The band announces upcoming tour dates and sits down for a conversation about the band’s roots with Michael Falzarano whose five decades or more in live public performance has taken him from one end of the earth to the other.
For guitarist and vocalist Michael Falzarano, music has quite literally been his life. From the late 60’s and early 70’s to the current day, Falzarano has remained active in various projects – whether it was his start in bars in Long Island or as a twenty year member of Hot Tuna, or a current member of New Riders of the Purple Sage. Along with his current role in NRPS and the David Nelson Band, Falzarano has found time to do a few side projects including The Englishtown Project.
As the name suggests, the outfit – Falzarano on guitar/vocals, Rob Wolfson on guitars/vocals, Tom Circosta on guitar/vocals, Klyph Black on bass/vocals, Dave Diamond on drums/vocals, Joe Chirco on drums, and Claire Maloney and Joanne Lediger on vocals along with a rotating keyboardist – pays tribute to a legendary concert that took place at Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J. on September 3, 1977. The event was attended by over 100,000 and featured performances by the Marshall Tucker Band, New Riders of the Purple Sage and a headlining show by the Grateful Dead, which marked the first show that percussionist Mickey Hart rejoined the band after taking time off to recover from injuries sustained in an automobile accident.
The show has been revered by music lovers since that fateful day in 1977, and after hearing people constantly talk about their love of the concert, Falzarano felt like there was an opportunity to try and bring the music from the seminal event to the current day. What followed was the creation of a band that not only delivers a bulk of the Dead’s music from that night, but also ties in the music of the New Riders of the Purple Sage and the Marshall Tucker Band for an immensely enjoyable trip back to Englishtown.
Recently, Live Music News and Review had the chance to chat with Falzarano about the origins of the Englishtown Project, their current tour (which includes a 4/20 show at the River Street Jazz Café in Plains, PA. with members of Cabinet) and what the future may hold for the outfit.
LMNR: How are things going for you at the moment? Are you able to enjoy some down time in between tours?
MF: “I’m fairly busy all the time – either producing someone or working on my own stuff, or working with The Englishtown Project; or trying to get a big 50th anniversary show together out West for the New Riders of the Purple Sage. There’s a lot of things going on in my world, so I’m always pretty busy. Starting this Friday, (The Englishtown Project) starts a whole bunch of shows on and off until the end of the summer.”
LMNR: The Englishtown Project is a unique Dead tribute as it focuses on one particular show rather than bouncing around the thousands of other shows the band performed. How did the idea for this project come about?
MF: “Shortly after Hot Tuna disbanded and Jorma and Jack went back to playing the duet thing back in 2003 or 2004, I joined forces with Buddy Cage and David Nelson to reform the New Riders of the Purple Sage. We traveled all over the country and Canada for 15 years, and it seemed like every night no matter where we went, someone would come up to me and say ‘I saw you in Englishtown,’ or ‘I saw the New Riders and the Grateful Dead in Englishtown and it was my first show.’ Somewhere along the way I started to think ‘well, everybody loves that show or has been at that show, maybe I should put something together and pay tribute to it.’ On a whim, I was talking to Rob Wolfson, the lead guitar player in The Englishtown Project, and he said ‘that’s a great idea. Why don’t we see if the guys from The Zen Tricksters – Tommy Circosta, Dave Diamond and Klyph Black – let’s see if they’re interested. If they are, let’s put something together.’ They were, so we contacted (promoter) Pete Shapiro from Brooklyn Bowl and The Capitol Theater and he said ‘yeah, it’s great. Let’s do it at the Brooklyn Bowl.’ He gave us the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend…as we got a little closer to the show date, I thought maybe we should play a warm up show. Even though we’ve all played together collectively over the years, we had not played together as this unit. Scott Guberman, from Phil’s band and the Communion Band, was in town so we put two shows together as warm ups. One was at Garcia’s and about 180 people showed up. For Garcia’s, that’s a lot of people. We thought maybe we’re onto something – but, you never know because the music business is so funny. Two weeks later, the Brooklyn Bowl show rolls around, and it’s a holiday weekend and there’s rain, so we have low expectations. Low and behold, 400 people show up. We thought ‘wow, this is great.’ We had a great time doing it, so we decided to see if we can do a couple more shows. We contacted (booking agent) Phil Simon in New England, and he loved the project and took it on. Now, from that one show, we’ve probably played 20 to 30 shows, and now we’re booked until the end of November 2019. It was just kind of an on the whim thing that I thought would be a fun thing to do, and now it’s turned into a full-on entity…things are moving right along in that world.”
LMNR: When you guys go out on the road, do you try to strictly adhere to the set lists that were originally played at Englishtown or do you allow room for expansion in terms of song selection?
MF: “I’ll be honest: when we first started, my concept was the first set would be New Riders and Marshall Tucker, and the second set was going to be the Grateful Dead. On that day, I think close to 70 songs were played, so there was no way we could have played all those songs in one evening. We picked a bunch of songs that were played by the New Riders, Marshall Tucker and by the Grateful Dead, and we did the two sets. After a few shows, we realized it might be better to just do a mash-up. Start off with a couple Grateful Dead songs, then a couple New Riders songs, then a couple Marshall Tucker songs and just put them all together. Strangely enough, it works – all these songs by all three bands seem to flow together and the audience really seems to get off on it. Originally when we started, yes, we stuck to the songs that were played at Englishtown…We have a lot of songs to choose from, but occasionally we’ll throw something in that we just like to play. For instance, “Shakedown Street.” It wasn’t played that day, but we might encore with it. Or we might pick some other cover that the Grateful Dead did at one time or another, and throw that in there. So, it’s not a strict representation of the songs, but of the music and of the three bands.”
