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Keeping It Kosher While Keeping Up With the Bands On Their Tours
The bassist best known for his work with the Grateful Dead is playing just 14 shows this fall, all in New York City. Lesh takes over the Nokia Theatre from Halloween through Nov. 18 for his second annual Philathon.
Would one show be enough for you? How about seeing him three Sundays in a row? What about a smattering of weeknight shows? Would you like to catch all 14 dates? Do you want to keep Shabbat and see him the other 11 nights?
However you want to see Phil Lesh & Friends, package-tour whiz Dan Berkowitz has just the deal for you.
Berkowitz first learned about Lesh while growing up in Cherry Hill, N.J. A few years after a JCC counselor's Grateful Dead T-shirt piqued his interest, Berkowitz picked up a tape of the band's "Skeletons from the Closet" compilation. Mellow tunes like "Truckin' " and "Friend of the Devil" had an immediate effect on the boy.
"I was listening to Bobby Brown and Vanilla Ice at the time, so it kind of changed my musical tastes," Berkowitz says on the phone from Brooklyn.
In 1995, as a high school senior, he was psyched to see the Dead, but leader Jerry Garcia died before the group got to Philadelphia. Later that year, Berkowitz tagged along with some friends to see Phish in Hershey, Pa. Like many Dead fans who transferred their affections, Berkowitz and his pals would go on to see Phish many, many times.
The teen persuaded his parents by playing Phish's version of "Avinu Malkenu." After all, he says, "how could it be so bad if they're playing 'Avinu Malkenu?' "
But he might never have gone pro if not for a party at Lisa Klein's house, where he happened to see Philly-based jam bands Brothers Past and the Disco Biscuits. If the Dead changed his tastes, the Disco Biscuits amplified his commitment. After following them to more than 150 shows, he wound up as their tour manager in 2005.
Two years on the road took its toll, and he decided to go in a different direction. Rather than plan tours that take bands to fans around the world, he would plan tours that take fans to see bands in different towns. He sees his business, Consider It Dan, as an extension of his take-charge personality.
"When I was with my group of friends, I was the guy that was making all the plans," he says. "That's what naturally led me into this career path."
Berkowitz's experience following bands is vital in building a travel package. He thinks about which shows a fan would want to catch, like the Disco Biscuits' European tour or a string of Colorado shows, or even just a single New Year's Eve show in a strange city. Then he works with a band and its manager to come up with a special experience.
Getting Your Fill of Phil
Take the Phil Lesh shows, for example. For $979, fans get tickets to all 14 New York dates, a cocktail hour before every Saturday night show, a group photo with Lesh and his band, a poster and digital recordings of each show. For $799, fans who keep Shabbat get everything but tickets for Friday nights.
Berkowitz sees a number of links between jam bands and Judaism. He points out that half of Phish is Jewish, as are three of the four original Disco Biscuits. But perhaps there's a deeper connection between the people who wandered the desert with Moses and the people who jumped on a bus to follow Jerry.
"Maybe it's like dating back thousands of years with this tribal element of it," he says. "We're all traveling together from city to city."
But on a more-immediate level, it was his experience with a customer-turned-intern that inspired Berkowitz to create "The Eleven," the deal for Lesh's Shomer Shabbat fans.
On the Disco Biscuits' Colorado mini-tour last January, Berkowitz accommodated Moshe Cohen's request to skip the Friday night show in Denver, by lending Cohen a car to take from Boulder to Vail and booking him an extra night at the hotel in Vail.
Cohen was so pleased that he signed on as one of Consider It Dan's four interns over the summer, and again the boss worked with him to accommodate his observance. In a field where Friday nights are big business, Berkowitz says, that was a big deal.
"It was much harder, losing 25 percent of your team," he says. "But then, come Saturday night, I'd make Moshe work until Sunday morning."
The situation opened his eyes. "If it was another religion or if it was something that I didn't understand, I probably would have been like, 'Why do you have to do that? Why do you have to leave every time it's really important?' "
Since moving from Philadelphia to Brooklyn earlier this year, Berkowitz is busier than he ever imagined. He has a number of packages coming up after Lesh's Philathon, and the biggest night of the year is just two months away.
Consider It Dan's New Year's Eve packages include separate New York concerts by the Disco Biscuits, My Morning Jacket and Govt. Mule; a hotel-and-show combo for Sound Tribe Sector 9 in Atlanta; a VIP deal for Umphrey's McGee in Chicago; and a shuttle from Philadelphia to see the Brothers Past in West Chester.
For people traveling to an unfamiliar place to see a show, Consider It Dan's shuttle buses are one way to keep from getting lost.
But they're also ideal for local fans who want to party.
"If you go anywhere after New Year's Eve, people are not generally that sober, and especially if you go to a jam band concert," he says.
He thinks about safety and comfort, so fans can just relax and enjoy the show. The rest is up to the band.
You can learn more about Berkowitz's tour packages, including the Philathon and New Year's shows, at www.consideritdan.com.