Sammy Hagar, Bob Weir, Jerry Harrison Jam in Bay Area

Suits, musicians discuss music patronage at TRI Studios

Sammy Hagar, Bob Weir and Lukas Nelson perform.
Michael O'Donnell
February 15, 2013 11:20 AM ET

Last year, the Grateful Dead's (and Furthur's) Bob Weir opened TRI Studios in San Rafael, California with the thought that a state-of-the-art audio-visual studio would lead to new and unexpected ventures. He was right.

On Wednesday, the studio hosted an all-star collaboration featuring Weir, Sammy Hagar, Lukas Nelson (Willie’s son) and the Talking Heads/Modern Lovers' Jerry Harrison running through songs such as the Dead's "Friend of the Devil" and "Loose Lucy," as well as the Beatles' "Come Together," Talking Heads' "Life During Wartime" and Nelson's "Boner" – in front of an audience of invited suits.

It was an olive branch intended to link bands with brands to explore new avenues of music patronage. The event – the first of a continuing series – was called the Patron Project. That's "patron" as in "patronage," and not the popular tequila brand.

The all-star jam was preceded by a panel discussion which, in addition to the artists, featured representatives from Pandora, Microsoft, Red Bull and Dolby. They discussed the idea of patronage versus sponsorship. "Sponsors are for when you want money," said Microsoft vice-president of eCommerce Kevin Eagan. "Patrons are for when you need money."

Video: Sammy Hagar Answers Fan Questions About Eddie Van Halen and the Future of Chickenfoot

The idea was to explore ways to bridge the gap between corporations with large amounts of overflow capital and upstart bands looking for patrons to support and nurture their fanbase, in the same way that record labels once did, back when they had big budgets and a stable of A&R staffers. The 90-minute free-flowing conversation was lively and productive. Hagar provided comedic relief by weighing in with humorous jabs throughout, such as introducing himself as "My name is Sammy Hagar . . . and I'll do damn near anything." He also said, looking at the brand heads, that he'd like to explore having a patron help pay for a tour so that he could offer fans $10 tickets, in exchange for "free reign with advertising" – including an on-stage endorsement between songs.

Hagar was wearing a shirt promoting a rum distillery that he owns. "I'm not a partner," he told the crowd, chuckling. "I own it."

"I think we had a good first session here," Weir told Rolling Stone at the reception afterwards. "We want to promote the notion of patronage. It's a tradition. It goes back to the church and the Renaissance, and we want to bring that back around. Otherwise, art is going to take a backseat in our culture. It already is. And that’s not right."

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