Tag Archives: Chris Snyder

Dark Star Orchestra at Penn’s Peak

Dark Star Orchestra - 5.8.15 (13)



Dark Star Orchestra

Penn’s Peak

Jim Thorpe, PA






With excitement growing for the celebration of 50 years of The Grateful Dead this summer in Chicago and Santa Clara, magic is filling the air with a number of groups paying homage to the legends.  Formed in 1997 in Chicago, Dark Star Orchestra has been taking the idea of homage to the next level as they have made their name by recreating full shows performed by the legendary San Francisco band. Dark Star Orchestra brought their unique ability and unmatched Dead spirit to the mountains of Northeast Pennsylvania and Penn’s Peak in Jim Thorpe, PA.


As fans filtered into the venue from the parking lot, the band settled in and started right into the first set opener, “Bertha.”  This was the perfect way to start off the group’s two night stint at the historic venue. The crowd was buzzing with excitement as they sang every word to the opening number.  The quintet didn’t miss a beat with the upbeat version of “Mexicali Blues,” that followed.  Slowing down the set was a stellar version of “Loser,” which was led by Jeff Mattson on guitar and vocals.  The beauty of Dark Star Orchestra’s performance is they have studied The Grateful Dead so closely that if you close your eyes you feel like you are back with the original members.  Drummer Dino English started out a nice introduction to “They Love Each Other” which gave guitarist Mattson a few moments to show his guitar skills.  As Mattson’s fingers flowed across the strings of his guitar the crowd was fixated on every note that rang out.


As long time “Deadheads” were searching through set lists to see if they could pinpoint which year Dark Star Orchestra was performing, vocalist Lisa  Mackey joined the group onstage to perform a cheerful version of “Beat It On Down The Line” with had the crowd bouncing around Penn’s Peak grinning ear to ear.  Rob Barraco, sporting his usual purple bandana, shone on keys through the song.  The piano virtuoso went back and forth on the keyboards performing a flawless solo that got everyone in the band smiling.  As the band launched into a superb version of “Row Jimmy” you could feel the emotion flowing out of Mattson’s voice.  About an hour into the performance you could Dark Star Orchestra - 5.8.15 (4)see that the crowd and the band were feeding off each other’s energy.  The band was firing on all cylinders this evening and the first set closer was no exception.  “Greatest Story Ever Told” gave each band member a chance to solo and really show why they are one of the greatest Grateful Dead projects to perform today.  The set closed with fan favorite “China Cat Sunflower” and its usual musical partner, “I Know You Rider,” that flowed seamlessly into “Around and Around.”


At set break many in the crowd began the guessing game as to what show Dark Star was recreating on this night.  As the opening notes of “Ramble on Rose” graced Penn’s Peak, my buddy turned to me and said “I figured out what the date is. We’re in for a treat this second set.”  He was exactly right with his guess (12/6/73 for those keeping score).  The group kept the energy up as they executed a classic rendition of “Me & My Uncle.”  The beauty of Dark Star Orchestra is how they bring people of all ages together just like The Grateful Dead did for thirty-plus years.  As the group transitioned into a eleven minute version of “Here Comes Sunshine,” concert goers were dancing freely in the aisles of the wooden historic concert hall.


The band got loose and stretched their musical legs on the next number, a thirty-three minute version of the Grateful Dead classic “Dark Star,” that allowed the group to really explore their instrumental side.  As guitarists Rob Eaton and Mattson laid down the spacey guitar licks, Vangelas contributed some deep bass grooves.  Drummer English set the tone nicely with his unique style of drumming and you could tell that Barraco was in his glory tickling the ivories on the edge of the stage.  The seamless transition into “Eyes Of The World” was magical to say the least.  Every voice in the audience sang with the band “Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world!”  The second set closed out with a mellow rendition of “Stella Blue” followed by an energized “Sugar Magnolia” that gave Eaton a chance to channel Bob Weir perfectly.  The band retook the stage for their encore to hoots and hollers and concluded the night with the Smokey Robinson & the Miracles classic, “I Second That Emotion.”



