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Grateful Dead Tribute Band Celebrates Jerry At Port Chester's Cap Theatre

The Stella Blue's Band is made of up bandmembers from Westchester and Fairfield Counties.
The Stella Blue's Band is made of up bandmembers from Westchester and Fairfield Counties. Photo Credit: Mike Thut

PORT CHESTER, N.Y. -- For many musicians, particularly those who grew up in Westchester, it's a dream come true to play at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester.

Which is why the Sunday, August 7 show is so important to the Stella Blue's Band, a Grateful Dead tribute act made up of local residents. The band -- a combination of men whose careers span everything from finance to music therapy -- will play that night along with Jerry Garcia's longtime keyboardist Melvin Seals.

The show takes place during “The Days Between,” a.k.a the anniversary of Jerry Garcia's birth on August 1 and his passing on August 9.

Stella Blue's, for those who haven't been to its many Garcia's shows, consists of Bill Bonacci, a New Rochelle resident who sings and plays lead guitar, Steve Liesman, a Pelham resident who sings and plays rhythm guitar, Greg Solomon, a Greenwich, Conn. resident who plays bass, Ken Aigen, a Hastings resident who plays keyboards, Marc LoPonte, a Rye resident who sings, Chuck Black, also from Rye who plays drums and Ron Cohen, a drummer from New Rochelle.

Although Garcia's has been the band's unofficial home base for years, being on the main stage, they say, is something special.

"As local musicians we know The Cap’s storied history --- it is the room we all aspired to play in since we picked up instruments as kids," explained LoPonte. "Fast forward to being the first band to have a residency at Garcia's three years ago and now the first local Dead band to headline at The Capitol and only the second local band invited to do so." The August 7 event, he stressed, is "pretty special."

According to Liesman, the Senior Economics reporter for CNBC, most of the group discovered the Grateful Dead as teenagers and have been dedicated fans ever since. Combined, the group has attended close to 500 Grateful Dead concerts, plus countless other Grateful Dead-related shows.

"What we and tens of thousands of fans have found out all these decades later is that the Dead's songwriting has proven to be timeless," he said. "It's Americana at its best and their songs have become part of the great American Songbook."

Both men say being in a tribute band is really a genre as much as it is a collection of tunes from a single band. Said LoPonte: "Casual observers don't realize what brilliant songwriters Jerry Garcia, Robert Hunter and rest of the Grateful Dead were. They found an artful way to combine musical dynamics, overlapping genres of music, lyrics that read like poetry and interactive jams, from heavy blues to rock and roll to sweet ballads."

As may be expected, among the most popular audience requests are "Uncle John’s Band," "Ramble on Rose," and "Scarlett Begonias." But, said Liesman, fans are just as happy when they surprise them with songs they haven’t played before.

"The other night we did a set just from the Dead’s’ 1960s repertoire and the fans are still talking about it," he said. "We just feel incredibly lucky we have a chance to play this music and that folks who come out to see us play. Playing the Cap main stage… it’s just very thick icing on an already tasty cake."

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