By Marc Komito

February 16, 2020

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Asbury Park was home to a revival of sorts when The Englishtown Project took the stage at The Stone Pony on February 14th. The brainchild of guitarist Michael Falzarano, who played with both The New Riders of the Purple Sage and Hot Tuna, The Englishtown Project was formed to play tribute to three iconic bands who played at Raceway Park in Englishtown, NJ on September 3, 1977, when the Grateful Dead headlined what may have been New Jersey’s most historic concert with The Marshall Tucker Band and The New Riders of the Purple Sage on the undercard. Joining Falzano on stage are Rob Wolfson (lead guitar/vocals), Clare Maloney (vocals), and three-fifths of the Zen Tricksters: Dave Diamond (drums), Tom Circosta (guitar/vocals), and Klyph Black (bass/vocals). Kevin Cooper filled in rather admirably on keyboards.

Buddy Cage, who recently passed away on February 5, was a longtime member of New Riders of The Purple Sage and had graced many an Asbury Park stage alongside bandmate Michael Falzarano. After a warm introduction by Stone Pony promoter Kyle Bendle, The Englishtown Project’s set appropriately began with a dedication in Cage’s memory, a chilling cover of the Rolling Stone’s “Dead Flowers” followed by NRPS original, “Louisiana Lady.” Female vocalist Clare Maloney wowed the uninitiated with her first lead of the night on a raucous cover of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.” As the Grateful Dead covered the aforementioned Berry rocker nearly 300 times over their 30 year career, it was a fitting segue in the setlist as they took a Dead-centric turn with “They Love Each Other,” “Cassidy,” and “Panama Red,” a song written by Peter Rowan and shared by Jerry Garcia and NRPS when they played together, and then recorded by each of them separately shortly thereafter. “Mississippi Half-Step” brought the night’s first goosebumps as the crowd and band engaged in a stirring sing along.

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Asbury local Sandy Mack joined the band for vocals and harmonica on “West LA Fadeaway” and “Minglewood Blues” before handing the vocals back to Maloney for a chilling cover of Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee,” also played with regularity by the Dead. Perhaps in an ode to Valentine’s Day, or more likely because it’s one of the Marshall Tucker Band’s most widely known songs, “Heard It In a Love Song” followed before Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” and the Grateful Dead’s “Music Never Stopped” closed the set. During intermission, the crowd was treated to a guitar/harmonica duo of Peter Tonti and Sandy Mack.

Peter Tonti stayed on stage and continued to flex his vocal and guitar chops for the set opening “Scarlet Begonias” > “Fire on the Mountain.” NRPS original “I Don’t Know You” preceded a high energy duo of “Good Lovin’” and “Shakedown Street,” the latter of which announced the stroke of midnight and began the new day in high fashion. Sandy Mack returned to take lead vocals on “That’s What Love Will Make You Do,” a song written by Little Milton and popularized by the Jerry Garcia Band. A gorgeous version of Marshall Tucker’s “Can’t You See” followed as Maloney continued to tug on the heart strings of the crowd with her scintillating vocals. Check out a short clip of “Can’t You See” here.

“Bertha,” Beat It On Down the Line,” and “Tennessee Jed” followed as the crowd thinned out but the band continued to heat up. Sandy Mack returned yet again for lead vocals on “Next Time You See Me,” an early blues number recorded by Junior Parker in 1956 but played with regularity in the early days of the Grateful Dead and sung by Ron “Pigpen” McKernan. Mack remained and Tonti rejoined for an all-hands-on-deck version of “Turn on Your Lovelight” that put the final exclamation point on this three-plus hour throwback.

Asbury Park always looks best in tie-dye, and The Englishtown Project delivered a gem last night for a colorful all-ages crowd. For a night of unpretentious and authentic Grateful Dead jams with a smattering of choice Marshall Tucker and NRPS covers, highlighted by gorgeous vocals and a three (sometimes four) guitar attack, don’t miss your next chance to see The Englishtown Project when they play a stage near you. Follow the band on Facebook to be notified of upcoming shows.

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Asbury Park Vibes

Asbury Park Vibes is a media outlet dedicated to shining a light on the music scene at the Jersey Shore and throughout the Mid-Atlantic Region of the U.S.! We strive to provide show reviews and photographs that capture the true essence and fan experience of each concert.

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