I hopped out of my bed, skipped to my bathroom, and jumped in the shower. I am just kidding. It takes me two hours to get out of bed, and it is more of a falling motion. All hyperbole aside, I stumbled onto my feet with a mile-wide smile on my face, on the fourteenth day of October, in the year 2023. For the first time in ten years, I was going to see a show at the recently restored Capitol Theatre in Davenport, Iowa.
It was a hop, skip, and a jump from my house. It was two-and-a-half-miles away, and a seven-minute drive. I wasn’t making the three-and-a-half-hour drive to Chicago, Illinois, or Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to see a concert. For a decade, if I wanted to see a “jam band,” so named for the extended jams and improvised nature of the music, where songs could last as long as 30 minutes; that is where I had to go. My excitement about the potential for the down part of town had been restored.
Hopping, skipping, and jumping, I don’t think I saw a single soul standing still that night. Everywhere I turned, people were dancing, and smiling, high-fiving, and hugging. Everywhere I turned, I saw someone I knew. It was beautiful. It was a family reunion. Not just the attendees, but the management, sound folks, and bartenders were friends. The vitality of the Quad City music scene had been restored. Many situations across our music community had made me lose faith for a while. It appears that is a thing of the past.
Speaking of the past, the band which played that evening was the Dark Star Orchestra. Formed in 1997 in Chicago, Illinois, the band dedicated themselves to recreating Grateful Dead shows in their entirety. Not only following the set list of a particular show, but also using the specific equipment of the era they were performing. For example, the amplifiers the guitarists and bass players use are the same type that the Grateful Dead members played through in whatever year is being represented that evening. In fact, the sound mixing board they had with them was previously owned by the Grateful Dead.
As a fan of improvised music, even though I’m getting to be an old man; I’m not old enough to have regularly seen the Grateful Dead while Jerry Garcia was alive. The recreation of their sets and jams, therefore, is cool to get a chance to witness. The show that night was a reenactment of the Grateful Dead concert performed on November 29th, 1981, at the Pittsburgh Civic Center in Pennsylvania.
The musical highlight for me was, hands down, the run of a spacey and jammed out “He’s Gone,” into “Drums > Space.” Being a percussionist, I’m a fan of drum solos, and they got weird with that one, which was great. The drums (like the Grateful Dead, they have two drummers) solo led into a groovy version of the classic, “Truckin’.” Other highlights included a pretty version of one of my personal favorite songs, “Althea,” which was in the middle of a wonderful musical sandwich. By that I mean, a medley of songs played without stopping, which also included “Candyman,” “Me and My Uncle,” and “Big River.” The final highlight of the night was the encore, a Loretta Lynn cover, “You Ain’t Woman Enough (to Take My Man).” What made it special was that it was sung by Lisa Mackey. She is the only current member of the band who has been there since 1997. It was her only vocal performance of the night, and she sang the hell out of that song. It gave me goose bumps. Lisa, brought the house down with that encore.
The house lights came on, and finally, I did hop, skip, and jump to my car. I was pumped up by the music, the company, and the thought of all the bands I would be seeing at the restored Capitol Theatre.
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