The Hippo


Jun 3, 2020








Moonalice. Courtesy photo.

See Moonalice 

NH Hempfest and Freedom Rally
Where: 46 Sand Hill Road, Croydon
When: Friday, July 18, Saturday, July 19, and Sunday, July 20
Tickets: $70-$170 at
Jerry Jam 2014
Where: Dodge Farm, Bath
When: Thursday, July 24, through Sunday, July 27
Tickets: $65-$90 at

Silicon Valley rock stars
Moonalice plays a pair of NH festivals

By Michael Witthaus

 With ties to Hendrix, the Dead, Starship, Quicksilver and other psychedelic standard-bearers, Moonalice evokes rock and roll past. But in many more ways, the Marin County jam band is of the future. Moonalice began in 2007 when Bono — yes, that Bono — rang up Roger McNamee with a plan to transform the music business.

Though the term is tossed around a lot, McNamee is a Silicon Valley rock star — truly. He plays over 100 Moonalice shows a year, but he’s also a frequent guest on CNBC, a savvy venture capitalist. Since the first IBM PC, he’s been integral to the success of countless tech companies — hence the phone call from the U2 front man.
“Bono called and said, ‘Roger, I want to buy UMG [Universal Music Group].’ For a variety of reasons, I was intrigued,”  McNamee said in a recent phone interview. 
The deal didn’t happen, but it led to the formation of Elevation Partners, named after the U2 song. The new company began working on Project Independence, an effort “designed to give artists the same kind of balance sheet benefits music labels have. It was a very clever idea, and very threatening.”
After three years of negotiating, “one of the lawyers gets to one of the artists and blows the thing up,” McNamee said. Producer T-Bone Burnett, a consultant to the project, was appalled. 
“He said, ‘This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen. We’re going to start a band and show these people how to do music.’”
The affable 58-year-old McNamee has played music all his life. He still regrets breaking up the band he and his buddies formed at Yale. He arrived at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business semi-dejected, finding a residency at Peter Christian’s Tavern in Hanover. 
“I played every Tuesday night there, come rain, shine or exams,” he said. “It was a conspicuous act of civil disobedience.”
After grad school, he went to work at T. Rowe Price and found himself organizing pickup bands at trade shows.  
“That was the single most important differentiator for me early on, the ability to play music,” said McNamee. “That’s how I met Paul Allen of Microsoft, Phillippe Kahn of Borland, all the development people from Apple.”
When Jerry Garcia died, McNamee began advising the Grateful Dead on technology strategy and started to meet real musicians. The loose jams evolved into the Flying Other Brothers, a band including prolific sideman and ex-Starship member Pete Sears and guitarist Barry Sless, from Phil Lesh’s post-Dead band.
When Burnett made his proposal, he was working on an Americana series and offered to produce the band. He wanted a complete reboot, however. “No Flying Other Brothers … new music, a new launch,” McNamee said.  Working in the studio was “the full T-Bone experience … an education and a half.” 
The resulting music was almost impossible to reproduce live, however. 
“We jokingly refer to it as Dark Side of the Moonalice — he’s really big on rolling thunder sound,” said McNamee. 
So Moonalice pared from seven members to four to become a touring band. 
“T-Bone did two beautiful things: He forced us to get rid of the garage roots and start at a much higher level [and] did the enormous favor of getting us out of the house and on to the road.”
Unfortunately, the eponymous Moonalice debut was roundly ignored. So they harnessed the Internet to make an end run around the industry and succeeded wildly. “It’s 4:20 Somewhere” is closing in on five million downloads, a record for a direct-to-fan song. The MoonTunes™ streams every show the band performs. 
Burnett suggested the band have a backstory. To that end, free posters drawn by artists like David Singer and Stanley Mouse are given away at every show. They’re accompanied by “according to Moonalice legend” blurbs written by McNamee’s alter ego Chubby Wombat Moonalice. 
Fiercely devoted fans follow them like Deadheads, and social media played a big role. 
“The funny thing was, T-Bone said we were going to teach the music industry a lesson, but we didn’t know what to do,” said McNamee. “I didn’t realize we could use Facebook and Twitter that way. … It’s really fun to get stuff like that right.” 
As seen in the July 17, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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