Acid Flashback: Hara Arena 1981

L ove them or hate them, the Grateful Dead were truly a one-of-a-kind band. During their thirty-year career as one of America’s most beloved musical acts, the band performed over 2,300 concerts, eschewing set lists, going down the golden road, and mesmerizing generations of devoted fans along the way. Although Jerry Garcia’s untimely death in […]

Great Northern String Band channels Grateful Dead at Yellow Cab


GNSB: Rich Reuter, Brian Spirk, Jason Riley, John Lardinois, Erich Reith, Khrys Blank, and Greg Lewis (l-r). Johnson. Photo: Kevin Lush.

By Tim Walker

Love them or hate them, the Grateful Dead were truly a one-of-a-kind band. During their thirty-year career as one of America’s most beloved musical acts, the band performed over 2,300 concerts, eschewing set lists, going down the golden road, and mesmerizing generations of devoted fans along the way. Although Jerry Garcia’s untimely death in August of 1995 brought an end to the band as the world knew it, a handful of infrequent reunions, tours, and tribute shows since then have only shown how fans still hunger for both the band’s music and the groovy, communal, tribal spirit that was omnipresent at the shows.

Surprisingly, with all those concerts over all of those years, Garcia, Lesh & Company played exactly one show here in Dayton, Ohio. The Grateful Dead performed on November 30, 1981, at the now-lamented Hara Arena, and from all surviving reports it was an interesting evening, with a set list featuring classic tunes like “Little Red Rooster,” “Tennessee Jed,” and “Eyes of the World” as well as rarities like the Dead’s lone aborted attempt at “Mack the Knife.” Deadheads who want to hear that particular show might search for a truly tasty soundboard recording, or they could just check out the Great Northern String Band’s show this Friday night, on June 22nd at the Yellow Cab Tavern. During the show, the local band will duplicate the entire set list, in order, of the Dead’s one Dayton appearance from almost forty years ago.

“We’re an eight-piece acoustic tribute to the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia,” says Rich Reuter, guitarist and vocalist with Dayton’s own Great Northern String Band when speaking to the Dayton City Paper recently. “We’ve been around for a couple of years now. Brian Spirk, our mandolin player, is a big Deadhead and also a big fan of bluegrass and acoustic music, and he wanted to contextualize the Grateful Dead’s music in an acoustic, kind of string band format. We ended up getting not only a string band but also some percussion as well, so we’ve got a really full sound but it’s a different read on the material, as it were. Since we’re all acoustic we approach the material differently.”

In addition to Reuter and Spirk, who both play with a number of other local acts as well, the Great Northern String Band is also made up of vocalist Khrys Blank, drummer Josh Johnson, John Lardinois on violin, bassist Greg Lewis, Erich Reith on percussion, and Jason Riley on guitar and vocals. “My role in the band is essentially the rhythm guitar player,” continues Reuter. “I primarily play the Bob Weir stuff and do a little bit of singing, but we all trade around solos and things like that.”

Of course, there was always a lot more going on at a Grateful Dead show than just the band performing. The parking lot scene prior to the show was, at many stops, at least as interesting as the events going on onstage, and Yellow Cab will be bringing that whole ‘street vending life on tour’ vibe back to life as part of Friday evening’s activities, as well. “Lot culture is a big part of the live Dead experience,” show promoter David Obenour says. “With the Yellow Cab’s layout, we thought it’d be perfect to get a few vendors for out on the patio.” Fans planning to attend the show will find a number of vendors and food trucks set up prior to the doors opening at 8:00 p.m.

Parking lot sacraments, tie-dye, kind veggie burritos, Frisbees and hacky sacks aside, it is still the music that kept fans coming back during those thirty years of tours, and it’s the wonderful music that Rich Reuter is looking forward to playing during Friday’s show.

“For people who have seen us before, there are at least seven or eight songs that we’ve added to our repertoire just for this show,” he says. “They had this huge catalog, and we’ve got dozens of their songs that we know, but there are eight or nine that we’re learning just for this show. There’s even a little piece we’re going to do. At the show, during the second song they had some technical difficulties so they played a version of ‘Mack the Knife,’ and that’s the only time they ever played that. So there’s a nice little oddity there that’s unique to that Dayton show.”

With a talented band serving up some classic music, local vendors and the Yellow Cab Tavern all combined, this Friday’s show will definitely be well worth your time. Make plans to come out and celebrate the music of both the Grateful Dead and the Great Northern String Band.

The Great Northern String Band will perform at Yellow Cab Tavern, 700 East Fourth St., Dayton, on Friday, June 22nd. Doors open at 8:00 p.m., tickets are $7 in advance, $9 at the door. For more information, go to yellowcabtavern.com or call 937-424-3870. For more about the band, visit greatnorthernstringband.com.

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Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com

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