photo: Adam Berta
“The one thing that I knew for a while was that I wanted to be in music, but I wasn’t sure how to get there,” reveals Greg Knight, who currently serves as publicist for a number of groups, including Goose, Twiddle and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong. Prior to solidifying his role in PR, Knight performed in a band, worked as a DJ, produced local hip-hop artists and even managed a School of Rock.
One of his more recent projects was George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic’s One Nation Under a Groove Tour. “With George Clinton, I was over the moon to finally be working with an artist that my parents had heard of,” Knight acknowledges with a chuckle. “My parents are both physicians, and they knew that if they followed a certain path then they would find success. For a long time, they probably had an understandable concern regarding my nebulous goals to work in music. Like, ‘Where is this really going?’ So I was excited to tell my parents that I was working with George Clinton. It helped them recognize that I’m headed in the right direction on my own path.”
What was your initial connection to music while you were growing up?
I have a sister who’s 18 months older than me. When she was five, she started taking violin lessons. I always wanted to be like her, so I asked my parents if I could play the piano. I didn’t want it to be obvious that I wanted to be just like my sister, so I didn’t ask to play the violin. [Laughs.]
At age five, I started playing piano and I was enthralled by the idea that it was so easy to make music. “Mary Had a Little Lamb” was a very recognizable song to me at that age.
I was also interested in pop music. We weren’t a big TV family, and I didn’t have video games, so I could really practice piano. Then at night, as opposed to watching primetime TV, I listened to the Top 5 at Nine on KISS 95.7, [which is based in Hartford, Conn.].
By age eight, I was recording every show onto a tape in order to listen back to my favorite songs. I would listen to music over and over. I think there’s so much universality with pop music, that even if you don’t understand half of the lyrics when you’re in elementary school, there are still things that can resonate with you. So a lot of this music just really spoke to me.
Then by age 13 or so, I realized that the cool guys were playing guitar and I had enough basic music knowledge to teach myself.
I’m equal parts jam music and hip-hop. Those are the two things I really love. I often wonder about the context in which I got into hip-hop. It almost felt like it was something I had to do as a young Black man in America growing up in the Connecticut suburbs. There was almost an expectation that I had to know and like hip-hop. So I was like, “OK, well, let me learn about this.”
My first live show ever was Usher and Missy Elliott at The Meadows in Hartford. That was probably in seventh grade. So that’s my pop and R&B side showing.
But I will say, despite my connection to hip-hop, the first CD I ever owned was Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill, which I’ve always joked is compulsory listening for every young Black man in America. [Laughs.]
By 2003, when I was in high school, I also began going to see a lot of Dave Matthews concerts. My sister introduced me to Dave. As a violinist, she was really into everything Boyd Tinsley was doing. I think that was probably a subconscious thing, in that this band was comprised of a bunch of artists who looked like me and my sister. As far as people performing, there weren’t too many jam acts that had a ton of people of color onstage. So I think my sister really got into watching Boyd. This has been a lifelong thing—whatever my sister liked, I followed suit.
Then I was able to see Trey play with Dave in ‘03. I also had an English teacher who was my favorite teacher in high school. We used to do 30 minutes of journaling twice a week and he’d always play the “YEM” from A Live One. One day I asked him, “What is this music? How is every musician in the band so good?” So he told me about Phish and when I went home—this was the Napster days—I downloaded two or three Phish shows, which was enough to fill my computer hard drive.
I attribute a lot of my development to this teacher because not only did he help me dive headfirst into Phish, but he also went to UConn as well. I chose to go there because that was the path he took. He was just such a big role model to me. The first time I ever had my writing published was through an assignment I did in his class, and it ended up in the Hartford Courant.
What was the subject of the piece?
It was called “Dreams of Brotherhood Slipping Away.” It was about subtle racism in the suburbs and how we are really not making much progress as a country. I talked to the editor about republishing it in 2020 because the exact same words were ringing true.
Advocacy is also very important to me. This probably comes from my parents. I’m passionate about social justice because I’ve had a very unique experience, which harkens back to my Alanis Morissette comment—growing up as one of very few people of color where I live and being around people who have ingrained attitudes about others. As I got older, it was very disheartening to learn how the world was.
So I wrote this piece on all that, and I ended up winning a couple of awards for it. I also unveiled a Marian Anderson stamp at a USPS event. It was the first time that I learned how powerful words can be and just how much power I have over what I write and the message I can send.
Did you continue to write while in college?
