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  • April 5th, 2016

    This is How Stella Blues Band Became Who They Are Today

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    ​On Friday, April 15, Stella Blues Band returns to Garcia’s for a Friday night Grateful Dead dance party. Since making their Garcia’s debut in 2013, we’ve made some great memories and some great friends with them along the way.

    1. You played your first show on Nov. 6, 2009. Can you tell us a little bit about the journey to get to where you are now in 2016? What has changed from 2009 and what has stayed the same?

    BILL: When we started we were essentially a bunch of guys just playing for fun and then one day someone said – ‘Let’s gig – we’re good enough’ – so we did.

    GREG: Our first gig was at the Rye Roadhouse. We did our own sound and played until after 2am. We still have the same fans coming to see us now that saw us that night.

    KEN: There were many nights that we played before a small–if appreciative–audience of any where from 15-25 people.

    BILL: We quickly realized that folks appreciated what we were up to so with a few lineup changes along the way we’ve just kept at it, ever mindful of honing our individual skills along with the notion that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That’s where jam bands tap into that ‘magic’ – when all cylinders are firing and the music all rolls into one. We’ve gotten better at finding that space as we’ve evolved.

    GREG: While some of the members have changed, the band has always strived to play well as a unit instead of a bunch of guys doing their own thing. Band dynamics has always been a focus, but has come a long way.

    KEN: But we always knew that if we just kept working at it, our goal of realizing Grateful Dead music in an authentic way would reach our fellow Deadheads. The biggest change now is to know as we approach a gig that the audience will be there to help us to bring the music to where we want it to go.

    CHUCK: Growth of our fan base is driven by the love and energy we put in, as well as the vibes our fans give us back.

    2. On June 5, 2013, Stella Blue’s Band started a residency and christened our Wednesday night DeadCenter shows, a nod back to a weekly jam session at the historic Wetlands. Did you ever play or attend the Wetlands? If so, what shows did you see or when did you play?

    RON: I played at the Wetlands many times with the Rooftop Cowboys in the ’90s and attended dozens of shows there. The most memorable was an “all-nighter” with Phish and Aquarium Rescue Unit on 6/9/90.

    CHUCK: I was fortunate to play a couple times at the Wetlands with Gravity, as well as hear my friend Bill McKay when he played for years with Derek Trucks.

    MARC: I saw several shows at the Wetlands. Most memorable was Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes sat in.

    3. It’s been 3 years since your first show at Garcia’s in 2013. How has your relationship with The Cap and Garcia’s grown? Can you tell us what makes Garcia’s and The Cap such a special place to the band?

    CHUCK: The Cap and Garcias has reblossomed this area to a time once loved, missed, and now revisited by a younger generation to enjoy.

    KEN: For many folks, Grateful Dead music is their religion–it’s part of their weekly ritual. While it’s true that wherever we bring this music becomes a sacred space for the duration of the show, when we play at Garcia’s we are playing in a place that’s defined by its relationship to the Grateful Dead. It helps create the conditions where the musical magic can happen. And it’s really nice when I look up from my keyboards and see Jerry’s face peering down at me!

    STEVE: Yeah, we have to play with a big old picture of Jerry looking at us. Sometimes it’s encouraging. Sometimes it’s intimidating. Mostly, it makes me smile.

    BILL: It’s essentially Mecca for area Deadheads – as a player you always know you’re gonna get a good, knowledgeable audience looking to celebrate the music we all love. It’s like you love cake – you go to the Bakery. All the ingredients are there! Just need you to come and get and enjoy it!

    GREG: It’s like a dream come true that the East Coast Center of All-Things-Dead is our home court, and it came together just as the band started hitting its stride. My first show at the Cap I saw the raw space that was to become Garcia’s, and told my wife, how awesome it would be to do a gig here. And then it happened.

    MARC: It’s just the aura of Jerry, Janis, Frank that permeates that space. I’m always honored just to step on the stage at Garcia’s.

    4. As certified Deadheads, we’d love to know what each band members first Grateful Dead show was, and how many times they saw the Dead. Can you tell us a little about your first show? How about your last?

    MARC: First show was 9/2/1978 at Giants Stadium with Willie Nelson and The New Riders opening. Show that hooked me was 1/10/79 at Nassau Coliseum where they played both St. Stephen and Dark Star in the same show.

