By Brian F. Johnson
No one ever told Peter Shapiro how to make it in the music business — that it takes years at low-paying, thankless jobs until you get the chance to do anything substantial. But, had someone told Shapiro that, he probably wouldn’t have listened anyway.
The 35-year-old industry mogul has an impressive resume, to say the least. Originally a film student at Northwestern University, Shapiro debuted his documentary on the Grateful Dead, Tie-Died, when he was only 21, at the Sundance Film Festival. He went on to purchase the famed Wetlands Preserve Night Club in New York at the age of 24. In 2000 he created, and served as executive producer and musical director of the Jammy Awards, which is now in its eighth year. This year he made his second appearance at the Sundance Film Festival as producer of his most high-profile project to date, U2-3D.
And on top of that (and a lot of other items that we needed to skip to save space), he is the founder and executive producer of the Green Apple Festival which, this year, will host eight simultaneous concerts in connection with Earth Day, in major cities across the country — an event that he calls a “Wetlands version of Live Earth.”
Marquee: What was the first concert you ever attended?
Shapiro: Madonna, Like a Virgin Tour, 1984.
Marquee: What was the first album you ever owned?
Shapiro: Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits.
Marquee: Contrast with me the difference between your first appearance at Sundance, and this year rolling up with U2.
Shapiro: Well, with Tie-Died I’m 21 years old and I am so in awe and just psyched to be there. You know, your first time in doing something is a good lesson in just keeping your mouth quiet and your eyes open and enjoying it. With U2-3D it’s a different scenario entirely. I developed this film over four years, and obviously it’s a different way to show up with U2 for sold-out screenings that were being scalped at $1,000 a ticket. When I was 21 and there for the first time, I was just thinking of how lucky I was to be there. But with U2 it was a, of course, a very, very proud moment. Even Al Gore came to our screening and read. It was unbelieveable.
Marquee: One of the things that you’re most well known for is being the owner of the Wetlands, in New York. How did you come to own that at such an early age.
Shapiro: Yeah, the thing that set my career on track more than anything was owning the Wetlands. You know, I didn’t have the money, I didn’t have the background and I didn’t really have the urge to be in the music business. I was a film kid. But I heard the owner of the Wetlands was looking to sell and I called him up to see how I could get involved. I was the only one who showed interest that didn’t ask to see his books. What I did, which was completely naïve, and totally smart at the same time, was just asked what the rent was. I figured it was a famous rock club, so I should be able to take that and run with it, and I did.
Marquee: Wetlands closed in 2001 when the lease ended. Have you looked back at getting into another venue?
Shapiro: Not like Wetlands. That won’t happen again, but I’m starting a new club in Williamsburg, Brooklyn that’s going to be a 700 capacity music venue and the VIP section is a 16 lane bowling alley. It’s called Brooklyn Bowl and it’s opening at the end of 2008.
Marquee: How did you come to start the Jammy Awards?
Shapiro: Well, I owned the Wetlands at the time and 2000 was kind of the height of the pop music boy band scene and we felt in contrast that we were witnessing this resurgence of improvisational music, so we felt the need to create an alternative awards show that celebrated that. It started at Irving Plaza in New York and we had to beg people to come play the event. Now here we are so many years later at a completely different level with John Mayer, Steve Winwood, Frampton and the Black Crowes. The next Jammys are May 7 at The Theater at Madison Square Garden and Phish is going to receive the lifetime achievement award.
Marquee: Is Phish going to reunite and play the Jammys?
Shapiro: We’ll see (laughter).
Marquee: What’s the lowdown on Green Apple?
Shapiro: Well, I kind of felt that Earth Day had lost some of the profile that it used to have when we were kids. It’s not the same anymore, which is ironic because today the environmental issues are more pressing than ever. When we started it we did it off the back end of the Jammys because we already had the bands in town. So what we do is bring Earth Day to the clubs for the weekend and then cap it off with a big free festival on Sunday. It’s like a Wetlands version of Live Earth, without the $150 ticket to Giants Stadium. I’m under no illusion that Green Apple is going to change the world, but the world will not change without a lot of these types of little things happening. And I think one thing that would help is if Earth Day were a big deal again.
Note: While more acts are expected to be announced, as of press time, Green Apple had confirmed The Neville Brothers, Benevetto/Russo Duo and Rose Hill Drive for the Denver show.