By Elyssa Goodman
Portrait by Ryan Stone
“How much do you know about live music?” Woody Graber asks me.
“I’m pretty well-exposed to it. What do you know about live music?” I joke, knowing full well that Graber has experiences with live music to last not just one lifetime, but probably 20.
The public relations impresario has been working in the South Florida music scene for more than 30 years. And if you name a musical act from the last
half-century, Graber has probably worked with them, from the Grateful Dead to Lady Gaga. “People call me a legend. And yeah, I probably am,” Graber laughs. “I’m not sure if they say it because I’ve been around for a long time, or if they really think I’m a legend.”
Graber grew up in a creative household in Buffalo, New York, where his mother was a piano teacher and his father was an artist. He played piano from an early age and was exposed to a heavy dose of classical music, but ultimately found his sound from bands such as the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and the Kinks. He cultivated this interest in music at the University at Buffalo, where he was on a team that booked campus concerts. In fact, the Grateful Dead’s song “Truckin’” is about the band’s trip up to Buffalo for a show with the Buffalo Philharmonic that Graber and other students helped organize.
Tired of snow, Graber made his way to Berkeley, California, where he wrote about music for a variety of industry publications and performed as a solo singer/guitar act. Ultimately, Graber wanted a bit more work stability and knew with a writing background, he could build a career in public relations. He was hired by an agency in San Francisco, and so began his 40-plus-year career in the music industry.
“Music has always been a part of my life.”
In 1979, Graber moved to South Florida to work with another PR company, but a unique opportunity arose in 1987. “These people working with Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones were buying some real estate on South Beach, and they were gonna create a club,” Graber says. “They basically offered to set me up with my own business and have the club as a client.”
The club was Woody’s on the Beach (named after the Rolling Stones guitarist, not Graber himself), and its opening received press nationwide. “That was a nice way to open your own business,” Graber says.
Today, Woody Graber & Associates is a full-service public relations and marketing firm representing the likes of Live Nation FL (the Florida branch of one of the largest concert promoters in the world) and Fort Lauderdale music venue Revolution Live, among many others.
During his time in South Florida, Graber has enjoyed seeing many big-name acts, not just at Woody’s on the Beach—though he cites two packed houses for the Neville Brothers as some of his favorites—but at another venue, the Stephen Talkhouse, which he represented and also partly owned for a time. “We had Taj Mahal there, and Bob Marley’s mom, Cedella Marley Booker, came onstage with him at the end, and they sang together and it was magical,” Graber says.
Through Revolution Live, he’s also had the opportunity to see some now-famous pop artists at the beginning of their careers, including Lady Gaga and Pink. Now, Graber works with at least four acts a week, ranging from the pop-rock band Walk the Moon to hip-hop’s Joey Bada$$.
“What was a moment where you thought to yourself, this is what I need to be doing for the rest of my life?” I ask.
“When I was born!” Graber laughs, as if there’s comedy in the idea of him ever doing something else. “Music has always been a part of my life.” And even after decades in the biz, it looks like Graber has no intentions of leaving it behind anytime soon.
Originally appeared in the Winter 2015 issue.