12/6/73 – Public Hall, Cleveland, OH

Set One:


Mexicali Blues


Black Throated Wind

They Love Each Other

Beat It On Down The Line


El Paso

Row Jimmy

Greatest Story Ever Told

China Cat Sunflower >

I Know You Rider

Around And Around


Set Two:

Ramble On Rose

Me and My Uncle

Here Comes Sunshine

Big River

Dark Star >

Eyes of The World >

Stella Blue

Sugar Magnolia



I Second That Emotion

Chelsea ViaCava: Houses of the Holy, Swift Technique, and The Blockley

Chelsea ViaCava (2)Powerhouse vocalist Chelsea ViaCava from Philadelphia soul-funksters, The Swift Technique, recently checked in with Honest Tune.  She discussed the moment she knew she was meant to be a singer, what’s on tap for her band the Swift Technique, and some tips for singers everywhere.



Honest Tune:  At what point did you know you want to be a singer?

Chelsea ViaCava:  My whole childhood was purely music.  I was a theater nerd to the fullest. It wasn’t until I was fourteen and started vocal lessons with a woman named, Britten Reid. After hearing me sing for the first time, Britt said to me, “you’re not meant for theater, honey. You are a blues vocalist.”  After that lesson, something clicked and I definitely found my wheelhouse.


Chelsea ViaCava (3)HT:  After you found your calling musically and moved on from the theater who influenced you the most?

CV:  I’ve pretty much learned everything I’ve ever needed to know about singing from Robert Plant and Etta James.  Man, I listened to Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy so much my CD stopped playing.  I literally wore that album out!  Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention, Janis Joplin.  I owe a lot to that woman.  Janis epitomized “soul” in every sense of the word.  I’m often told that I carry a bit of a Janis persona when performing.  For me, there is no greater compliment than that.


HT:  You have such range vocally and seem able to do so much, what is your favorite style of music to sing? Why?

CV:  I’ve certainly found “home” in singing blues music.  So many different vocal genres are based on blues singing. Once I’ve honed in on that style, I’ve definitely been able to develop a love for other styles, such as, rock and R&B. Anything soulful really fuels my fire.


HT:  You joined the Swift Technique a few years back; can you give a little history of the band?

CV:  I’m one of the newest members of Swift Technique, so it’s difficult for me to accurately tell the tale. I started singing for Swift a little over two years ago, but the core has been together since 2007. The band has transitioned a lot over the past eight years. When they first started up they had a hip-hop MC fronting the band.  Eventually that MC left the group and Swift became primarily instrumental.  It wasn’t until I came into the group that they sort of revamped the feel of the music.  One thing that I love about this group is that they’ve always stayed consistent in keeping an authentic Philadelphia funk sound in every variation that they’ve seen over the years.  We definitely all have a strong bond to each other.  Swift is like a brotherhood and I think that kind of camaraderie is apparent when you see us in a live setting.  Swift Technique has always been extremely high energy, quirky, and a little bit unconventional, but we all just love having fun and making music, and that’s what it’s all about.


HT:  Over the years, you have played in many projects in many different venues throughout the Chelsea ViaCava (1)Philadelphia region. Is there one that stands out for?

CV:  Hands down, The Blockley.  The live music scene in Philly has not been the same since its closing.  Swift Technique actually played the last show ever at The Blockley in 2013.  I think it’s safe to assume that anyone who was there would say that it was one of the best nights of their lives.  The Blockley consistently put on such great shows and there was such a rare feeling of community at that spot.  God I miss that place.  However, I’m starting to hold the new Ardmore Music Hall in a similar regard.  Ardmore Music Hall is like The Blockley, but all grown up.


HT:  What advice would you pass on to aspiring singers?

CV:  Meet as many people as you can.  Perform in public every chance you get.  Don’t believe that a TV singing contest is the only way to make it as a singer.  Never stop perfecting your craft and never try to sing like someone else.  It is so important to hone in on finding the individuality of your voice and own it!


HT:  What does the future hold for Chelsea ViaCava?

