It’s not hard to notice that the music industry has gone through a bit of a shift over the last decade. Actually, it’s been quite a journey from the blog-saturated era of the early 2000s, when mp3s and premieres were king, to this new streaming era, where it feels like digital media outlets, labels, and artists themselves are just beginning to get their sea legs. Within the ecosystem’s shift, sometimes it can feel like the sense of community and camaraderie that was so present in those early blog days has been lost.
Streaming platforms are great at predicting what kind of music you might like, and are thankfully beginning to help artists a bit, but they’re still a little faceless and cold when it comes to personal interaction. And that’s where The Wild Honey Pie comes in. As one of the few holdovers from those early blogging days, TWHP has been able to shift and grow into this next phase without losing any of the charm that typified the blog era, particularly in Brooklyn, where the community seemed to grow the strongest.
The blog’s founder Eric Weiner learned to roll with the punches as the industry shifted, gearing up his site to function more as a tastemaking collective for creators across the board, drawing in animators, artists, writers and more, which in turn gave the site a creative agency feel. They now regularly work with brands to host events and create content, as well as making videos for artists and hosting sessions, all which still lean toward the indie, bloggy bent.
And though their crowning event for so far may be an annual summer festival, Welcome Campers, it’s their Dinner Party series that has quietly grown legs in cities around the world, including making its way to Los Angeles, where the Highland Park events have been selling out at a rapid pace. After being invited to attend an event last fall, I experienced the party’s hospitality firsthand, even meeting a then-stranger who has now become a friend I regularly go to shows and hang out with.
In a sprawling commuter city like LA, the dinner set up and gathering of like-minded people offers a chance to build relationships in a way that few events here do. Combining a low price point of $50 for a three-course prix fixe menu, complimentary beer or alcoholic Kombucha, and a short, intimate show by a hand-picked artist once the meal is over, the Dinner Party series is the perfect mix of hospitality and entertainment.
In advance of their next LA event, which is happening this Monday, April 8 at Checker Hall, and features the incredible folk breakout Bedouine (tickets here), I spoke with the blog’s founder to get a sense of just how these events came about, and where they’re going in the future.
First of all, just to talk about the origins of The Wild Honey Pie itself, for my readers because they might not be super familiar with it. Why don’t you tell me the story of the publication and how it’s evolved over the years?
The Wild Honey Pie is an organization founded in 2009 as a music blog. I had a food blog before, so I just easily transitioned to the music once I got an internship at MTV in London, and since then we’ve really evolved as the music industry has shifted, since the early 2010s. With the decline of the music blog, with the decline of the mp3, and with the rise of streaming, now we look at ourselves as a music discovery collective coming together to curate and support the music that we love. We do that by curating music and producing experiential events, original video content, and playlists.
Specifically, as far as the dinner parties go, that’s something that we launched in 2017. I was already doing dinner parties in my own apartment and wanted to find a way to connect it to The Wild Honey Pie. So I reached out to a few local businesses, including a local bookstore, Archestratus, that has a cafe in the back. It’s a really amazing shop with a great owner who lives in the neighborhood [Greenpoint], so she’s my neighbor. We launched this series there, paring up a three-course, prix fixe menu, giving away some beer, and having a band play — just try it once, and we’ll see how it goes. Then, we ended up doing them every month.
After starting in New York, what drew you to move to Los Angeles next?
New York and LA are the two biggest markets for what we do in the US, and we have dozens of folks involved in the collective out in LA. We already produce Buzzsessions (the name for Wild Honey Pie’s live sessions) out there, so it naturally was the first extension of what we were doing in New York. Plus, I’ve been going to LA since I was born and very familiar with the city. From there we were just deciding what neighborhood to do, and we really found a home in Highland Park with Checker Hall. It’s a really awesome spot, in the same building as The Lodge Room, which is a great music venue, too.
Dinner parties are obviously about building community, and I’ve often felt that when it comes to the music industry, New York tends to get that right more often than Los Angeles. What is your experience, then, sort of bringing the New York style event founded in that really strong community, to Los Angeles? And what has the reception been?
