"You learn proper form," explains Shapiro, the father of two kids who created the popular Rock and Roll Playhouse series and is planning his most ambitious feat yet — staging 28 shows this Father Day (Sunday, June 16) at 26 venues across America, all featuring Grateful Dead cover bands.
Most shows will take place in the daytime at iconic venues like First Avenue in Minneapolis, the Echoplex in Los Angeles, Terminal West in Atlanta, City Winery in Nashville, the Sinclair in Boston, the Mohawk in Austin, and the Funky Biscuit in Boca Raton, Florida as well as a free Chicago show with the Barton Hills Choir outside of Wrigley Field prior to Dead and Company's Saturday, June 15 show (a complete list of venues can be found here).
"A lot of the family shows out there rely on orginal music, but I wanted to create something where you could take your kids to see professional cover bands playing the classics like the Grateful Dead" said Shapiro, who staged the massive 2015 Fare the Well shows in Chicago and Santa Clara, California and promoted last year's Bob Weir and Phil Lesh Duos tour.
In 2014 he launched the Rock and Roll Playhouse series, hiring Amy Striem from the Chelsea Day School in Manhattan to serve as executive director. Orginally Shapiro wanted to create a dedicated venue for Rock and Roll Playhouse, but after unsuccessfully searching for the right spot, he realized he already own the perfect venue for the kid-friendly series -- the Brooklyn Bowl.
"One day it suddenly dawned on me these kids shows need to be at a venue where the air already breathes rock and roll. I realized I owned one of those places. Actually, I own a couple of the places," says Shapiro, who also owns the Brooklyn Bowl in Las Vegas and the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York, which has hosted 81 shows by Lesh since reopening in 2012.
Shapiro says he's now staged more than a 1,000 Rock and Roll Playhouse shows in five years at venues and clubs that range in capacity from 400 to 1,000. Shapiro has his own team that trains staff on how to stage the shows, and tickets on average cost 15 bucks. Many of the venues keep the bar open during Rock and Roll Playhouse if mom or dad needs a bloody mary or a craft beer.
"We find these great rooms and call them up and say 'what are you doing Saturday or Sunday at noon?' The answer every time is 'nothing,'" Shapiro explains. "We help the venue cover their hard costs — we're not going to pay premium rent, but we'll cover your staff and we'll find the band."
Beyond the Grateful Dead, Rock and Roll Playhouse has done tributes to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Talking Heads, the Beatles, Bob Marley, Aretha Franklin and lesser known music icons like Fela Kuti and Fishbone.
"I tell the bands to play the songs the same way they normally do, just a bit slower. A bit easier. A bit lighter," says Shapiro. Most bands usually stick to songs with kid-friendly lyrics, meaning no covers of the Dead's cocaine-referring track "Casey Jones" and nothing too serious or dark.
"We can't do Pink Floyd, too heavy," says Shapiro, who stages the series every weekend at the Brooklyn Bowl. The kids who attend are usually aged between two to seven and each show is 75 to 90 minutes and end with the staff bringing out a big parachute for the encore. Sometimes the real band even shows up, says Shapiro, adding that Lesh, Warren Haynes, Anders Osborne and Luther Dickinson have all sat in for kids sessions.
"If you're a kid hearing 'Satisfaction' by the Stones, you're not self conscious about dancing. You're like that dude at the Dead show who's jiggling and spinning in circles. Kids are not self aware yet. A three-year-old doesn't get embarrassed," he said.
Besides being a successful business endeavor, Shapiro views Rock and Roll Playhouse as a way to build a long-term relationship with young music fans who he hopes will grow up and become ticket buying concertgoers.
"It's something they can do with their parents and then as they grow older, something they can also do with their friends. Rock and Roll Playhouse teaches these kids not just the power of live music, but the importance of seeing music at a great venue and appreciating the amazing artists who make it possible," says Shapiro. "I won't guarantee it, but I do believe that Rock and Roll Playhouse increases the odds that your child, when they finally go off to college, will practice proper form. And that's just one less thing that you'll have to worry about."
Learn more at therockandrollplayhouse.com.