The Beat Goes On: Two bands channel the Grateful Dead, jazz legend Bill Frisell comes to Amherst, and more


Staff Writer

Published: 05-26-2023 10:52 AM

EDITOR’S NOTE: Bill Frisell’s performance at The Drake, May 27 at 8 p.m., is sold out.

Calling all Deadheads: If you’re a longtime fan of Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, and the other players who once made The Grateful Dead one of the original jam bands, you know about the only option for hearing their music live is to catch one of the many tribute bands out there.

But a better choice might be to find a cover band that plays the Dead’s music but puts its own spin on it, not playing note-for-note renditions, and two of them will be in the Valley in this week.

On May 27 at The Divine Theater at Gateway City Arts in Holyoke, Mind Left Body offers an 8 p.m. show that showcases the Easthampton band’s love of The Grateful Dead but also what they call their “thoughtful interpretations” of the repertoire.

Those interpretations include bringing some tight musicianship — something the Dead were not especially noted for — to Mind Left Body shows, which have been drawing good crowds around the Valley since the band formed last year.

“We want to try the most challenging things and do interesting transitions and not just aimlessly jam,” drummer Brian Marchese told the Greenfield Recorder last month. “We try to make things go somewhere, to take us and the audience somewhere.”

And on June 2, Dead to the Core, a collective of singer-songwriters and acoustic players led by musician/author Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers, comes to The Parlor Room in Northampton to offer their take on the Dead’s canon.

Dead to the Core grew out of some Jerry Garcia birthday celebrations that Rodgers, who’s based in Syracuse, New York, began hosting at Club Passim in Cambridge in 2017. All told, about 18 different musicians, in different configurations, have performed with the collective at some point.

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One of them is Mark Erelli, the veteran Massachusetts singer-songwriter with Valley ties, and another is Anand Nayak, the multi-instrumentalist and music producer who’s also a longtime member of the Valley stringband Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem.

At The Parlor Room show, which begins at 7:30 p.m., Nayak will join Rodgers and Wendy Sassafras Ramsay, a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist whose other gigs include playing as a duo with Rodgers called Pepper and Sassafras.

“Rodgers doesn’t tap the legion of dedicated Grateful Dead tribute artists for these concerts,” writes Art Fuse. “Instead, he seeks out songwriters and musicians who have developed their own voices and styles.”

Rodgers is also the founding editor of Acoustic Guitar magazine, as well as a guitar teacher who’s released a series of video lessons on playing Grateful Dead songs on acoustic. At Dead to the Core shows, he also plays clips from interviews he’s conducted with Garcia and Weir about the roots of their music.


Age has proven no barrier to Bill Frisell, the veteran jazz guitarist, composer and arranger who’s now 72 but continues to plumb new sounds, the kind that prompted the New York Times to call him “one of the most distinctive and original improvising guitarists of our time.”

Frisell, who brings his trio (Tony Scherr on bass, Rudy Royston on drums) to The Drake in Amherst May 27 at 8 p.m., is a six-time Grammy nominee who won a 2005 Grammy for Best Contemporary Jazz Album for his album “Unspeakable.”

But though his roots are in jazz, Frisell, in a career spanning more than 40 years, has also incorporated sounds as diverse as bluegrass and country in his playing; he’s recorded versions of songs by artists ranging from Bob Dylan to John Hiatt, while also composing music for film and television.

As the Times writes, Frisell, who cut his professional teeth as an in-house guitarist for EMC Records in the 1980s, has “earned a reputation for teasing out thematic connections with his music. There’s a reason that Jazz at Lincoln Center had him program a series called Roots of Americana.”

Musical exploration remains a constant for him. As he said in an interview with Guitar Player earlier this year, “Every note is a question… If you take your instrument and just hit one note on one string, it’s like, ‘Okay, what are you going to do next?’ But it will lead you to something else somehow.”


A newish venue: Last month, Tree House Brewery in Deerfield won approval from town officials to triple its occupancy for outdoor concerts and other special events from 500 to 1,500 people. This comes after the beer business first began hosting some live music in 2022.

It’s worth noting that now because Tree House has a small but impressive musical lineup scheduled this summer for both its outdoor Summer Stage and its indoor House Theater, and tickets for a number of acts are selling fast.

Northampton singer-songwriter Martin Sexton just played a sold-out show there a few nights ago, and alt-rockers Deer Tick have sold out their June 5 show.

Other June shows are still available, like veteran singer-songwriter Joan Osborne, who had her first big hit in 1995 with “One of Us”; she’ll be at Tree House June 13. On June 14, indie rock darlings Yo La Tengo will play an outdoor show, and Jeff Tweedy follows on their heals June 19, with Canadian singer-songwriter Le Ren opening that show.

More music on tap

The Threesies are not a trio but rather a quartet of Valley Americana pros — Jim Henry on guitar and mandolin, Christoper Haynes on keyboards, J.J. O’Connell on drums, Paul Kochanski on bass — who play music strictly in three-based time signatures as a revolt against “the tyranny of 4/4 time in popular song form.” At The Divine Theater May 26 (tonight, Friday) at 8 p.m.

The Duke Robillard Band, with special guest Sugar Ray — Robillard and Ray are both former members of Room Full of Blues — plays Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield May 26 at 7 p.m.

The weekend at Hawks & Reed continues May 27 at 7:30 p.m. with a show by TapRoots, the Valley ensemble that incorporates funk, soul, reggae, Afrobeat and more. They’ll be joined by Bombajazzeando, which combines Puerto Rican bomba dancing and drumming with North American jazz.

As you’ve probably heard, the Northampton Fire Department has barred the Bombyx Center for Arts & Equity in Florence from hosting music indoors until the center installs an automatic sprinkler system in the building.

But Bombyx is appealing that decision to a state board, so shows may go on at Bombyx as the appeal is heard; check their website ( for updates. This weekend’s shows include Cuban jazz pianist Harold López-Nussa and veteran rockers The Samples.

The Marigold Theater in Easthampton’s got you covered for bluegrass June 2 with Poor Monroe, Evan Murphy, and Mamma’s Marmalade. Doors open at 7 p.m.

Blues belter, multi-instrumentalist, and songwriter Danielle Nicole comes to The Drake June 4 at 8 p.m. Soul and blues singer Ali McGuirk opens the show.

A fundraising concert for the Connecticut River Conservancy takes place June 4 at 4:30 p.m. at Click Workspace in Northampton, with Amherst pianists Estela Olevsky and Deborah Gilwood playing four-hand versions of works by Schubert, Poulenc, Lili Boulanger and more.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at