Wednesday, April 21

Love of music drives promoter – Times-Herald

Music promotion isn’t rocket science.

No, it’s much less economically viable. Basically, one has a better chance at landing that rocket safely on the moon — heck, on Mars — than earning a living promoting music events.

If it’s proof you want, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the stage, Greg Keidan.

Keidan was a scientist doing laboratory research — something, he says, “I was pretty good at.”

However, he realized that writing for grants and research wasn’t his destiny.

“I felt bad hurting animals,” he said. “I got in it naively thinking I would be able to help people. After a while, it felt like a game of how to get money for research.”

It got to Keidan’s subconscious.

“I had nightmares of rats getting revenge on me,” he said. “I didn’t feel it was socially rewarding being in a laboratory all the time around people whose skills atrophied being in a laboratory all the time.”

Greg Keidan, founder of Mr. Hat Presents, brings the Jerry Garcia/Grateful Dead tribute band, ‘Jerry’s Middle Finger’ to the Solano County Fairgrounds in a ‘Cruise-In Concert.’ (Courtesy photo–Susan Weiland)

Though Keidan could almost sniff finishing his PdD, he took a bow and escaped. So he did what any noble ex-scientist would do — he managed and promoted a rock band. OK, most wouldn’t. Not if they wanted to pay rent and eat. But Keidan did and,  since 2000, he’s operated Mr. Hat Presents, a music promotion company.

“Less financially secure … but I’m much happier,” Keidan said.

The Crockett resident’s happiness could soon turn to downright euphoria as he tunes up for promoting the first “Cruise-In Concerts” at the Solano County Fairgrounds. Up first: Jerry’s Middle Finger, a Jerry Garcia/Grateful Dead tribute band Aug. 29, followed by a Sept. 12 show with the California Honeydrops. Both have a 200-car limit.

Keidan said Tuesday he’s already half-way to a sell-out at 99 bucks a vehicle with — thank you, COVID-19 protocols — a four-adult limit per car.

With the pending success of the new venture, Keidan continues to believe his life took the right turn, with perhaps any shot at a stock portfolio be damned.

“Most of my friends who have houses and families are jealous of me. I get to go to concerts all the time,” he said.

Well, that is, he used to go to concerts all the time. As with the rest of the music industry, Keidan saw in-person performances pummeled by the pandemic.

“I think most musicians are struggling financially,” Keidan said. “It will get worse as federal pandemic assistance runs out or gets decreased. They’ll probably be forced to take front-line jobs that will endanger them. There’s going to be a crisis for the music community and something needs to be done about it.”

Keidan’s doing his part in employing live performers, with Jerry’s Middle Finger coming up from Southern California. Others will be involved Aug. 29 for security, safety checks, rest room sanitizing, merchandise sales, plus food and beverage.

Promoter Greg Keidan, left, and San Francisco’s iconic peace activist Wavy Gravy. (Courtesy photo)

In the world of COVID-19, changes can happen song to song. However, “this is definitely going to happen,” assured Keidan.

Early sales are an indication, the promoter said, of good things to come.

“I think people really miss live music,” he said.

As bad as COVID-19 is, it could be a boon for Keidan and other under-the-radar promoters who aren’t Live Nation or AEG, the two big corporations hoarding the major venues and acts.

With high-capacity venues unavailable during COVID, it frees up the little guy to do concerts like the fairgrounds show and perhaps land a big fish act that isn’t working.

“All of a sudden, we (smaller promoters) don’t have the competition,” said Keidan, just another overnight success. Make that 20 years worth of overnights.

Though Keidan’s mother was supportive of “whatever I wanted to do,” his late father, a journalist and sports talk show host, nudged his son to be a doctor.

Both parents were music influences, Keidan continued.

“I grew up listening to Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell and the Beatles all the time,” he said. “It certainly helped form my music tastes.”

It was an uncle who lit Keidan’s Grateful Dead fire.

“I think I got to see them five times before Jerry (Garcia) passed,” Keidan said. “I’m lucky I was old enough to go to some of their shows and have that experience.”

A Dead show extends beyond the mere music, Keidan said.

“It’s definitely a feeling of family and joy in recognizing other tie-dyed Dead Heads,” he said. “You feel you’re part of a secret society.”

If Keidan remained a scientist he “would very definitely have a different life. It’s hard to imagine. I wouldn’t have a 16-year-old car.”

He likely wouldn’t be having as much fun. There is nothing, he says, like renting a Hornblower Cruise boat and selling out 200 tickets.

“So much fun being out on this big boat, rocking out to Grateful Dead music,” said Keidan, laughing that “I didn’t have the money to do it. I borrowed from friends” to produce the event.

“It was incredibly successful. I never experienced any kind of success like that,” he said. “I was actually making money at this for the first time.”

And, with those standard sanitizing policies in place, Keidan hopes the cruises at the Solano County Fairgrounds are just as successful.

Keidan is a mask and social distancing proponent and, though acknowledging “people will continue doing stupid things — they’re tired of being in quarantine five, six months. It’s not realistic to tell people to stay home and not do anything. It’s important that someone figures out safe ways for people to get out of the house and have fun.”

To think life will be back to normal by the end of 2020 “is delusional and wishful thinking,” Keidan said.

“I think things aren’t going to be a whole lot better a year from now. I don’t think we’ll be able to have ‘regular’ shows. We’ll still be doing drive-in concerts and I think a lot of others will be doing it a year from now.”

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