Broward New Times — 05.05.16
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Meetups At The Movies
Lee Zimmerman

Interactive events like a Grateful Dead concert film draw niche crowds to theaters

The Grateful Dead performed its final hurrah last summer in Chicago, but Deadheads have another chance to converge with the tribes when the sixth-annual Grateful Dead Meet-Up at the Movies lights up South Florida theaters Wednesday, May 11. This one-night-only event features an unreleased concert filmed at Sullivan Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts, July 2, 1989. That sold-out show was the kickoff for the group’s summer tour and featured guitarists Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir, bassist Phil Lesh, drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, and the band’s then-current keyboardist Brent Mydland.

Of course, Garcia and Mydland have long since departed this earthly plane, but for the faithful, that fact matters little. These annual meetup experiences offer an opportunity to relive tie-dyed memories of following the band from gig to gig in communal solidarity, wherever the Dead’s cosmic road show beckoned. This particular concert offered a spate of Dead classics, including songs such as “Playing in the Band,” “Friend of the Devil,” “Tennessee Jed,” and “Truckin’. ” The pungent smell of Mother Nature may be the only thing lacking. Or not.

Though streaming internet and on-demand films have made movie theaters unnecessary, John Rubey, CEO of Fathom Events, is moving in the opposite direction. His company is pioneering a trend of bringing humans back together in the flesh at the cinema.

“When we launched in year one,” Rubey says, “we noticed a social media trend that Deadheads were posting about how excited they were to have a place to meet up with other Deadheads. [Co-promoter] Rhino Records loved this, and thus the annual Meet-Up with was born. The social media feedback was so strong that when we began, the Grateful Dead Facebook page had 700,000 fans. Today it is nearly 2 million.”

This year’s Meet-Up will also include a filmed interview with David Lemieux, the archivist who assembled an upcoming Grateful Dead box set, July 1978: The Complete Recordings. On top of that, there’s an additional performance from Dead & Company, the Dead’s de facto offspring that includes members Hart, Kreutzmann, and Weir, along with singer John Mayer, bassist Oteil Burbridge, and keyboardist Jeff Chimenti.

“Each of our events has exclusive content that makes it a unique experience,” Rubey continues. “This could be anything from a gaming or music download code; a Q&A with talent, directors, or producers; behind-the-scenes access; a take-home collectors’ item; or a sneak peek at what our content provider has coming up next. We always reach deep into the vault of Jerry Garcia’s estate to make sure we are honoring his memory and treating fans to something really special with every annual Meet-Up.”

Along with presenting the Dead gatherings, Fathom also organizes a variety of other special movie theater offerings. Hardcore Henry: The Ultimate Fan Experience is based on the film Hardcore Henry, shot from a perspective that makes people feel like they are Henry, with a plot line described thusly: “You remember nothing, mainly because you’ve just been brought back from the dead by your wife. She tells you that your name is Henry. Five minutes later, you are being shot at, your wife has been kidnapped, and you should probably go get her back.” The experience allows fans to submit their questions to writer and director Ilya Naishuller and star Sharlto Copley, both of whom offer insights about the making of Hardcore Henry and its deathdefying, vengeance-determined namesake.

Chonda Pierce: Laughing in the Dark features stars such as Corbin Bernsen and Duck Dynasty’s Miss Kay Robertson discussing the insights they gleaned by bringing the actress, comedian, and author’s true-life story to the big screen. Insider Access to Disney•Pixar’s Inside Out boasts an interview with director Pete Docter, producer Jonas Rivera, and Amy Poehler — the voice of the character Joy — live on satellite from their Australian tour. Night on the Towns will offer a Q&A session with Paper Towns stars Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne, Halston Sage, and Jaz Sinclair, along with author John Green, whose bestseller inspired the film, plus director Jake Schreier and producer Wyck Godfrey.

Fathom’s other entertainment offerings have included live performances from the Metropolitan Opera, the Bolshoi Ballet, and the National Theater Company, concerts by Roger Waters and One Direction, sporting events, and a classic film series. In 2015 alone, Fathom presented approximately 115 unique events and 170 event nights, resulting in 3.6 million tickets sold. “On a monthly basis, we might have around ten unique events and ten to 15 event nights on average,” Rubey notes.

He says the Doctor Who 50th-anniversary event remains Fathom’s most successful one-night event to date, having attracted upward of 327,000 fans.

“Fathom audiences really run the gamut with both new and longtime fans alike,” he explains. “We tend to attract a lot of dedicated fan groups like the Deadheads for our Meet- Ups, Whovians for our Doctor Who events, opera aficionados for the Met performances, or classic movie buffs for our TCM Big Screen Classics series. Our ten-year partnership with the Met Opera never disappoints, drawing thousands to the box office at every showing. During the 2014-15 season of the Met Live in HD series, more than 720,000 opera enthusiasts attended at least one of the events, including more than 90,000 for the live broadcast of The Merry Widow on January 17, 2015.”

Fathom Events got its start in 2002 by testing its productions in a limited number of theaters. In the 14 years since, it has set the standard as a popular alternative entertainment attraction, growing its audiences accordingly. The company is currently co-owned by America’s three largest movie theater chains — AMC, Cinemark, and Regal — and is ranked as the 15th largest U. S. distributor in 2015, having attained equal footing with the major motion picture studios.

“Our patrons are people who are über-fans and really want to experience the content on the big screen, with extra content and among fellow fans,” Rubey says. “It’s what makes our viewing unique from all other platforms.

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Grateful Dead Meet-Up at the Movies

Wednesday, May 11, at AMC Theatres in Aventura, Cinemark Paradise 24 in Fort Lauderdale, and Regal Cinemas in Coral Springs, Sawgrass, Cypress Creek, the Falls, and Miami Beach. Visit fathomevents.com.
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