Zach Heckendorf – in a sense – did just that when nine different California venues hosted his Aug. 10 living room livestream concert on their own social media pages as a part of his “50 States Livestream Tour.”
The tour, now in its second leg, has Heckendorf partnering with venues, businesses and artists from each U.S. state, including 33 Live Nation venues, some of which carry the House of Blues or Fillmore banners.
The tour is a novel approach to drumming up interest in yet another artist whose plans for album release and touring in 2020 were blown away by COVID-19.
The shows are Heckendorf and his guitar in his Brooklyn living room, and venues from around the country are all taking turns getting behind this artist as he winds up for a September album release. The goal is to try to have put on a performance with at least one partner in each U.S. state in the period surrounding the album release.
The idea for the tour came up organically while Heckendorf was staying in his native Colorado during the initial days of COVID.
“I was doing livestreams while I was in Colorado and I would get offers from local businesses to partner with them, there was this chicken sandwich shop that approached us, and my team came up with the idea to find partners around the country.”
And so it began as Heckendorf began performing digitally in partnership with artists like Brooks Hubbard in New Hampshire, radio station WDST in New York, the magazine American Songwriter in Nashville and venues like The Wiltern in Los Angeles and Tabernacle in Atlanta.
Heckendorf’s manager, Gregg Latterman, told Pollstar, that the partnership with Live Nation can be tied to the days immediately before the live industry shut down. On March 12 Heckendorf and Latterman flew into Los Angeles to begin getting him in front of audiences at CBS, Live Nation, and Blizzard/Activision. While some of those gigs had to be postponed, Heckendorf did play at Live Nation – with Michael Yerke, president of House of Blues and Live Nation Talent, in attendance— on the same day he got off the plane and made enough of an impression that, months later, when his label Missing Piece Group reached out, the digital doors at Live Nation were still open to him.
“It was a natural thing as a follow-up to the initial impression Zach made with Live Nation,” Missing Piece Group founder Michael Krumper told Pollstar. “The first leg of the tour we had put together a batch of markets on our own through different partnerships so we had proof [of concept]. We said ‘This is what we’ve done so far, we want to partner with you in a more aggressive way.’ We were able to show them everything we put together beforehand, and they jumped in [once they] saw the vision we had for it.”
Heckendorf got initial looks in those big buildings partially thanks to Latterman’s relationship with Yerke and others, as founder of AWARE Music Management and AWARE Records in the ‘90s, when he was managing Five For Fighting and The Fray and signed Train and John Mayer.
Latterman was also Heckendorf’s manager when the artist was in the late stages of high school. The teenage Heckendorf signed on to AWARE Records – which was being distributed through Colombia Records and later Republic Records – and Latterman worked with him on a number of songs for an album, but the parties decided to abandon the project before it was released through the label, and Heckendorf financed it through a crowdfunding campaign, finished it independently and released it as Speed Checked by Aircraft.
Latterman decided to exit the music business and became a professor at Kelogg School of Management at Northwestern University, while Heckendorf traveled and got a Bachelor’s Degree in creative writing from Columbia University.
During his time in college Heckendorf continued writing and recording music and independently released another album, Artifacts.
By coincidence Latterman was called to speak at Columbia University about his experience with AWARE Records, and he bumped into Heckendorf. The two struck up a conversation and Heckendorf floated the idea of recording another album. Latterman connected him to producer John Fields and the two recorded three songs, one of which was the single “Up,” which was enough to make the manager and artist decide to try to re-enter the music business together.
“I was like ‘Oh my God, this is amazing,’” Latterman told Pollstar of his reaction to hearing the new Zach Heckendorf material. “That kind of pulled me back in. Then we made a record and started setting it up. Then COVID hit. And part of the reason [this album has taken time] is we wanted to control the process, we didn’t want to sign to a big major label.”
Heckendorf says his forthcoming project – to be released through his own Missing Piece Group imprint, Organically Elevated – in many ways feels like his first real album.
“I tell people I’m on my second wave right now, career-wise,” Heckendorf said. “It’s post college, I’m just attacking it with a fresh perspective.
“I know more about music and myself. But my first wave was just after high school. Then, when I was working with a major label, and I learned so much from touring, that was the biggest blessing, getting to meet and play with my heroes. I grew up learning Rodrigo y Gabriela tunes, John Butler Trio tunes, Brett Dennen tunes. And those are all people I got to study, I feel like those were college years, watching their shows, learning how they were able to rock shows and bring people in.”
Now just 26 years old, Heckendorf’s touring history stretches back to a 2011 show at the Troubadour in West Hollywood opening for Lana Del Rey. Over the years he has opened for The Infamous Stringdusters, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Ozomatli, ZZ Ward, and Michael Franti.
Heckendorf’s songwriting abilities are advanced, Krumper told Pollstar, and he has taken time to develop as an artist over the nearly ten years he has been in the business.
“If you listen to his earlier tracks, Zach fit pretty squarely into a singer/songwriter mold, leaning slightly towards the jam band world,” Krumper said. “I think that is where some of his fans connected with him, but when you talk to him, Zach is a really big pop music fan and hip-hop fan. He is deep into beats and if you listen to ‘Up’ and ‘Waves’ they are just competitive, great pop tracks. Our goal, eventually, is to get these to as many ears as possible. ... It’s taking great singer/songwriter, acoustic-based stuff and adding beats to it.”
Latterman said Heckendorf really shines as a live performer, with years of experience working live crowds, and regularly integrates covers and raps to blow audiences away.
“He’s a lot like John Mayer in that the music is amazing, but then when you see him live, when you see John play guitar, you go, ‘Are you kidding me?’ Zach has these elements that you don’t hear until you see him live, he goes to another level. Like John, he has this ‘X-factor.’ So not being able to sit in front of people – be it industry people or normal consumers – is hard as hell. It takes away a lot.”
Heckendorf said that not being able to perform live has been particularly frustrating, not because he was expecting to become massively popular overnight, but just because it is one of his favorite parts of the job.
“I love touring. I actually love it,” Heckendorf said. “There’s hard parts about it, but it’s one of my favorite things to do.” While it’s no substitute, Heckendorf said playing all of these concerts from his living room is exciting as well as nerve-wracking, with a different form of feedback and an audience focused solely on him during performances.
“There is still a sense that there is an audience,” he says. “It’s kinda weird but I can kinda tell when I’m killin’ it or not killin’ it. You can kinda sense it in the comments. People are pretty reactive and responsive when they like what you’re doing. It is a different beast than playing in a venue.”
Heckendorf released his latest single “Stronger Than I Once Was” on Aug. 14 and his “50 State Livestream Tour” will continue into September.