On Sept. 3, 1977, more than 100,000 people walked miles in the heat to Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey, to see a triple bill concert of the Grateful Dead, New Riders of the Purple Sage and the Marshall Tucker Band. The legendary concert was the biggest show in the state’s history and remains one of the Dead’s most notable concerts in the band’s storied career.
On Saturday, Feb. 16, a tribute to this concert will be held by The Englishtown Project at the Boulton Center in Bay Shore meshing the music of all three bands from that historic day.
“At every New Riders show someone would come up to me and say, ‘Hey dude, I saw the New Riders at Englishtown! It was my first Grateful Dead show,’ ” says New Riders vocalist/guitarist Mike Falzarano, 68, who grew up in Copiague and Centereach. “It seems like everybody loved that show, therefore I thought I should do a tribute.”
Falzarano called upon three members of the Grateful Dead tribute band the Zen Tricksters (guitarist/vocalist Tom Circosta, bassist/vocalist Klyph Black and drummer Dave Diamond) plus guitarist/vocalist Rob Wolfson of Dead Sage and vocalist Clare Maloney with rotating keyboard players to create The Englishtown Project.
After successful gigs at Garcia’s in Port Chester and Brooklyn Bowl, the band booked a 30-date tour.
“We thought we might be onto something here,” says Falzarano. “It all happened very rapidly and really snowballed.”
Circosta, 54, of Rockville Centre adds, “It was only supposed to be one show, but everybody loved it so much that we kept rolling.”
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The show blends the music of the Dead, the New Riders and Marshall Tucker all together in one giant 25-song playlist stemming from the sets of the original 1977 concert. Dead songs like “Truckin,” “Eyes of the World,” “The Music Never Stopped” and “Friend of the Devil” are played with New Riders tunes such as “Henry,” “Glendale Train” “I Don’t Know You” and “Dirty Business” plus Marshall Tucker tracks “Can’t You See,” “Heard It In a Love Song,” “24 Hours at a Time” and “Fire on the Mountain.”
“Strangely enough it all works together in the same universe,” says Falzarano. “We mix the songs up because it’s more fun that way.”
The crowds' age range spans from 20-year-olds into the jam band scene to 70-year-old Deadheads.
“The feedback from the audience is what keeps us going. Their reaction has not only been positive but highly energetic,” says Circosta. “People get deep into it. When we break into an extended jam at the end of the show they really eat that up.”
The vibe at each show is loose and relaxed with a focus on a nostalgic look back at the past.
“I don’t believe these bands ever thought that more than 40 years later people would want to hear this music,” says Falzarano. “But that’s why people are coming out. Everybody loves these songs.”