CV:  I would love to be a background vocalist on a national tour.  It would be awesome if the future granted that wish.  Otherwise, I’ll continue moving onward and upward with Swift Technique, work with as many musicians as possible, and develop my career as a vocal coach.

Steve Kimock & Friends: A Tribute to Jerry Garcia

Steve Kimock & Friends: A Tribute To Jerry Garcia

Ardmore Music Hall

Ardmore, PA



Kimock & Friends - 3.15.15 (9)“Never miss a Sunday show.”

This statement rang true when Steve Kimock & Friends performed some of their favorite Jerry Garcia tunes at Ardmore Music Hall.  Over four decades of performing live the guitar wizard became close friends and has had the opportunity on many occasions to share the stage with The Grateful Dead. With the psychedelic Bay Area group celebrating fifty-years, it is fitting that Kimock pays homage to his friend and Grateful Dead guitarist/vocalist, Jerry Garcia.  A group of accomplished musicians joined him onstage this evening, Bobby Vega (Bass), Bill Vitt (Drums), John Morgan Kimock (Drums), Jeff Chimenti (Keyboards/Organ), and Dan Lebowitz (Guitar/Vocals).


Kimock & Friends - 3.15.15 (4)As the band took the stage in front of a capacity crowd on Sunday night there were hoots and hollers in anticipation of what the super group was going to start the evening off with. “High Heeled Sneakers” kicked off the set, with Kimock’s smooth guitar and Chimenti’s steady keys starting off the tune.  This was a perfect beginning to the night.  Dan Lebowitz, from ALO (Animal Liberation Orchestra) took the opportunity to let his voice shine on the opener. With the funky bass of Vega and Kimock’s tasty guitar licks, “Merle’s Boogie,” brought a smile to everyone in attendance.  Chimenti took center stage during the song with a flawless solo on his organ.  You could hear a pin drop as the band started into a perfect rendition of the classic number, “Black Muddy River.”  Drummers Vitt and John Morgan Kimock laid down a nice soothing backbeat as the elder Kimock took the spotlight with his graceful lap steel.


Kimock & Friends - 3.15.15 (6)Vega started out “Expressway to Your Heart” with a bassline that led Chimenti and Steve Kimock to join in the tune seamlessly.  This number during the first set reminded everyone in attendance why Vega is considered one of the most well rounded bassists in the jamband world.  The extended take on the Soul Survivors classic gave each band member time to shine throughout the seventeen-plus minutes.  To conclude the opening set guitarists Kimock and Lebowitz stepped up to the microphone to sing

Kimock & Friends - 3.15.15 (18)“Money Honey” which was first recorded by Garcia and longtime friend and musician, Merl Saunders, on The Keystone Companions: The Complete 1973 Fantasy Recordings.  As the band was introduced the sold out Ardmore Music Hall was smiling from ear to ear and waiting to hear what the group had in store for them during the second set.

As the band took the stage and the capacity crowd settled back in the sextet opened the second set with “Aiko Aiko,” which made Ardmore feel like it was down in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. The band then pleased the capacity crowd by performing a stellar rendition of The Grateful Dead classic, “Bertha.” With a deep, prominent bass groove and the backing of Vitt & Kimock on drums, with the pair sounding just the rhythm devils Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzman, the band really connected with the fans on this one.  Lebowitz lent his vocals and acoustic guitar expertise and Chimenti performed a solo for the ages.  You could feel the energy in the room that was going back and forth between the band and crowd during “Bertha.”  It was pure magic.  Next Kimock quieted the crowd with a moving rendition of “Stella Blue,” that was laced with some of his chilling pedal steel work.


Kimock & Friends - 3.15.15 (11)The band threw a curveball into the mix when they started out with the Grateful Dead classic  “Help On The Way,” which slid easily into its common partner “Slipknot!” before throwing the crowd for a loop as it then transitioned smoothly into the Jesse Stone number, “Don’t Let Go,” which then moved into a perfect segue into “Philadelphia Mambo.”  The group capped the night off paying homage to J.J. Cale with a version of “After Midnight,” that included The Beatles “Eleanor Rigby.”



