On September 3rd, 1977, the Grateful Dead headlined one of the largest and most musically successful concerts of all time at Raceway Park in Englishtown N.J. In addition to the Dead, who had just completed its legendary Spring / Summer 1977 tour featuring a batch of new material from Terrapin Station, the show also included the Dead family’s New Riders of the Purple Sage and the good-time, southern rock Marshall Tucker Band.
This tribute extravaganza will feature healthy “doses” of selections from each band’s sets that day with a relaxed, festival-style program. This all-star lineup includes Scott Guberman (Phil Lesh and Friends), Rob Wolfson (Dead Sage), Klyph Black, Tom Circosta, and Dave Diamond (Zen Tricksters). The lineup will change from show to show- be sure to check the band’s Facebook page for show information HERE.
LMNR had a chance to catch up with Rob Wolfson and get some insight as to how this collection of jamband legends joined forces.
LMNR: In brief, can you describe your musical career trajectory? How did you get your start?
RW: I was really lucky to be ready, at age 8, to be blown away by The Beatles when they first hit the U.S. in early ’64. Me & my best bud at the time, who I’m still close with, became aware of them watching American Bandstand a week before their first Ed Sullivan Show appearance. Dick Clark just showed a photo of “the boys” and played “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” and our fates were sealed! At first it was Ringo who killed me with his swinging back beats and exuberance. I immediately wanted to be a drummer and drove my teachers crazy from banging on my desk all the time. However, guitars looked and sounded just as fun and I got a Harmony arch top for my 9th birthday. The Beatles led me to feasting on the 60’s music renaissance. I loved pretty much everything on the radio, from the Stones, the Kinks and the Beach Boys to Motown and on to the Rascals, Lovin’ Spoonful, etc – God there was so much great music happening!
I was in a band for the first time when I was 11 – we played “Little Bit ‘O Soul,” “House of the Rising Sun,” “Eight Days A Week,” and of course “Louie Louie.” Then in ’67 came FM radio and progressive rock – Cream, Jefferson Airplane, Traffic, Hendrix – I learned the pentatonic scale and got to be a pretty good blues rock player by the time I was 13. I had been acquainted with the Grateful Dead by then too, but when the Live Dead album came out in fall ’69 it opened me up to more advanced harmony, rhythm and exploratory improv, which then led me to jazz and beyond.
LMNR: Dead Sage is one of the bands with which you’re involved, that also combines several different bands’ music. Talk to us a little bit about that.
RW: I first met Michael Falzarano in ’96 during the heyday of the great Wetlands Preserve club in NYC and we played together quite a bit in those days. Michael had been with Hot Tuna for 15+ years and would go on to reassemble the New Riders of the Purple Sage for another great run. I was singing and playing guitar in Joe Gallant’s extraordinary Illuminati Orchestra and had begun the DeadCenter All-Stars project at the request of Wetlands music director Chris Zahn.
Suffice to say that Michael’s and my taste / sensibilities proved to be compatible and Dead Sage began several years ago as an initiative to use the music of NRPS and the Grateful Dead as a platform that would feature both band’s music (strange that nobody ever thought of doing that before considering the lineage) plus other compatible classic stuff from Hot Tuna, The Band, Dylan, Van Morrison, etc, and originals too. We just wanted to play stuff we liked, and with so many cover bands featuring the music of just one particular group, we hoped it might be refreshing to take a more eclectic approach.
RW: The Englishtown Project grew straight out of Dead Sage. Both Michael and I had (separately) attended the “Summer’s End Concert” on 9/3/77 and Michael had actually been thinking of doing a tribute to this event for some time. It turns out that this concert, at Raceway Park, Englishtown, NJ, was many folks’ first Grateful Dead show and is considered the best of the “mega shows” the band ever pulled off. The inclusion of the Marshall Tucker Band and NRPS on the bill added up to a monumental event.
We pitched the tribute idea to Pete Shapiro for a possible Brooklyn Bowl date and he went for it – and then, as often happens, The Englishtown Project began to take on a life of its own.
LMNR: With such an all-star lineup in this Englishtown Project collective, how have the practices and gigs gone so far? I can imagine it might be a little all over the place.
RW: Good question. So far, things are going fine but sooner or later scheduling conflicts and so forth become a challenge. It’s a classic “catch-22” of course. Fortunately, the level of musicianship we have on board makes the prep less concerning and pretty much all the music we’re featuring is in everyone’s DNA. It took a couple of rehearsals to establish vocal harmony assignments and song form details; the results have been satisfying but we’re confident that our best performances are still ahead of us. Fingers crossed!
LMNR: How have the fans in the jamband scene responded so far?
RW: It’s tremendously gratifying to receive the kind of positive response we’ve had so far from the fans. Michael had a hunch – when you have a career like he’s had I suppose you can develop a sixth sense about these things. It makes you remember that the “magic” we always refer to with this genre of music is real and these iconic events are important touchstones to a lot of people. Then it’s our job to bring that day’s music back to life in this special context. What a privilege that is for us as musicians.
LMNR: Where would you like to see the Englishtown Project go?
RW: It will go wherever it’s destined to take us. At first glance it might seem like a limited proposition, but you never know with these things. The answer will probably just present itself at the appropriate time, whether momentum sparks an idea, maybe outside forces take a hand – who knows? We put this thing together; now all we can do is give it our best shot and follow our noses.
LMNR: Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
RW: Thanks for supporting live music, we need it now more than ever!
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