LMNR: How much of a role did the Grateful Dead’s music play in your life growing up?
MF: “I’m originally from New York, but I moved to Long Island very early on. I spent my formative years playing music on Long Island – in the bars in Brooklyn and Queens. What I was doing back then in the late 60’s and early 70’s was playing the music of, strangely enough, Hot Tuna, New Riders of the Purple Sage, the Grateful Dead, Commander Cody, Bob Dylan; pretty much what I’m doing still. Never in my wildest dreams when I was doing that did I think I’d wind up in Hot Tuna for over 20 years, and in the New Riders of the Purple Sage for 15 years. And getting to play with all the members of the Grateful Dead, and Commander Cody. And even Quicksilver Messenger Service. And The Band; I’ve played with all the members of The Band, sans Robbie Robertson. I started out playing all this music. It wasn’t really that foreign to me when Buddy Cage called me and said ‘we’re putting the New Riders back together. Do you want in?’ I said ‘sure’ because it’s not like I had to do some wood shedding; I knew this stuff already. So, yeah, the music of the Grateful Dead played a big part in my growing up. All those bands are so interrelated, especially the New Riders and the Grateful Dead…then they started to tour together. And Hot Tuna, the Jefferson Airplane, and the Grateful Dead, they all played millions of shows together. So there’s a line you can draw directly between all these bands.”
LMNR: Lots of people are looking forward to the show at the River Street Jazz Café in Plains, PA. What kind of lineup will the band have for that show? I know sometimes there are different keyboardists depending on availability.
MF: “Mookie (Siegel, keys) will play with us whenever he’s in town. He’s playing with us at the River Street Jazz Café on 4/20. I called up Pappy (Biondo) from Cabinet to play, and he said he might be opening that show anyway, so that will be fantastic to get him there. It will be a really fun event. I love playing with him; we did New Years together and we had a blast. Both bands, the whole Englishtown and all of Cabinet, played the midnight song “Let the Good Times Roll” and it was a lot of fun and we all had a great time, so that’s why I called him up and said ‘we’re doing this thing on 4/20, would you be interested in doing it?’ He texted me right back and said ‘I’m hoping to be on that show.’”
LMNR: How would you best describe what kind of show to expect for fans who come out and see you guys on this tour?
MF: “We’re going to do what we do every night we play now. We usually do two full sets, probably 12 or 13 songs in each set. Depending on jams, it might be 10 and 11 or 10 and 12, somewhere in that range. Both sets will be a combination of New Riders, the Grateful Dead and Marshall Tucker Band. Usually we start off with a New Riders tune or two, then play some Grateful Dead, then a Tucker tune, and back to the Grateful Dead. Both sets are Dead heavy because at Englishtown the Grateful Dead were the headlining act, so we try to stay true to that legacy and play more of that than the other songs. We do a fair amount of the other stuff as well on any given night. The songs that were played at Englishtown in 1977 were all great songs. The Grateful Dead did a great set, the New Riders did a bunch of really great songs, so there’s no lack of songs or wondering what we’re going to play – nobody’s playing a song they don’t like. Every song is a good old fashioned good time.”
LMNR: What are your long term goals with this outfit? Do you see the band eventually exploring other areas of the Dead’s career?
MF: “We’ve only been together for eight months, so to be able to come this far in the music business in this day and age in eight months is saying something. People are definitely digging it and coming out and having fun. What I can see happening in maybe the next year or so – we’re going to keep the ball in the air and keep it going – I can see us doing other things. For instance – and I’m just using this as a for instance not that we’re going to do this – but something like Englishtown plays Watkin’s Glen. You know, do the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers Band and The Band, because we all know that material. The Englishtown Project has some side paths we can go down, if we choose to do that. It will probably always be based around a Grateful Dead show. Maybe it’ll be a Fillmore show where the Grateful Dead and the New Riders played a show together, or we’ll pick a different Fillmore show where it was the Grateful Dead, the New Riders and someone else. For right now, I’d say until the end of this year, we’re going to stick to The Englishtown Project’s original concept of the music of the Grateful Dead, the New Riders and Marshall Tucker. The other thing that I found amazing, or enlightening to me, is how much people enjoy or get off on the Marshall Tucker stuff.”
UPCOMING TOUR DATES
Fri 04.19.19 Bleachers Bristol CT
Sat 04.20.19 River Street Jazz Café Plains PA
Fri 04.26.19 Stage One Fairfield CT
Fri 05.24.19 118 North Wayne PA
Sun 05.26.19 Brooklyn Bowl Brooklyn NY
Fri 05.31.19 FM Bar and Lounge Jersey City NJ
Sat 06.01.19 The Vault at Greasy Luck Brewery New Bedford MA
Sat 06.08.19 Skyloft Music & Restaurant Albany NY
Sun 06.09.19 Good Nature Farm Brewery Hamilton NY
Sat 07.20.19 Great South Bay Music Festival Shore Front Park Patchogue NY
Sun 08.04.19 Camp Creek Bozrah CT
Sun 08.25.19 Warwick Winery Warwick NY
Sat 09.14.19 Wormtown Main Stage Greenfield MA
Sat 11.30.19 Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center Westhampton Beach NY