Dave Eggers is Auctioning Off Setlists to Raise Money for Young Writers

Dave Eggers is Auctioning Off Setlists to Raise Money for Young Writers

Live concerts can be ephemeral, leaving us with only charged memories and, perhaps, a few ill-advised blurry cellphone photos. Writers Nick Hornby and Dave Eggers are aiming to give fans something to hold onto post-show, however, all in service of inspiring young minds.

Eggers and Co. have just launched Setlists For Young Voices, a charity auction of signed setlists from the likes of R.E.M., Patti Smith and A$AP Rocky — to name a few. It lasts from now until May 2. All proceeds from the auction will go to The International Alliance of Youth Writing Centers, which seeks to help young writers flourish, and The International Congress of Youth Voices, a new yearly event bringing together aspiring writers from around the world. This year’s event will take place in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and proceeds from the auction will go toward airfare and accommodations for the children involved.

“They have the kind of moral clarity that would obliterate any despair we might feel,” Eggers says of the teen writers, who have contributed to such lofty publications as the New York Times over the years.

Both Eggers and Hornby work with these centers and, Eggers says, Hornby came up with the idea for the auction a few months ago. “He wrote a very short email saying, ‘Why don’t we collect setlists from concerts and try to auction them off?’” he tells TIDAL. “As fundraisers go, it’s so simple and so cost effective; there’s no overhead. The only expense that we have are the stamps that it takes to mail them.”

Teaming up with fellow author Michael Chabon, Eggers and Hornby reached out to their musician friends to donate setlists — and those musicians delivered. “Before we knew it, we had a juggernaut of really interesting documents from these moments in time that otherwise don’t have any artifacts,” Eggers says. “Concerts come and go, for the most part, and there’s so few interactions that people have with musicians outside of being in an audience. You don’t really get your iPhones signed by a band.”

In advance of the auction, TIDAL spoke with Eggers about the project below.

Have you ever had a setlist signed?

No, I never have. I think in college I might have swiped one or two off of a stage after a show in a club, but no, it’s one of these things that never really occurred to me —that it was something that you could buy.

We thought that this auction could become the go-to place [to get setlists]. We’ll start with about 80 setlists and then, I think, next year it will probably double or triple. Once the bands know that their pieces of paper are of value, and once fans know where to go and get them, I think we’ll have a permanent yearly fundraiser. And maybe create a little bit more interest in these documents in the first place.

These pieces of paper, almost all of them show evidence of use. There’s tape still on some of them. Some of them have a tear or a crinkle or a footprint even on them. About half of them are handwritten, which is so cool. And then, of course, they’re all signed.

Which ones were you responsible for bringing in?

The first one, I reached out to a guy I know that helped manage R.E.M. — he’s involved in education in Atlanta, Georgia. His name is Bertis Downs. So I thought he would get it on both levels. He sent two setlists: one from R.E.M.’s show in San Francisco in ’89 and one from a London show in ’89. It took about a month to get all four guys from the original band to sign it. It’s got to be the first of its kind. We went from there.

It looks like you have more than a few Patti Smith setlists? 

Hers are maybe the most beautiful objects of all of them. They’re on letterhead from Italian hotels and they have her incredible handwriting. Some of the setlists have layers and layers of content. Andrew Bird’s drawing — some of them are very elaborate. The Pretenders one has blue tape on it and they’re written by Chrissie Hynde. When those came through… I’m such a Pretenders fan. That one just came out of the blue in the mail.

Then they started coming so fast. You open the mail on a given day there’s a Wilco one or the Lumineers. And often they’re coming a concert that way two days before. It’s been kind of fun. No one has said no.

Is this something you’d consider making into a book?

It’s one of those things where we’ll see how the auction goes and see what else comes in. We’re photographing all of them and we’ll see what the appetite is there. It’s kind of addictive; you want to look at each one. They’re so different and they’re so expressive. You realize that, for the most part, you’ve never seen these musicians’ handwriting.

We’re in such digital world that these authentic, three-dimensional, tactile documents with real handwriting and real wear and tear are so, I don’t know, exotic. I think it could make a great book.

What’s the most impactful concert you’ve attended?

Back in 1988, I saw a double bill of Public Enemy and Sonic Youth. It was in Chicago at the Aragon Ballroom and it was my first real exposure to how the police can sometimes overreact and sometimes negatively influence outcomes. This was at a moment when Public Enemy was considered actually sort of a dangerous band, in that violence was likely to break out after or during a show. I don’t know if this was based on any evidence at all, but because of some of their lyrics and activism, the police were kind of geared up.

So we all spilled out into the street, as you do at every show, and immediately we saw all these cops. Instead of allowing everyone to leave, they were pushing and shoving and, in a real big way, sort of inciting all of these passive music fans who were trying to leave. Before you knew it, people were running and cops were chasing them and someone was videotaping and cops chased him into a parking garage and took his camera. It turned into this mini riot that wasn’t anything until the cops started pushing people around.

It was very educational for me, being a sheltered, suburban kid to see how police overreaction and incitement can start what they were there to prevent. Outside of that, it was a pretty phenomenal show. I don’t know if there’s ever a duo like that outside of festivals. It was definitely a historical moment.

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