Well, there’s a lot of New York transplants in LA, so we’re definitely relying on them. But I think it comes down to the little things: Catering to food tastes in California and keeping things light, being able to accommodate for vegan cuisine and vegetarians — and that’s something we do in all cities — but definitely little things again like we have alcoholic kombucha, and we’re supporting local acts. I do think that that’s a really important part is, we’re not coming to LA and saying, ‘listen to these bands from New York.’ We’re coming to LA, we’re hiring and bringing on local staff and volunteers and booking local talent that is already ingrained in the local culture.
LA, unlike New York, is a commuting city, so everyone has a car, and they’re moving around so much that going from one end of the city to the other is a complete nightmare. So we’re really starting by catering to the east side of the city first, seeing about that community and seeing how we can fulfill the needs of those folks who, for the most part are more music-centric than the other side of town because of where the music venues are. But we absolutely have plans to expand to the west side, we’d love to be on the beach, we’d love to be a part of that community. There’s some really great programs popping up on that side of town and a lot of culture. We think that there’s a real niche for what we’re doing and a desire for us to bring things to that side of town.
So just to answer your question, I think there are some differences, but music fans are music fans, and foodies are foodies. If you serve some good food and have great musicians performing, you’re going to attract a crowd. And the people that we’ve attracted so far have just been such great down to earth people, genuinely excited about what we’re doing and the musicians we’re supporting.
The Wild Honey Pie’s taste skews indie for sure, but how are you selecting the artists that are involved, and is there a way for artists to submit themselves or what is the process there?
Yeah, so there’s a submission form on our website that gets you submitted for dinner parties, Buzzsessions, and playlists. We get about 300 requests a day from artists, and then we do some outreach on our own. A lot of it has to do with personal relationships, PR agents, managers, labels, booking agents reaching out to us, and us reaching out to them saying ‘who do you have for us?’ Or ‘hey, what artists are you prioritizing at the moment that we could work with?’ And then, from there it’s music taste, do we like the music? Is it compelling to us? Does it drive us and do we feel an emotional attachment to it?
So yes we skew Indie, but we are working really hard to diversify what we do. We are working very hard to book more musicians of different genres, whether it be more folk, or R&B, whatever it might be. We do want it to make sense with the model and the formula of dinner parties, but we don’t think just because of the dinner party setting it has to be a singer-songwriter. We’re really trying to find a way to incorporate more genres, so that every time you come to a dinner party, not only is it a new menu, and maybe a new restaurant, but it’s a new artist and also maybe a new genre that’s expanding people’s horizons as far as music taste goes.
What prompted you to partner with Bedouine for this most recent event?
I’m obsessed with her music. I saw her live at Newport Folk Festival last year. My friends who are in the band Lucius performed on stage with her. It’s just a small community, and I’ve come across her music quite a few times, but there’s just a few songs on her last album — the whole album in fact, but a few in particular — that I felt a real emotional attachment to. Plus, timing is right. She’s announcing a new album, Bird Songs Of Killjoy and she’ll be playing new songs for these crowds for the first time. It’s going to be great opportunity for her to showcase this music, so it worked on her end and for us, we were just blessed with the opportunity to be a part of something so special with her.
What are some of your plans and goals for the future of the series?
For the dinner party series we’re looking to do something that’s accessible to all, something that isn’t an exorbitant price, something that’s really easy to digest — every pun included — something that you can go to with a significant other, friends, or go to alone. And we think that there’s an appeal for this and a market for this not only in New York, not only in Los Angeles, but in Austin in Texas, in cities like Nashville, Seattle, and even internationally, in cities like London, and maybe even Berlin. We don’t see ourselves being in 400 different cities. That’s not what we want to do.
What I want to do is be in five to ten cities, doing this once a month, maybe slightly more, but doing it in a way, where you know that you can come to a dinner party, find one new musician you’re going to absolutely fall in love with, have a great meal, expose your friends that you bring to something entirely new that they didn’t know existed and know that you can do this in different cities.
But it’s not that complicated, and that’s the beauty of it all. I think what’s nice is it’s a simple approach to music discovery in real life. It allows you to be a part of something bigger than yourself with a great community of people who are living their lives inspired by great music and great food.