In July 2008, David Katz, an investment firm employee in New York City, searched for one of his favorite bands, God Street Wine, on Facebook to see what he could find. The only results showed people listing the band in their profiles. There was no official band page, no Fan Page — nothing. So, he decided to create a group petitioning one of his favorite bands to come out of retirement.
In an e-mail interview, Katz said “…I missed hearing and seeing their music live, so I figured why not [start a Facebook group] and didn’t think much would come of it or many people would join.” He was wrong.
God Street Wine (or GSW), a NYC-based rock band, formed in 1988, recorded 6 albums, toured nationally with the H.O.R.D.E. festival on four occasions, and developed a strong fan base throughout the country.
GSW opened for rock legends The Black Crowes and The Allman Brothers and served as an influential voice in the burgeoning “jam band” scene of the early 1990s. They played thousands of shows around the country, creating a Phish-like community fan base, and played alongside popular crossover artists like The Spin Doctors and Blues Traveler.
Sadly for their fans, God Street Wine played their last show as a unit at the now defunct Wetlands Preserve in NYC in December 1999 (they did, however, play a reunion gig when they were part of a farewell show for the Wetlands in September 2001).
The Reach of Facebook
But now, due in large part to Katz’s Facebook group, GSW is returning to the stage for four nights — two sold-out shows at The Gramercy Theater and two shows with some tickets remaining at Irving Plaza — in New York City. Even God Street Wine’s drummer, Tom Osander, was surprised by the results from Facebook.
“I recall the day that pre-sale tickets went up for the Gramercy shows,” Osander told me in an e-mail interview. “I was getting reports within the first fifteen minutes that people were not able to make a purchase and I figured that Ticketmaster was having one of its infamous logjams. It turned out that because so many people were in the loop on the pre-sale announcement, tickets had actually already sold out.”
The band offered up pre-sale tickets to members of the Facebook group. As of this writing, there over 1,400 fans in the group. I asked Tom about his thoughts of Facebook’s role in reuniting the band.
“I won’t say that we couldn’t have done it without Facebook, but it certainly wouldn’t have been as easy. Facebook and the other networking sites we utilized to promote these shows are still very new in the history of popular music, but they’ve already taken the lead and even replaced much of the traditional devices such as postal mailing lists, print media or radio, and posters used when the band was in its heyday back in the 90s. There is no way we could have reached as many people as quickly, and without spending a fortune on promo were it not for the Internet and Facebook.”
Social Media Changed the Game for Bands
Online marketers agree. According to Alan Saltz, owner of Guaranteed Marketing, Inc, “[Social networks] offer virtually everything a band needs to build a thriving online community — the traffic, the targeting, the viral capability, the music, functions like list building and user-generated content … it’s all there. And unlike traditional websites, the fans themselves really drive the experience, which is exactly what you want.”
Prior to the web and social media, bands used to rely on keeping a mailing list. Osander walked me through how much times have changed.
“I remember how I used to look after the GSW mailing list back in the early days. Even when there were only a few hundred names, it could take a day or two to design the gig list cards, get them printed, hand stamp each card, print the address labels, re-print the address labels after they jammed in the printer … and so on. Hell, there was a time when each name and address were hand-written each month. You couldn’t have paid me enough to do all that today.
“With these shows we were able to get the word out to thousands of people across the web (and world), announce on sale dates and sell the shows out all in a very short period of time. Truly night and day compared to our old method.”
Music for a Cause
While GSW’s reunion is exciting for fans, there’s a bigger goal. According to the band’s web site, they are no longer a for-profit band. The proceeds from all four shows are going directly to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Osander told me, “Our former lighting director/stage manager and friend Mike Weiss was diagnosed with MS a few years ago and has spent a good deal of his time since then fundraising for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. When he came to us back in October asking if we’d consider raising some money for MS and also commemorating the anniversary of the passing of our old friend Paul Ducharme, we didn’t hesitate. So these shows, while first and foremost are benefit concerts, they also are important to the band and friends of Paul as a kind of tribute. His passing, after all, was the reason the five of us got back together last year, after eight years, and has again played a part in our decision to reform for these dates in July.”
Social networks have created innovative and fun ways of spreading information for bands, and it appears, at least in this case, a way of resurrecting them.
As Osander concluded, “Was I surprised by all of this? A bit. I knew the power, scope and capabilities of the Internet. Was I delighted with the way things went? Absolutely. And I received not a single paper cut.”
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