Much of the Moonalice story—high points of which include over 342,000 Facebook “likes,” 67,000 Twitter followers and millions of downloads of the high-inspired, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-enshrined single "It's 4:20 Somewhere"--can be divined from the free posters for the San Francisco-based psychedelic roots-rock jam band’s July 30 New York gig at the Cutting Room.
Not only does the incredible Stanley Mouse illustration of a guitar-playing dragon represent and further artist Mouse’s 1960s psychedelic rock concert poster visions for the Grateful Dead and other legendary bands of the era, but it symbolizes the extraordinary self-promotional push of Moonalice, which was founded by rhythm guitarist/vocalist Roger McNamee in 2007.
“He’s one of our main men,” says McNamee of Mouse, one of 24 top poster and graphic artists and stage designers, also including Chris Shaw, David Singer, Dennis Larkins and the late Gary Grimshaw, who have created the 735 posters that have promoted and then been given away at each Moonalice show thus far.
"We’ve been playing 100 shows a year the past seven years, and I’ve done 1,500 in the last 20 while having a professional career,” continues McNamee, who has simultaneously worked in technology. “My greatest regret in life was that I was in an amazing band when I was a kid, and then one of the guys fell in love and ran away and the band broke up and I had to get a real job.”
Luckily, the real job paid off big-time after McNamee, who grew up in Albany, headed west to “the Promised Land.”
“If you’re a restless soul and good fortune comes your way you wind up in California,” says McNamee, who also grew up a Deadhead and saw them “a couple hundred times” at “every venue on the East Coast.” When he first came to Frisco as a teenager—he himself ran away there with his girlfriend—he began collecting concert posters.
“You could get a good one for $10, $15,” he recalls. “Then I got to know the artists.”
He later started a band that was produced by T-Bone Burnett at the same time he was producing the Grammy-winning 2007 Robert Plant/Alison Krauss album Raising Sand.
“Our problem was that we got lost in that shuffle,” says McNamee. “But I figured out Twitter and Facebook, and promoted ‘It’s 4:20 Somewhere’ on Facebook. It’s at 4.6 million downloads now, when 100,000 was the most any band’s done from their own website. But that’s the music business today: There’s so much great music going on and so many music channels now that it’s totally possible that huge things are going on that most people aren’t aware of. In some ways it’s really fun because it gives us great freedom.”
But San Francisco is “a funny place for music,” he says. “On one level there’s a tremendous amount of it, and on another level, the city doesn’t appreciate it. In Montreal, for example, the whole community ganged up to make Arcade Fire into a massive band. Out here we don’t have the same kind of love from local media. The upside is that there are more places to play, but you have to do all your own promotion. For us it’s worked out really well.”
Indeed, Moonalice (the band name, of course, is an imaginative reference to The Honeymooners) completed five shows in seven days over the July 4 weekend, “first in an amphitheater in Lake Tahoe before everybody in town, then on the flight deck of the USS Hornet Museum in Alameda, Calif., before 1,700, then at a weekend party in a town outside Yosemite, at Sweetwater in Mill Valley, at a halfway house in San Francisco for people just out of prison or in drug rehab—where we’re the only entertainment they get all year—and finally at a free show, Grateful Dead-style, at Union Square in downtown San Francisco. The range of venues is a big part of what we do.”
Whereas “bands help each other out here,” out East, notes McNamee, the venues are “incredibly supportive.” So he’s excited about the Cutting Room show, part of a tour also including performances at the Baseball Hall of Fame’s 75th anniversary celebration in Cooperstown, the Midnight Ramble at Levon Helm’s studios in Woodstock and the NH Hempfest and Freedom Rally in New Hampshire.
And as with all Moonalice shows, they’re made available free as Twittercast concerts—with links to live broadcasts supplied in near real time and at random times for past shows. In fact, nearly every Moonalice concert since 2010 has been broadcast via a satellite-based broadcast system enabling high-definition live video to smartphones and iPads without requiring an app.
“They’re all on the website, and the funny thing about it is, we figured how to make video at 10 percent of the cost that everybody else pays,” says McNamee, adding that Moonalice fans actually know the band’s videographers personally.
“It looks different at home,” he says. “I look into the camera and you get the light show on a separate channel in the feed. We do all these experiments, and that’s where my knowledge of technology comes in: Whether it’s poster art or video or Twitter or Facebook, we pioneered a whole set of things that really played to our value system, that technology at the margin shouldn’t cost anything. The hard part is learning to use it!”
Moonalice, which also includes drummer/vocalist John Molo (who’s played with the likes of Bruce Hornsby and John Fogerty), lead guitarist Barry Sless (Phil Lesh & Friends) and bassist/vocalist Pete Sears (Rod Stewart and Jefferson Starship) and is managed by Jerry Garcia Band co-founder Big Steve Parish, is “a bunch of hippies running an experiment,” explains McNamee.
“We’re people who have been around 30, 40 years who formed a new band playing mostly original psychedelic music, and music you know played very well, who know what they’re doing. People ask, ‘How do you make money?’ My response is, ‘Who says that’s our objective?’ Just because the rest of the world is about money doesn’t mean we have to be.”
Moonalice doesn’t worry about the financial aspects of making music, due to his “successful day job, which has given us a buffer,” also because “we get paid lots of money doing what we do, and spend a little more to do it.”
But the band also gets a lot of fans who come along for the ride.
“We have half a dozen who have scheduled their vacations to come east with us—including one of our photographers,” says McNamee.
And while the concert posters “don’t pay for themselves yet, someday they will,” he says, noting that Moonalice is building a print shop and art gallery on San Francisco’s fabled Haight Street for the band’s poster artists.
“That’s what Moonalice is—a whole series of experiments,” he concludes. “With poster art or music, we’re showing that a small number of people can impact a large number in a really positive way. Given how gnarly the universe is now, it really feels like a good thing to be doing.”
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