the origins of Peter’s environmental passions, which he traced back to his days owning the legendary New York City live music club, Wetlands Preserve. “Wetlands”, as fans called it, was a music venue AND a center of environmental activism famous for its weekly political gatherings. Known as Eco-Saloon sessions, participants discussed issues ranging from pollution and wildlife conservation to rainforest destruction.
“I didn’t have an early vision, to be honest,” Shapiro said. “I ended up taking over Wetlands after I graduated college…it was started in 1989 by (original owner) Larry Bloch, God Bless him, he’s upstairs, he had the vision.”
“Through a random series of acts”, Shapiro continued later in the story, “I met Larry Bloch when he was after like 6-7 years of creating this home for activists – he did it – and I met him at a time when he wanted to pass it on in like early ’96 end of ’95. I was a film kid, I had made these films on the Grateful Dead, on the road, on tour, so I saw how important that scene was, and Wetlands was the home of that scene in New York...we met and he basically gave me Wetlands – he made it possible, I paid him over time – and in exchange, I committed to continue the activism center and the sustainability efforts they were pushing…so I got turned on by him to combining activism and music in the venue. It wasn’t like it was in my DNA. But what was in my DNA was like, ‘this is important to have a place like this and I want to help continue it’, I told him. And he gave me the keys.”
Speaking about his favorite environmentally oriented songs and lyrics, Shapiro mentioned Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” (noting how he uses the song during a series of children’s’ concerts that he’s been producing), and Jack Johnson’s, “The Three R’s”.
In response to a question from a surprising fan, the energetic promoter told the 2015 story of how he experienced the magical rainbow that mesmerized fans at the Grateful Dead's 50th Anniversary shows in Santa Clara, California. To this day, says Shapiro, he is still stopped by fans who want to know if the rainbow was real.
A second fan asked for Shapiro’s advice on how to influence venues that aren’t yet sustainability-focused to adopt greener practices. The Brooklyn Bowl owner talked about how much easier it is to green a venue today than it was during his Wetlands days – due to advances in both access to and quality of green products. “Now today…the products do exist, and you can find them online. If you’re a venue owner, and you want to run a (green) venue, you can find…from the toilet paper…to the cleaning material for the bathroom – the spray…to the rubber on your stage – we got recycled truck tires for our stage…and I can keep going. Things ARE available. And you can just find it yourself. If you’re willing to do the research, if you’re willing to put the time in…if you’re willing to…make the commitment, make the investment, you know, you can find it, you can do it…By the way, just in the ‘90’s at Wetlands, we wanted to do it, we couldn’t find it. The internet wasn’t there - the ability to find it - much harder. So that’s one positive, I guess, that’s evolved over the last 25 years.”
Shapiro cited use of energy efficient LED lighting as being among the practices that provide the greatest business benefits. “At first it was LED is great, but it’s just like fluorescent bright, you know what I mean? That was at first. But now they’ve got these LED fixtures that can also provide the aesthetic. You used to have to sacrifice aesthetic for the functionality (energy efficiency), but not today…The LED lights can be created with a golden hue…which you just couldn’t do a decade or 15 years ago.”
Another question by sustainability consultant, Beverly Modell, asked Shapiro to share examples of musicians whose environmental actions have inspired him. He pointed to the tour-greening, education and advocacy work of Jack Johnson, as well as the band Guster, whose guitarist, Adam Gardner, founded the music industry sustainability organization, Reverb.
A particularly interesting exchange explored how the lessons society is learning from the COVID19 Pandemic might apply to efforts to solve the climate crisis. I noted that climate scientists are talking about the similarities between COVID-denial and climate-denial (and emphasized how the solutions to BOTH crises offer society valuable economic, health and other benefits). Shapiro replied by pointing out that now it is the people who at first called COVID “fake news” who are dying – and how sometimes that’s sadly what it takes to inspire the types of broad societal changes needed to solve both crises.
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Conservation Scientist & Host of The Nature of Music