Catching up with Bryan Dondero

dondero3Bassist Bryan Dondero was an original member of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals during which time he became known for both his upright and electric bass work. He played with the band from 2002 until a messy-split with the group in 2009, appearing on the band’s first three studio albums. Since his departure from the band Dondero has kept a relatively low musical profile.


Honest Tune had the chance recently to catch up with Dondero to reminisce about some of his favorite memories from his time on the road with Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and to find out what is in store in the future for the bassist.



Honest Tune: When was the first time you played the bass in a live setting?

Bryan Dondero: The first time I played bass live was during my first semester at Penn State. I was eighteen-years-old at the time, and aside from a few talent shows, had never played in front of people. I was actually really new to the bass. A couple of friends of mine were forming a band and they needed a bass player. I had played guitar for a number of years, so I figured I would give it a try. My philosophy Professor loaned me his bass since he wasn’t using it. I think I learned eight or nine songs in two rehearsals with those guys, so needless to say I was really nervous. It turned out that the bar was a biker bar and the crowd was pretty rowdy. The band before us was really good too. I remember them rocking out some heavier tunes, and here we were about to get on stage to play some Dave Matthews and a few originals. I thought for sure they would eat us alive. It turned out great actually. The crowd was really supportive. It definitely helped that our drummer was a monster behind the kit and our singer had a really great voice. We played there a few more times and made a bit of a name for ourselves.


DonderoHT: When you were first starting out on the bass who were the influences you looked towards?

BD: Well, I got to break this down by upright and electric. For upright I would say Charles Mingus, Ray Brown, and Chris Wood. I am really lucky to have gotten to tour and learn some things from Chris. I was a huge Medeski Martin & Wood fan in college, so his upright and electric playing was definitely a big influence.

For electric I would have to say that John Paul Jones, Duck Dunn, and George Porter Jr are the biggies. Sharing the stage with George Porter Jr was a major highlight of my musical career too. I’ve been revisiting some of the old Zeppelin tunes recently. I absolutely love John Paul Jones’ fingerstyle, but recently I’ve been trying to emulate some of his picking style. His tone on “Heartbreaker” where he runs the bass through a Leslie is fucking amazing. It’s got such a heavy dirty sound on top of the chorus that he gets from the Leslie. It would be hard to emulate that tone with just pedals, but I am determined to find a way.


HT: You have become known for your ability to switch seamlessly from the upright to electric bass, which do you prefer?

BD: I really like playing both. I enjoy playing a lot of different styles. I can get down with some “Whiskey before Breakfast” on the upright or be just as happy rocking out some Nirvana. Both of which were recent musical ventures for me. I love playing old R&B/Soul stuff too.


HT: Is there anyone you would like to share the stage with that you have not had the opportunity to yet?dondero4

BD: There are so many great bands out there now. I love the way their bass players play, so I’d almost rather watch them side stage. As far as backing up an artist goes, I’d love to back up M. Ward or Neko Case or maybe sit in for a few with the Alabama Shakes. There are a lot of great local artists here too that I’d love to sit in with as well. It would be a blast to sit in with Madaila or Rough Francis. Those guys are so good!


HT: During your time with Grace Potter and the Nocturnals you were constantly on the road, do you have any favorite memories from that time that really stand out for you?

BD: There are so many it’s hard to single out one.Some of the festivals that we did were really amazing.  Playing acoustic jams with Jay Farrar and Shannon McNally back at our RV at Bonnaroo was areally great time.We also dragged some of the guys from My Morning Jacket back with us to theRV once. Several bottles of bourbon were going around which culminated in us doing anappropriately inebriated version of “Every Rose has its Thorn.” Who knew Poison was such aninfluence on Jim James?


HT: What have you been up to lately? Are you still playing music?

BD: Right now I am in my second year of the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at the University of Vermont. It’s a very different lifestyle from my days with the band, but I am really happy withwhere I am.  I still play music regularly and look forward to being done with school so that I canplay even more of it.  I’d love to get an original band together again someday too.  I’m happy just playing whenever and wherever I can.