I did and I also became more involved in music. When I was at UConn, I played in a couple of bands and had an amazing time playing and getting into the world of improvisation.
I had become a huge Phish fan by the latter half of high school before I graduated in 2006. My parents would not let me go to any Phish shows in 2004. They were a little bit worried about me getting myself into trouble, which was probably a legitimate concern. By then, I was going to see a lot of Dave Matthews concerts. Dave was the first artist where I started to collect my stubs, count my shows and track my setlists. My dad listened to a lot of Miles Davis and that kind of stuff, but the idea of extensive improvisation—and being able to think on your feet as a musician—was fascinating to me.
So during my college years, I was playing in a band but I never thought I’d see Phish. Then, my junior year, the guys came back and it really impacted the course of my life. By the summer of ‘09, I was hitting the road on tour, fully immersed in the jam scene. It was a pivotal moment for me because that’s when I said, “I can do something in music even if it’s not onstage.”
Can you recall an early pivotal moment or piece of advice that impacted your career?
I handled the business end of things for my band in college. I knew I could set up the stage, I could talk to a promoter, I could do just about anything. But I didn’t know what was going to carry me forward. I remember asking the older brother of the drummer in the band I played with, who was also in a band himself, “How can I make it somewhere in music?”
He said, “You just have to learn how to do everything and it’ll kind of fall into place for you.” So I stuck with it.
At the same time that I was kind of hitting the road on tour in 2009-2011, I got really into music production. I could take the simplicity of a melodic guitar line, or some piano chords, string them together and make beats. So I was doing a considerable amount of production for local hip-hop artists about 10-12 years ago.
I also was DJing. I performed opening sets at places like Toad’s Place in New Haven and Tuxedo Junction in Danbury. I opened for artists like Juicy J, Mac Miller, Kendrick Lamar, Machine Gun Kelly—all of these guys who have since had No. 1 hits and been at the top of the world. So it further solidified my desire and my vision to get somewhere in the industry.
How did you land your initial gig as a publicist?
I started doing PR with Goose. One of my roommates in college went to high school with the Goose guys. They were in Vasudo back when we were in college. I met Coach—Jon Lombardi, who’s the band’s jack-of-all-trades and the guy who kind of keeps them going. Coach had seen hundreds of Phish shows and we became instant friends in college.
After college, I was primarily just DJing for a couple of years and working on music production. I had a couple of different weekend residencies. I had a Saturday night residency at UConn for years—Ladies Knight. I did Fridays at a few different bars throughout the state. I was still living with my parents, so that made things easier, but I was hyper-focused on music. But, by the time I got to be 25, I had no desire to be driving back up to Storrs.
So I found this job at a School of Rock in Fairfield, which was the best possible thing. I got to work with a bunch of different local musicians who were awesome, and I also received some free lessons. I opened up the school every morning and had time to practice and also help kids develop their musicality.
I ended up living about a mile from Coach. That’s when Goose was getting started. So I would hop in the van with them and do whatever I could to help— move their amps, set up the stage, sell merch. I also realized, as they were slowly building small amounts of momentum in the Northeast, that it would behoove them to try and control the narrative about what was happening. I wanted to figure out how I could best tell this story for Goose, so I started firing off press releases from the road.
I didn’t really know exactly what I was doing, but as they grew, I was able to grow alongside them. Their first manager and agent was Matt Kolinski. He was booking a bunch of different bands, including Spafford and Pigeons.
Matt and I got really close and he took me under his wing. Although he wasn’t necessarily a PR-minded guy, he had worked with several publicists before and walked me through a lot of stuff, like, “Hey, maybe don’t send these press releases out via Mailchimp” or “Maybe we should include a picture.” The fact that he really believed in me at the time and opened some doors for me—allowing me to be a mouthpiece for the band early on—was a great way to build my confidence. This was probably 2014-2016, when I was also trying to nail down exactly what my career would be if I could make it in music.
After working at the School of Rock, I taught sixth grade math for a couple years in Bridgeport. This was a very interesting transition for me because I went from working at a School of Rock in Fairfield to being on the other side of the railroad tracks, teaching in Bridgeport. Between Fairfield and Bridgeport there is actually one of the highest income disparities in adjacent communities worldwide. I really got to see this stark difference, in terms of the cyclical repercussions of poverty and how that can really shape lives. Witnessing the opportunities that were offered to kids in Fairfield as opposed to Bridgeport was kind of what sparked a lot of the social justice work that I’ve continued to do.
