It wasn’t House of Blues Boston, but given the coronavirus crisis, the soundstage at audio-visual production company Events United’s Derry, N.H., headquarters was the next best thing.
Celtic punk legends Dropkick Murphys had spent early March rehearsing at the facility to prepare for their traditional Boston run of St. Patrick’s Day concerts, which has taken place annually for more than two decades. This year’s iteration, under the “Boston Blowout” guise, was set to comprise six shows in five days and culminate at House of Blues March 17, but the spreading coronavirus forced the mini-tour’s postponement.
Singer Ken Casey “is friends with the governor and the mayor,” Cast Management founder and Dropkick Murphys manager Jeff Castelaz says. “He was texting and talking with them. They’re both huge fans of the band, and they both come to the shows every year in Boston. They were talking to him about, like, ‘Shit. Is it smart to have all these people sweating and being so close to each other?’”
“When it got canceled, it was a bummer to us and a bummer to our fans,” Casey says. “It made us think, ‘Ah, too bad we can’t do something.’”
The timetable initially seemed unworkable for the band, but with a can-do attitude and assists from key local partners, Dropkick Murphys found themselves onstage at Events United on St. Patrick’s Day, broadcasting live to millions around the world.
“The idea originally started as doing one of these playing-in-your-living-room, acoustic-type things,” says Casey, but it scaled up when Boston-area software company Pega got involved. Dropkick Murphys had been slated to play a Pega conference in late spring – itself moved online due to coronavirus – and Castelaz was in touch with Michael Brenner, the company’s vice president, brand and client experience, about rescheduling the date.
Pega’s top brass and rank-and-file employees alike love the band, Brenner told Castelaz, and he proposed that the company could sponsor it. As Castelaz puts it, “two different ends of Boston” – the white-collar collegiate set and the scrappy punks – united. Even better: Castelaz had caught wind that Pega was providing substantial financial relief for its hourly workers during the coronavirus crisis.
“That was the clincher for us, because Dropkick Murphys were largely, in the original days, made by union workers coming to the shows and rallying around them,” Castelaz says.
With an infusion of funding, Dropkick Murphys now had the resources to rent space and pay a crew to document and broadcast their performance. Having just rehearsed at Events United, the New Hampshire facility was a logical choice.
“All of a sudden, it went from someone’s iPhone in your living room to the full thing,” Casey says.
Next came streaming partners, and platforms including YouTube, Facebook and Twitch were quickly receptive to the overtures made by Castelaz and his team, promising prime placement and promotions.
All that was left was the show. Normally, Casey says, “we feed off the crowd, the crowd feeds off us.” But at Events United, the physical audience totaled less than 20 – essential personnel only.
“At moments, to be totally honest, you get in your head” playing to a camera crew, he explains. “You’re like, I wanna look in the camera, because I wanna look at the people in their living room, but I don’t wanna look at the camera being some – thinking you’re Mick Jagger. We’re just a punk band!”
Just punks, perhaps, but ones who reached far beyond the room at Events United on Tuesday night. Peak combined viewership for the gig between Twitch, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter exceeded 322,000, and as the show took place, Castelaz says that the band’s website and online merch vendor had to expand their server sizes several times over. Within 24 hours, video of the gig had been viewed 9.44 million times across platforms.
On social media, Casey saw videos of “kids banging on pots and pans, kids doing little circle pits with their parents,” and the band received notes of appreciation from fans.
“There was someone that wrote to us saying that they’re in a wheelchair and have trouble traveling and have always wanted to go to Boston, and that this was the closest for them to make it happen,” he says.
The gig and its reception provided a feel-good story in a rough week for the live industry and the world at large.
“If I could pick out two words to summarize everything I heard about from comments and everything I got direct emails from fans?” Castelaz says. “‘Thank you.’ Just gratitude.”