My Page: Everyone Orchestra’s Matt Butler ‘Be Here Now’
Photo by Michael Weintrob
THE MOST REMARKABLE thing about Everyone Orchestra, in my opinion, is the friendships that have been created onstage. Over 1,100 musicians have performed with us during the past two decades; I see the community that has grown around the experience itself as its greatest gift and the unique meeting place that we have created as my most cherished accomplishment. And I love the music too!
By December 2020, it was clear that we were not going to be able to do an in-person Everyone Orchestra show on New Year’s Eve to celebrate our 20th anniversary. Throughout the pandemic my production partner, Todd Kushnir and I had already put together a number of remote Everyone Orchestras, and we were discussing different digital ways to capture the essence of EO. We hadn’t come up with a workable way to include a large number musicians into a single, full-on virtual improvisation, so I called ALO’s Zach Gill to discuss the idea.
A quick rewind to the very first Everyone Orchestra gig, which took place on New Year’s Eve 2001 in San Geronimo Valley, Calif. Long story short, my appendix burst that night and I wasn’t able to make the very first EO show. So a collective of players led by Zach Gill created an amazing night of music and set the stage for what EO would become. For this reason, I felt it was appropriate that Zach should “start the jam” for this 20th anniversary video project.
I called up Zach while I was on a hike, and I told him that I hoped to create a song that celebrates the most important aspects of Everyone Orchestra, which to me are the friendships, the love, the “be here now” ethos and the spiritual connectedness that any blazing EO show has. Zach said, “It just fills your heart full of love when it’s working really well,” and then he said, “I’ll call you right back.” About 10 minutes later, Zach sent me the first version of “Heart Full of Love” and I cried on the spot. Much like a live performance— where I put a musician in the hot seat to start a jam in a live performance—Zach nailed it on the first try.
From there, we formatted the song to be about sixminutes long, leaving enough space for other vocalists and soloists to add their parts. We also inserted a crazy fun, wacky, ending where everybody goes a little wild.
I videotaped myself conducting to the song and sent this video to each artist asking them to imagine me conducting them and to record and videotape their performance in one take if possible. Dozens of friends stepped up to create with me on this one song—you can hear members of The String Cheese Incident, JRAD, Greensky Bluegrass, moe., the Disco Biscuits, Trey Anastasio Band, Living Colour, Railroad Earth, Dave Matthews Band, Umphrey’s McGee and so many others. Everyone sent their video and audio tracks to Todd; it was incredibly tricky syncing even one contributor’s audio and video with our initial recording, let alone syncing everyone’s offerings together.
But, from that point forward, it just grew and grew until we had performances from more than 70 musicians. Todd even had to get a new computer with the biggest hard drive and the most RAM I’ve ever heard of.
We called the files Christmas presents as they trickled in and started assembling the footage into what would become the first rough edit. But, we quickly realized that, in order to really convey the feeling of an EO event, we would need to stretch the song and make it a little longer. We then arranged it into a 16-minute epic, more or less one section at a time. We started by breaking down all the musicians into “ensembles.” Todd looked to execute a vision of multiple venues and “stages” just like the stages of our career, so this fit perfectly with our ensemble’s idea.
In February, as venue closures kept postponing the return of in-person events, it became clear that this project was going to take a lot longer than we initially anticipated. But, Todd hatched a plan for an NFT project to supplement the band through the slow times and subsequently keep supporting musicians through “Heart Full of Love.” This NFT project is perhaps one of the first of its kind, boasting a generative version of the song as well as “jamcards” with each individual’s solo or verse. Each NFT also comes with exclusive perks from Everyone Orchestra.
So the “Heart Full of Love” anthem ended up becoming the equally jovial, fun “Heart Full of Love Project”—taking on a whole new meaning as we move into 2022 with renewed vigor toward our collective artistic possibilities. Even though the song says, “Dance into 2021,” it will serve as a reminder of where we were, what we’ve all gone through and where we are going.
Conductor Matt Butler and his longtime creative partner Todd Kushner recently celebrated Everyone Orchestra’s milestone anniversary by releasing “Heart Full of Love,” a 16-minute virtual improvisation featuring contributions from over 70 different musicians. To experience the project, visit everyoneorchestra.com