A band that is growing in popularity performing the music of Jerry Garcia’s most prominent side project is coming to Plains Township, and it’s visiting with one of Northeastern Pennsylvania’s sons in tow.
The Garcia Project, an outfit rooted in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., will perform at 10 p.m. Friday at the River Street Jazz Cafe. Featured on keyboards for the evening will be West Pittston native and accomplished musician Freeman White.
During live shows, the ensemble delivers complete, archival Jerry Garcia Band setlists from 1976 to 1995.
The Jerry Garcia Band, founded by the iconic Grateful Dead songwriter and guitarist, was formed in 1975 and was active until Garcia’s death in 1995.
With a revolving cast of musicians, the Jerry Garcia Band performed a small selection of original music, shared songs with the Grateful Dead, and relished in covering others’ tunes in improvisational rearrangements.
Lead guitarist and vocalist for The Garcia Project Mik Bondy said he officially started the band in 2010 because he loves the music of the Jerry Garcia Band and no one was playing it.
“It was a Holy Grail for me, because I used to go see the Jerry Garcia Band, and there were so many of those great songs and Jerry’s interpretations of covers and it was so soulful,” Bondy said. “I saw it impact so many people in such a positive way.”
The group garnered interest in the Saratoga Springs region but got more serious after the addition of vocalist Kat Walkerson. Walkerson had performed with Melvin Seals, the keyboard player who took over as band leader in the Jerry Garcia Band after Garcia’s death. Under the name JGB, Seals continues to helm the outfit.
“When she joined the band,” Bondy said of Walkerson, “the chemistry she brought, when it hit with what I was doing, elevated the whole thing.”
Bondy said The Garcia Project will appeal to passionate Grateful Dead fans and more casual fans of the era of music alike.
“What’s nice about the JGB catalogue is there are some crossover songs like ‘Sugaree’ and ‘Deal’ for the Deadheads. But with Deadheads you’re preaching to the choir,” Bondy said. “The beautiful thing is we get so many people because we play ‘How Sweet It Is’ and ‘Second Hand Emotion’ and ‘Dear Prudence’ and all these epic covers that Jerry took and made his own.”
The Garcia Project, Bondy said, approximates the sound of JGB not only through setlists but also through instrumentation. The band was recently gifted replicas of two famous Garcia guitars: his white Travis Bean guitar and his iconic “Tiger” guitar.
“I’ve created a rig that I can get the ‘76 to ‘78 tones out of, but I can also get ‘83 to ‘95 tones out of,” Bondy said.
White, who is an alternating member of the touring band — JGB played with multiple piano and keyboard players, including Seals, Nicky Hopkins, Keith Godchaux and others — will be an integral part of capturing that tone of instrumentation on Friday night.
“Freeman is awesome,” Bondy said. “He’s got incredible energy.”
The band contacted White, now a Nashville, Tenn., resident, last year after a few failed attempts to communicate.
“When we finally reached him, he was available, and we hit it off immediately,” Bondy said. “He came out and did a West Coast tour run and did a great job. We did a whole piano tour. We did all the ‘76 through ‘78 shows, and it really charged up the band.
“He’s an incredible player and such a fun guy to be around.”
From the seasoned fan who might be reliving a performance to the newly initiated who might enjoy covers of songs by The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Smokey Robinson, The Band or Allen Toussaint, The Garcia Project aims to share the same feeling its members had when they saw and heard JGB.
“We don’t do note for note,” Bondy said of the band’s setlists. “What we’re doing is recreating the experience, and that’s what people feel; and that’s the important thing.”