    STEVE: Ok. I just learned that my first show and Marc’s were the same…. Only to meet like 35 years later. I went to like 100 shows. At Meadowlands in 1978, I was 15 and there were two people having sex in a blanket right in front of me on the stadium floor. I remember thinking, well, this is weird. Last one was Orlando in 1994 and we got tear-gassed. I remember thinking, well, this is weird. My favorite by far was Lewiston, ME, 1980.

    GREG: My first show was Alpine Valley 1986. It was just after my Freshman year of college. It was my buddy’s first show too. After the show, he told me he wouldn’t be seeing them again. I replied I’d be seeing them as often possible. I saw another 45 or so shows until my last show around 1992. I think it was Rosemont Horizon (Chicago was my hometown).

    RON: My first was 7/14/90 at Foxboro Stadium, and I saw them about 35 times. Not sure of the exact number or where the last was, and at this point I’ve probably seen almost as many Phil and Friends, Ratdog, and Furthur shows at the Cap as I saw the Dead with Jerry!

    KEN: My first show was at the Nassau Coliseum on March 16, 1973, a show that opened with China-Rider then Jack Straw–talk about getting shot out of the gate! The Nassau County police searched and busted people coming into the show and the band was so upset about it that they didn’t return for a few years. I went to about 40 shows total with the highlight a 3-night run at the Uptown Theater in Chicago, August 19-21, 1980–the last night was where the magic happened–it was as if the first two nights were warm-ups until a switch got flipped. Last show was on my birthday, September 15, 1990 at Madison Square Garden.

    ​CHUCK: My first dead show was at the garden 10/11/83. The place ignited when the 1st few notes of St Stephen rang out after not being played in 5 years. I was hooked more than ever.

    BILL: First 3/9/81 at MSG and last 6/19/95 at Giants Stadium. Stopped counting at about 75 but figure I saw them over 100 times. Best memory – set 2 6/18/83 at Spac. Totally took me away – if I’d already been ‘bitten by the bug’, and I had, this was when I came down with a full case of Deadheaditis! The Scarlet and Morning Dew from this show grabbed my heart and soul like nothing ever had. On the low end was my last show at Giants Stadium – I was on the field listening and thinking ‘this show is pretty tight – but where’s Jerry?’ – I couldn’t hear his guitar. Only years later did I find out while reading Phil’s ‘Searching For The Sound’ that this was one of the shows that due to his issues Jerry’s sound was turned down. So sad to think about but I choose to move beyond it, remembering all the great music, heart and soul the man put into his craft that we were blessed to have the opportunity enjoy.

    5. What one question would each member of the band ask Jerry Garcia if given the chance?

    STEVE: Why’d you put those two extra beats in the instrumental section of the Wheel? I mean, WTF Jerry?

    GREG: Want to jam?

    RON: Greg nailed it. Can’t do better than that.

    BILL: Yea – what Greg said – beyond that, looking back what was your favorite era of your own playing? Of the band’s playing? Yea, I’m cheating – 2 questions!

    KEN: As a very novice scuba diver, I know the special feeling that develops when you dive with somebody. I would just ask, “Can we go diving together?”

    CHUCK: I would ask Jerry if we could go on a long trip together

    6. Steve, you go from wearing a suit during the day as CNBC Chief Economics reporter, even interviewing President Obama himself, to wearing a tie-dye at night and playing in a Grateful Dead tribute band. Can you tell us a little about how you transition from one role to another?

    Well, we all hold down day jobs. It’s how we make this caravan run. And everyone works hard, just not everyone is as public as me in their jobs. It’s funny that some fans do see me playing a gig late at night and then up early in the a.m. on TV. And they mostly have an inside laugh when they see me on tv cause they know what I was doing the night before.

    I do a need a little transition time from the fast-paced world of journalism, where you make it happen, to the more laid back world of music, where you need to be available for it to happen to you. Sometimes I find myself forcing “it” early on in a gig till I get the right mind set. But no matter how tired I am, no matter how early I was at work that day, the music always energizes me and gets me up. Some folks wonder how I’m able to do both the tv and the music, but I think I do well at my day job because I have this fabulous outlet of playing this wondrous music, not in spite of it.