Pickin’ with Jesse Cobb

CobbJesse Cobb first burst on to the scene in 2006 as a founding member of the Infamous Stringdusters. Since leaving the band in 2011, Cobb’s extraordinary mandolin skills have been on display in number of settings, most recently as a duo with his brother Shad (who is one of the most in-demand fiddlers in Nashville) and as a part of the all-star line-up of the Noam Pikelny and Friends Band, which includes Pikelny on banjo, Barry Bales on bass, Luke Bulla on fiddle, and Bryan Sutton on guitar. Cobb also found time to release his first solo album, Solitude, in late 2013. Recently he has been performing as part of the online live music series, Concert Window.

Cobb checked in with Honest Tune to talk about some of his favorite musicians, Concert Window, and to share some musical tips and advice for mandolin pickers of all skills.


Honest Tune: When did you first start playing the mandolin?

Jesse Cobb: I switched from guitar to mandolin at about 11 or 12 years old. I played guitar for a year or so before my oldest brother took it from me! The only thing left to play around the house was the mandolin so I picked it up. We had this book called Bluegrass Mandolin by Jack Tottle and I dug in. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up so my dad wouldn’t buy strings until I learned the basic chord shapes, so I’d sit and change chords on the frets while they all played for a week or two before even getting strings. Weird way to start but I guess it worked out all right.


Cobb2HT: When you first started getting into the mandolin who were your early influences?

JC: The first mandolin I heard was an old live recording from Bean Blossom in 1973. The first song is Monroe doing “Mule Skinner Blues.” I liked the mandolin on that record a lot, Monroe, Jesse McReynolds, and I think a young Marty Stuart. I’d say that influenced me quite a bit, but I gravitated toward a more progressive sound early on. I heard Jethro Burns and was blown away. Jethro led me to this guy that was kind of local named Peter Ostrushko which in turn led me to Sam Bush. Once I heard Sam, I knew that all those things influenced him so I started copying everything about him. So in a short answer, Monroe, Jethro, Sam.


HT: Since first starting out playing a mandolin with no strings you seem to have really refined your style over the years. What advice would you give to someone who is picking up the mandolin for the first time?

JC: As I tell everyone I teach, any time spent listening to, or playing music is better than not. Listen to things you like and they will find their way into your own style. Don’t try to play too fast right out of the gate. I have taught a lot over the years and one consistent thing I see is people trying to go too fast too soon. Slow it down; perfect it, then up your tempo. We’d all like to play Bach Sonatas like Chris Thile, but the only way to get there is to be absolutely consumed with doing that. If you’re not, that’s ok. Be consumed by being good at an obtainable goal and move on from there. Most importantly, get that instrument in your hands every spare minute you have. Practice makes better!


HT: You have played with a number of bands over the years and at some amazing festivals, what stands out for you among all of them?

JC: One of my favorite memories is playing with the Stringdusters at FloydFest in Virginia when Sam Bush and Scott Vestal joined us for Shenandoah Breakdown, a real musical highlight. Also playing the main stage at Telluride for the first time. I was literally moved to tears after listening for so many years to the live tapes of Strength in Numbers and New Grass Revival from that stage. There are so many great ones including playing in an old dungeon in Germany, and a crazy sit in with Yonder at High Sierra.


DSCN2860editedHT: Are there any songs that stand out for you as being something special whenever you play it?

JC: I’ve been playing this song called “King of California” by Dave Alvin for quite a while now. It’s one of my favorite things we did on the Pikelny, Sutton, Bales, Bulla, Cobb runs. I really like the old time feel and drive we got out of it. One of those bouncy, feel good tunes with an uplifting lyric.



HT: You’re part of the “Bluegrass Roundup: Concert Window Festival.” This features some of the best pickers around such as Jim Lauderdale, Casey Driessen, and Bryan Sutton. What the experience like to be able to bring your playing into someone’s home so to speak?

JC: I really like the idea of playing some tunes at home and having people join me for a casual tune session. It gives me a chance to play some things I don’t usually get a chance to play for anyone. Concert Window has really done a cool thing with this “online festival” concept. In an age where it’s increasingly difficult to sell records, I see this as an opportunity to share music people otherwise wouldn’t hear. What a lineup!