Despite that really profound personal realization, during this time I also felt like I was floundering a bit. Education became my fallback, but I was still hyperfocused on continuing on this path with music.
I think one of the things that motivated me was that I had become such good friends with the guys in Goose and the early team. I knew there was so much talent that if they were able to achieve an iota of what I thought was possible for them, they’d get somewhere. I also realized that I would have a unique opportunity to help shape the early scene that was developing around the band.
When bands are at the club level, they’re often not earning much beyond their expenses. Did you begin as a volunteer and when did that change?
Goose started in September of 2014, which was when I began in the classroom. I was not getting paid by Goose, I just wanted to be around music. Having spent the previous several years doing a whole bunch of things in music, this was my way to stay tapped in.
So for the first few years— really up until 2018, when they still were only selling a couple hundred tickets here and there—I was working for free. It was just to support my friends and, hopefully, open up different opportunities for myself as they grew.
In retrospect, I did put a lot of eggs in this basket but I knew that they could do it and I was so thankful to be able to have the opportunity.
People don’t realize how long it takes for a band to be in a position financially where everyone can afford to live, not even live comfortably. I totally understood that everybody was making a lot of concessions to help this work. Ben Atkind, the drummer, is Boston-based and had to figure out moving down to Connecticut to be closer to the band so that they could practice. The band was not breaking even yet. So if this was something I wanted to do, I had to just stick to it. I figured the money would come.
Can you talk about the transition when you began working with additional bands?
In the summer of 2019, Goose signed to 11E1even Management. So Ben Baruch and Dave DiCianni started working with the group and they also have Pigeons, Twiddle and a bunch of others. I was a fan of those two bands and had seen them when they passed through Connecticut, playing tiny venues. I’m not even entirely sure how it worked out, but I was able to write a press release for Twiddle. I think Ben reached out about something super last minute that needed a release and gave me the opportunity to put something together. I knew the band’s catalog, so I thought, “I can totally do this.” So Ben and Dave gave me the opportunity to work on Twiddle, and by early 2020, I was also working on Pigeons.
Then, at the start of the pandemic, there was such a massive shakeup. A lot of people decided to just take a deep breath and figure out what to do next. That was not the case for the guys at 11E1even. A couple weeks into the lockdown, they were producing virtual festivals and digital events, really trying to do something excellent for the concert industry.
At that time, Ben and Dave came to me to do the press for their first event, Live From Out There, and I continued to do so with the events that followed. The fact that they allowed me the opportunity to represent them was a huge confidence-build.
That’s also when everything started to move very quickly for me. There were a lot of people in music PR who were completely on pause. So folks started coming to me at a time when a lot of outlets were kind of starved for content. I was also able to make some strong inroads with different editors.
Goose’s Bingo Tour in June 2020 was a massive success and pivotal for me. There was a moment in 2019 when I was thinking, “Maybe my journey ends here.” Goose could have gone to a big management company, hired [Big Hassle’s] Ken Weinstein and that’s it for me. As it turned out, Ken did come onboard to work on some of our stuff at the end of 2020, but he has become a mentor to me. So I’ve had a chance to learn from one of the best of the best over the past couple of years.
You mentioned your ongoing social justice work. To what extent do you use your platform in the music community for these efforts?
I’ve always been an advocate for others—a lot of what I mentioned earlier about my racial consciousness has driven my decision-making over the years. In general, we don’t think enough about others. We don’t think enough about the plight of others or a lot of the experiences that make people who they are. Humans tend to be more reactive to an immediate situation than trying to have a holistic understanding of what makes us us.
I’m aware that there are very few Black men who are publicists in the jam scene. In fact, I don’t know any others. [Laughs.] I don’t allow it be an obstacle for me.
I also think that if you’re able to have a platform, then you should use it for good. So some of the social justice stuff is not front and center with everything I do, but it’s certainly on my mind.
In 2020, I had a ton of people ask me to do different things that were public facing in the wake of George Floyd. But I am not necessarily equipped to be a thought leader on all of this. I can talk a lot more about soundboards from the ‘90s than I can about some of the kind of sociopolitical implications of our current state in America.
I try to do things that speak to me. I did some fundraising work with Twiddle’s Foundation. I also carve out time to be on a couple of boards. I’m on the board at the Levitt Pavilion in Westport. I was formerly on the junior board of an organization called Change for Kids, which was an educational nonprofit in New York. Unfortunately, they shuttered operations during the pandemic.
I just try to build this into everything I do. It’s always good to take some time to think about how we can serve other people.