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Billboard Touring Conference: How ‘Fare Thee Well’ Achieved ‘Super Bowl’ Numbers for The Dead, and Helped Phish Find New Fans

The behind-the-scenes work it took to pull off the Grateful Dead "Fare Thee Well" shows formed the basis of a panel at the Billboard Touring Conference in New York City Nov. 19.

The road may have come to an end (for now) for the Grateful Dead, but the legendary band’s historic 50th anniversary Fare Thee Well shows this summer — two at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara in June and three final shows over Fourth of July weekend at Chicago’s Soldier Field — still cast a wide ripple. And the behind-the-scenes work it took to pull them off formed the basis of a panel at the second day of the Billboard Touring Conference in New York City Nov. 19.

Moderated by Billboard news director Shirley Halperin, the panel discussion included Barry Drinkwater, CEO of Global Merchandising Services; attorney Eric Greenspan, partner at Myman Greenspan Fineman Fox Rosenberg & Light LLP; Tim LeFevour, general manager of Soldier Field; Mike Luba, a partner at Madison House Presents; Cole Marley, director of ticketing at Ticketstoday; and Peter Shapiro, founder of DayGlo Ventures who has been credited as the driving force in putting the shows together. Billed as a breakdown on the biggest concert event in history, the panel dove into the particular challenges of pulling off the largest live event by a single band in the world.

Billboard Touring and Conference Awards Day 2
Jim McCue (SVP, SMG Entertainment), Shirley Halperin (News Director, Billboard /Music Editor, The Hollywood Reporter), Eric Greenspan (Partner, Myman Greenspan Fineman Fox Rosenberg & Light LLP), Tim LeFevour (GM, Soldier Field), Mike Luba (Partner, Madison House Presents), Cole Marley (Director of Ticketing, Ticketstoday), Nate Parienti (President, Live Alliance) and Peter Shapiro (Founder, Dayglo Ventures) before “The Golden Road to Fare Thee Well” panel at the Billboard Touring and Conference Awards on Nov. 19, 2015 at The Roosevelt Hotel in New York City. Michael Seto

The scale of the shows is well-known now; 362,000 attendees, a $52 million gross, more than 175,000 paid live streams to computers, phones, PPV cable boxes, movie theaters and venues around the world, and a merchandise and concessions take that LeFevour described as “Super Bowl numbers.” But the biggest initial obstacle was getting the four surviving members, their four individual managers and four individual teams, to agree on anything at all, something that Luba compared to “herding cats.” “It came together because Pete has a very personal relationship with the guys and was able to have conversations with them that managers and agents couldn’t have,” he said.

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Once the organizers jumped that hurdle, they had to navigate the logistics of catering to such a dedicated and particular fan base, one which demands the freedom to party and hang out outside and nearby the venue. LeFevour and Shapiro described repeated conversations with local authorities, including the mayor and police, to allow for those freedoms, while the city of Chicago played host to as many as 50 related but unaffiliated events around the city, with the Dead logo appearing on pizza boxes and at restaurants and themed parties popping up left and right. “With winter coming to Chicago, we believe the last Deadhead has left the lakefront,” LeFevour joked at one point, before telling a story about helping a man leading a goat find his way back to Michigan Avenue. It’s safe to say that goat herders in need of directions aren’t part of the usual package when putting together concert tours.

One of the biggest takeaways was the effect that the shows had on Phish, a dedicated touring entity in and of itself, whose guitarist Trey Anastasio filled in for Jerry Garcia at each show. “Part of the magic of this thing is that Phish is a giant band in their own right and had such a giant community around them already,” Luba said. “I think Trey was so ego-less about it and he learned a lot, which will make Phish better.” Shapiro said that Phish’s subsequent tour benefited from the shows as well, as Deadheads who had previously shunned the band came out in numbers after Anastasio’s performance filling in on Fare Thee Well.

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With an eye geared more towards vibe than profit — though there was plenty of that in the end — the organizers declined all corporate sponsorships save for one deal with a florist to provide 50,000 roses for fans each night, paying tribute to a key piece of Dead imagery. But there’s only so much planning that can happen when putting together an event on such a large scale. “It got so big in the end, you couldn’t control it,” Shapiro said. “This one we had to put it in the hands of our team, and you just pray that it goes well. And it went well.”

Billboard Touring Conference Takes on Grateful Dead’s Fare Thee Well

The key players behind the Grateful Dead's Fare Thee Well shows will discuss the complex process that led to the biggest concert event of the summer in a Keynote Case Study at the 12th annual…

The key players behind the Grateful Dead‘s Fare Thee Well shows will discuss the complex process that led to the biggest concert event of the summer in a Keynote Case Study at the 12th annual Billboard Touring Conference, set for Nov. 18-19 at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York.

Titled “The Golden Road to Fare Thee Well: A Breakdown on the Biggest Concert Event in the History of the Earth,” the panel will be moderated by Billboard news director Shirley Halperin, who broke the story on Billboard.com. Taking part in the discussion will be Barry Drinkwater, CEO, Global Merchandising Services, which oversaw the merch operation for Fare Thee Well; attorney Eric Greenspan, partner, Myman Greenspan Fineman Fox Rosenberg & Light LLP, which represented the band for Fare Thee Well; Tim LeFevour, general manager, Soldier Field, site of the July 3-5 final performances; Mike Luba, partner, Madison House Presents, co-producer of Fare Thee Well; Cole Marley, director of ticketing, Ticketstoday, the firm behind the groundbreaking online lottery for Fare Thee Well; and Peter Shapiro, founder, DayGlo Ventures, the man largely credited as the driving force in reuniting the Dead for these record-breaking shows.

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While most predicted a success when news came that the “core four” of the Grateful Dead would re-unite (with Trey Anastasio sitting in for late guitarist Jerry Garcia) for a series of 50th anniversary shows at Chicago’s Soldier Field and Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., few envisioned the intense excitement that would surround the shows — nor the massive business generated. Fare Thee Well grossed a total of $52.2 million, according to Boxscore, from more than 362,000 tickets sold, and hundreds of thousands more watched in theaters, at home, and online as the biggest pay-per-view music event of all time. Merch numbers reached Super Bowl-esque proportions as the event transcended the Dead scene to become a cultural phenomenon and the music event of 2015.

In achieving what many thought was unachievable — resurrecting the Dead — Fare Thee Well also put Shapiro on the map as a touring industry force. “Putting on the Fare Thee Well shows was a long, complicated, passionate process that was, ultimately, the best experience of my career,” Shapiro tells Billboard.  “I look forward to discussing what it took to make this giant event come to life with the people who made it happen.”

Billboard Touring Conference Takes on Grateful

Register today for the 2015 Billboard Touring Conference & Awards. Use promo code BIZ15 for a discounted rate.