HT: You seem to stay pretty busy with all your various endeavors, what does the rest of the year hold for you?

JC: I’ve recently been working with Billy Hume on some music for an upcoming album of mostly original music with an anticipated August release. We plan on recording in Nashville sometime in April with an extensive tour in the fall. While we’re still in the process of picking material, arranging, and digging in, it’s very safe to say that I am excited to be working with Hume on this. We have worked together on some things with the Stringdusters before and I really like the way he approaches the recording process. There will be more to come on this very soon, but expect some amazing guests and partners on this record. I’m also booking some solo/duo shows for the summer with some of my favorite musicians so stay tuned for announcements in the next month or so.


Russ Lawton: The Man Behind the Kit

Trey_Anastasio_The_Riv_02282011_20110227_IMG_8014Russ Lawton is known fondly as “the man behind the kit” for his time with The Trey Anastasio Band, Strangefolk, and extensive session work. While the Trey Band has some down time, Lawton has been focusing his attention on his latest project, the funk-duo Soul Monde with fellow Trey Band member, keyboardist Ray Paczkowski.


Lawton recently checked in with Honest Tune to discuss drumming, touring, and what the future holds for the hard-working drummer.


Honest Tune: When was the moment that you first knew you wanted be a drummer?

Russ Lawton: My first memory is being at the Portuguese Feast parade in New Bedford, MA with my parents where I grew up. You could hear the drummers coming down the street. It gave me chills and I didn’t understand what was going on, I was maybe nine-years old. Luckily there was a drum and bugle corp in my neighborhood that I joined soon after and then started saving for a drum kit.


unnamed-2HT: What drummers have you looked up to and idolized over the years?

RL: Steve Jordan; he has an amazing time, feel and tone that keeps the music fresh. John Bonham; again time and feel that swings. I go back and listen to him and he’s inspiring. Check out his isolated drum tracks on Youtube; you’ve got to hit the drums after that. And Tony Allen, Afro-Beat never gets old. His grooves are so inventive, slinky and heartfelt.


HT: Do you have a favorite drumming style to use?

RL: My favorite style is a cross between rock-funk and Afro beat. Kind of what you hear with Soule Monde and Trey Band.


Trey_Anastasio_The_Riv_02282011_20110227_IMG_7748HT: How did you connect with Trey Anastasio? What makes this project different from ones in the past?

RL: I meet Trey through Tony Markellis, the bass player in the Trey Band. When Trey was looking to put together the Trey Anastasio Band, he wanted Tony to be in the band. He asked Tony who he would like to play drums, Tony suggested me and thankfully it clicked. What makes this project different is that it was the first time I had worked with an established artist. I’ve been in original bands my whole life, slugging it out in the clubs so it is great to play at the theater level.


HT: How did you first meet Ray Paczkowski? How did Soule Monde come about?

RL: The first time I meet Ray was in 2001 when he joined the Trey Band. Soule Monde got together in Sugarbush, VT at a little club called Slide Brook. They have a house Hammond Organ, so I called Ray and asked if he wanted to play there. We came in with a few songs of his and some grooves of mine and made stuff up that turned into songs. Slide Brook kept asking us to come back to play every month and we started making home recordings and we saw the potential. It really has grown little by little. Ray’s great to collaborate with too.



HT: You call Vermont home. Are there any venues that hold special meaning to you in the Green Mountain State?

RL: There’s two. Nectar’s has special meaning because I’ve been playing there for a long time and its always felt like home. I just played at their 40th anniversary party. Years ago we would play four nights in a row, once a month. It really helped get your band tight. People came out to support you and it paid the rent too.

Higher Ground is a great club too, bringing in the next level of national acts. It would be less cutting edge around Burlington if the club was not around. Some of my early Trey shows were at the old and new Higher Ground.


HT: What does the future hold for Russ Lawton?

RL: I’m hoping the future will be as it is now; Trey Band, Soule Monde, releasing some of my vocal rock

songs, playing and recording with other musicians and always working to become a better drummer.