Relix 44: Bowery Presents’ John Moore
Welcome to the Relix 44. To commemorate the past 44 years of our existence, we’ve created a list of people, places and things that inspire us today, appearing in our September 2018 issue and rolling out on Relix.com throughout this fall. See all the articles posted so far here.
The Godfather of the Indie-Jam: John Moore
John Moore has a detailed list of every concert he’s attended, but he’s missing one key piece of evidence. “The first show I ever went to was Rick James and he didn’t show up. Next up was Prince and he canceled,” Moore says with a grin as he scrolls through his show log on his phone. “I begged my dad to keep the ticket stub, but he was like, ‘No, I want my $12.50 back!’”
It is a warm summer Friday and Moore is taking a breather at his up-for-sale Downtown Manhattan apartment between meetings. As the co-founder of New York-bred Bowery Presents, Moore has had as big a hand as any concert promoter in helping make indie the defining rock trend of the early 21st-century. Bowery’s venues have served as incubators for area heroes like The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The National—and can’t miss destinations for frequent out-of-town guests like The White Stripes, Kings of Leon and My Morning Jacket—and their ability to grow bands from bars to arenas has helped shift the live music paradigm back to clubs on a national scale. Yet, as is often the case, he’s got the Dead on his mind.
“We are living in an era where so many people are coming out of the Dead closet,” Moore says. “As far as I’m concerned, the Dead were the first indie-rock band.”
Raised in Richmond, Va., Moore has always had eclectic tastes. His early concertgoing experiences ranged from those ill-fated Rick James and Prince shows to the Go-Go’s, Herbie Hancock, Steel Pulse and U2, the latter of whom he saw at the Hampton Coliseum in 1985.
He first started listening to the Dead in the mid-’80s, taking in his first Jerry Garcia Band show at Merriwether Post Pavillion in 1989 and his first Dead concert in 1990. “‘Let the Good Times Roll’ was the first song I saw—I get hairs on my neck every time I listen to it,” he says. “Then that summer, I graduated from high school and went to Dead summer camp: Pittsburgh, Raleigh, D.C., Foxborough, Orchard Park, two at Deer Creek, skipped Chicago and then Brent [Mydland] died.”
Even as he moved deeper into the Dead’s orbit, Moore continued to listen to a range of other acts like early favorites R.E.M., who led him to another Athens, Ga. institution, Widespread Panic. He checked out his first Panic show in ’89, and took in his inaugural Phish concert in 1990.
After graduating from college, Moore moved to North Carolina to work for Mammoth Records and then relocated with the label to New York in 1996. Once in New York, Moore became a regular at Wetlands, signing Strangefolk to Mammoth and championing venue regulars like Guster. (He fondly recalls that singer Ryan Miller used to crash at his apartment after their shows.)
“I was going out and seeing tons of music,” he says. “In 1999, I met Matt Hickey, who was booking Bowery Ballroom and Mercury Lounge. I asked him if I could buy him lunch and, midway through, I said, ‘I want your job if you ever leave.’” As luck would have it, Hickey ended up transitioning to the agency side soon after and, when Mercury Lounge’s talent buyer Ryan Gentles left to manage The Strokes, Moore landed his dream job.
From there, he started working at the larger Bowery Ballroom and, in 2004, launched Bowery Presents with his partners to oversee those clubs and promote shows at a range of other spaces around the city. Though Moore continued to work with jam, hip-hop, classic rock, pop and world music acts, he became known as an indie-tastemaker, using his years following the Dead and that scene’s communal, fan-friendly vibe to shepherd the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Interpol and The Black Keys to international fame.
“I would be booking all these shows during the week and then going to see Phish and the members of the Dead on the weekends,” Moore says with a grin. “I’m not sure if anything makes me happier than the sensation of reading that Phish or the Dead busted out something crazy the night before. People forget but until Phish covered ‘Terrapin Station’ [in 1998], and Trey and Page played with Phil, there was always the question of whether bands like them and Aquarium Rescue Unit, who had this Sun Ra thing going, were into the Dead.”
Bowery Presents eventually started opening new clubs like Music Hall of Williamsburg and Terminal 5 in New York, before expanding their reach to other markets. In 2017, AEG acquired a stake in Bowery Presents; they now promote shows under that banner around the country.
As the Dead have regained a cultural cache in certain circles, Moore—who often sports a denim jacket with a Stealie on the back—has enjoyed seeing many of the artists he’s worked with over the years discover their music. He attended all five Fare Thee Well shows in 2015 and took in a good portion of Phish’s Baker’s Dozen run last summer too. “I remember talking to Conor Oberst about Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty 10 years ago and saying, ‘Forget what you’ve heard, forget the long jams. This is great American music.’”
This article originally appears in the September 2018 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more, subscribe here.