Betty & The Boards

Garcia’s at The Capitol Theater

January 4, 2017

By Gary Blicksilver

Photos by Sharon Budman

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Check out the full gallery of photos by Sharon Budman here.

Just after their show on January 4 at Garcia’s at The Capitol Theater, a patron commented, “Betty’s pants were awesome,” presumably referring to Betty & The Boards’ vocalist.  Now she was in-fact wearing groovy pants…denim with embroidered rose vines on both legs.  The only problem here is that “Betty” is really a “Donna,” which is totally appropriate when you consider that this band of merry pranksters is Dead-inspired and that the actual Grateful Dead had their own Donna, and that roses are…well roses are one of those classic Dead icons.  But more on this Donna a bit later…

Formed late in 2015, as Fred Scholl & Friends, Betty & The Boards is now gathering steam as it works its way through the greater New York metropolitan area.  Betty is fronted by guitarist Fred Scholl and on this night featured Steve Bernstein also on guitar, Joe Gallant on bass, Larry Menaker on drums, Donna Santorelli on vocals, and Matt Herzog on keys.  The band’s name pays homage to Betty Cantor-Jackson, the recording engineer who worked closely with the Grateful Dead, whose now famous live tapes are referred to as the “Betty Boards.”

And in what started out as a substitution – for Bernstein – Bill Bonacci, of local favorite Stella Blue’s Band, offered up his talents for this Port Chester show.  As luck would have it, Bernstein became available and Scholl made mighty productive use of these two very talented, but differently styled guitarists.  Playing two full sets of music, Bernstein and Bonacci would appear separately, each showing off their own skills, as well as together with Scholl, for what would be an unheard of 3-guitar assault on the Dead’s catalog.

Sharing guitar duties with Scholl first was Bernstein, and Betty opened up with one of the Dead’s most beloved tunes, “Scarlet Begonias.”  That was enough for the crowd to stop talking, start singing and get dancing.  Here we double back to the Donna story.  In as much as Donna Jean Godchaux provided both back-up and lead vocals for the Dead, Donna Santorelli sings pretty much lead.  And on “Scarlet” and “Viola Lee Blues” which followed, she demonstrated her beautiful range, singing at times with Janis Joplin’s unmistakable whiskey-soaked roughness, but able to get way smoother, like a Joni Mitchell.

Betty then took a turn out of Dead-land and covered Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.” On this, Santorelli was able to channel that other band’s famous vocalist while still providing her own voice.  Scholl then went back to the basics, and sang lead on the Hunter/Weir anthem “Playing in the Band,” the song that speaks to why both the actual musicians and wannabes following along on air instruments, were all there.  He and Bernstein masterfully showed off their guitar skills, recreating in large part the “Playing” jam as it appeared on Weir’s first solo effort, Ace. The band kept going and Santorelli did the vocals on an extended “Eyes of the World,” the end of which featured an excellent bass run by Gallant.


Two “outside influences” would come next – “Sway,” a 1953 Cumbia instrumental song by Mexican composers Luis Demetrio and Pablo Beltrán Ruiz and made famous in the states by Dean Martin, followed by “Hush,” by Deep Purple.  These two tracks, as well as those throughout the evening, were readily handled by drummer Menaker who kept everything in time and keyboardist Herzog who provided the perfect amount of ivory fill.

The classic Dead trifecta of “Help on the Way” > “Slipknot” > “Franklin’s Tower” would serve as the transition to Bonacci, allowing the band to hit a Southern-style triple guitar threat –  not unlike Skynyrd – with the familiar refrain “Roll away, the dew” being repeated until everyone was in an absolute frenzy. To close out the first set, the Jerry Garcia Band effort “Don’t Let Go” allowed the three guitarists to continue jamming ’til the intermission.

With regard to Scholl, Bernstein and Bonacci – while they all play the music of the Dead – each performs with a different style.  In the regular duo, Scholl is more animated, bending when appropriate but not overdoing it; Bernstein is more steadfast, who lets his fingers do all the talking.  Different than many bands of this genre, the two share rhythm and lead parts; switching back and forth seemingly at will.  Bonacci, by comparison, who is “the Jerry” in his own group, rocks to and fro with almost every pick and pluck of his strings, shredding when he needs to (or just plain wants to).

After a short break to catch their collective breaths, Betty came back – only now with Bonacci instead of Bernstein.  To kick off the second set, the band went for the J.J. Cale penned classic “After Midnight.”  This is one of Eric Clapton’s signature songs, but was also heavily performed by Jerry Garcia in his non-Dead repertoire.  Following “Crazy Fingers,” Betty went back to the Garcia sub-catalog with “Midnight Moonlight,” from Old and in the Way’s self-titled first album.

From here to almost midnight, it was all Dead and the faithful were treated to nice covers of “Loose Lucy” and “Cumberland Blues.”  For “Shakedown Street,” Bernstein rejoined his bandmates, and again with three guitars, the band went into overdrive.  To close out the set, Betty played “Samson and Delilah,” a traditional tune but often associated with the Dead and recorded on their stunning Terrapin Station

Scholl then introduced the band one more time and with the crowd still spinning, there was only one tune left to do – “Deal.”  On this, Betty went full-throttle and jammed long and hard, repeating this cautionary tale:

“It goes to show you don’t ever know

Watch each card you play

and play it slow

Wait until your deal come round

Don’t you let that deal go down”


Once the last notes – the last bit of energy – had been extracted, the band and special guest Bonacci stepped down from the stage and looked back at the whole thing, no doubt being impressed with their stellar performance.  2017 was off to a fine start! 


“Betty & The Boards…Gratefully inspired, but not entirely Dead.”

Check out the full gallery of photos by Sharon Budman here.

To Submit a review or story for consideration hit us at [email protected]

Check out the Live Music News and Facebook page for updates and announcements.