My Tom Petty Story

*Today marks the anniversary of Tom Petty's passing, so I thought I'd share my bizarre encounter with Petty and his management on his final tour. This was written shortly after it all happened. Story below.

Milwaukee Summerfest | July 7, 2016

Violent Femmes have taken us out for a short tour around the midwest. After two packed-sweaty shows at First Ave in Minneapolis, we touchdown in Milwaukee, WI.

Photo: NBC news

Photo: NBC news

We’re playing "the worlds largest music festival," Summerfest. This fest is a Bohemeth. 11 days. 800+ acts. I witness seas of drunken Wisconsinites teeing up another liter-a-beer and polish sausage. Holy grail traditions of the Badger state. Cigar smoke is in the air. The signature cocktail of Wisco festival smells basks thousands of concert-goers.

I rally my band together. Always nervous to play with the band at this point. I have my solo show ingrained in my subconscious. I've done it 1000 times. No one can stop me. No heckler. No grouchy ponytailed sound man. My tones are dialed in. My banter is ready. I am not scared of even the hippest crowd of pitchfork bullies judging my dorky ham-fisted jokes and non reverb-laden songs.

That said, I'm working with a brand new band lineup. Getting a new set together with a new band is terrifying. It takes so long for any band to get tight. I dwell on these worries and they do me no good. I get so far down the rabbit hole of anxiety, sometimes it's impossible to have any fun. I'm a control freak when it comes to music. I gotta learn to delegate. Must have faith in others. Freaking out is for dentistry patients and Hollywood publicists. Gotta roll with the punches and make sure the show is fun for all.

On this night, the place is gonna be jammed. Milwaukee legends Violent Femmes haven't been back to town in several years.

The show goes off great. We play tightly as a unit and get a warm response as the crowd gets into 4-beers-deep territory. Post-show, I run back to the merch table to sell shirts and records (aka shift some units) and get bum rushed by people. Merch is flying off the table.

I made this really dumb shirt that says "Tom Petty May or May Not be Jesus" (long before his passing). It’s my best seller. People are buying these like hotcakes, whether they like my band or not. I've worried about copyright infringement, but not enough to stop selling the shirts.

Coincidentally enough, Tom Petty had just played Summerfest a few days before us.

I finish selling and go to cash out with the festival merch manager, Marky. Marky says "Brett, I love your 'Tom Petty May or May Not be Jesus shirt!. I took a picture of it and sent it to Tom Petty's management."

My heart stopped.

"Noooooooo!" I shouted. "Why'd you do that?!"

I'd been very concerned about getting sued by Petty's management for some time. I couldn't believe Marky would throw me under the bus like that. But Marky calmed my nerves...

"No Brett, it's cool. Petty's management loves the shirt...they want to buy 12 of them", “twelve!”, Marky says.

Holy shit.

So I sold the rest of my "Tom Petty May or May Not be Jesus shirts" to Tom Petty's tour management on his 40th anniversary tour. I went on my way. A good days work.

I was later informed Petty's crew wore those shirts around Tom Petty's final tour. Petty has been a long standing hero of mine. The master of minimalism. What an amazing guy and an amazing crew. Gonna miss that dude. Cheers Tom. I know you're livin' it right wherever you are.


*New live album Going Solo Is Better than Being Alone has just been released...

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10/4 - riverfront terrace - WI DELLS, WI

10/5 - bloody mary concerts - LACROSSE, WI

10/18 - mona records - TOKYO, JAPAN*

10/19 - ongaku no jikan - TOKYO, JAPAN*

10/20 - buttobi - ASAKUSA, JAPAN*

10/26 - soma art lounge - SAIGON, VIETNAM*

11/7 - iceland airwaves festival - REYKJAVIC, ICELAND*

11/16 - trip around the sun fest - MPLS, MN

12/20 - redbar all request show - ST FRANCIS, WI

12/27 - three sheeps - SHEBOYGAN, WI

12/28 - rock river tap all request show - HORICON, WI

12/31 - pabst theatre w/ the Gufs, Willy Porter - MILWAUKEE, WI

1/7 - stone cellar all request show - APPLETON, WI

1/10 - ohio music temple - CLEVELAND, OH SOLD OUT*

1/11 - port clinton listening room - PORT CLINTON, OH*

1/17 - masonic temple - VIROQUA, WI*

1/24-29 - rockboat - MIAMI, FL SOLD OUT

2/7 - slow poke lounge - SPRING GREEN, WI

2/8 - papa joe's house concert series - MARSHFIELD, WI*

2/16 - mason city brewing - MASON CITY, IA*

Surprise pop-up show at a nursing home.

Video footage has surfaced from our unlicensed pop-up show at the LaCrosse nursing home. Thanks to the friendly staff for not booting us.

Hats off to Greg Tooke of Pop-Up Podcast for organizing. The song is 1995 classic "In the Blood" by Better Than Ezra.

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