PORTLAND — A Grateful Dead tribute band from Maine — Lazy Lightning — that performed throughout Maine and New England in the 1990s and 2000s, will reunite on Friday, Nov. 18 at Portland House of Music and Events. Lazy Lightning formed in 1994 and played their last concert in 2013.
Lazy Lightning was the longest tenured Grateful Dead tribute band for 15 years in Portland, performing weekly residencies at Old Port bars such as Leo’s, The Basement, The Alehouse, and The Big Easy.
Founding members Rodney Sturdee (guitar, vocals) and Jeff Glidden (drums) and longtime member Jeff Merrow (keyboards) will be joined on stage by James Taylor on bass and Ryan Benoit on drums, of another tribute band, Down East Dead.
“Lazy Lightning was more than a band. It was a happening,” said Glidden. “We never realized what a cool scene it was until it was gone. It will be great to live those times again, even for just a few hours.”
In recalling Lazy Lightning’s four-years-long tenure as the house band at The Basement in Portland’s Old Port, Sturdee said, “it was the best — the times, how good the band was and just being a lot younger, the easy living back then, and how the Old Port was — they were just some of the best years for us and a lot of people who came to see us week after week.”
Lazy Lightning has backed numerous national acts live in concert, including Grateful Dead members Tom Constanten, Donna Jean Godchaux and Vince Welnick, and Blues Traveler’s John Popper and Spin Doctors’ Chris Barron.
Lazy Lightning will be joined on stage by special guest Jim “Jimbo” Harris. Harris was a touring member of Dark Star Orchestra, one of the most popular Dead tribute bands worldwide, in 2000 and 2001. He currently performs regularly with Playing Dead, a Massachusetts-based Grateful Dead tribute act that has been performing in New England since 1998. Harris will play the role of Bobby Weir, rhythm guitarist and vocalist of the Grateful Dead and now, Dead and Company.
In a Facebook post announcing Harris’s appearance, the band said, “Of all the people who have ever performed with Lazy Lightning since 1994, we aren’t sure if there is anyone who evokes the spirit and sound of Weir with as much authenticity and thoroughness as Jim Harris.”
As a nod to nostalgia, the band will perform the entire set from the Grateful Dead’s July 2, 1988 concert performance in Oxford, the first of a two-night run held there.
Merrow, who went to the 1988 Oxford concert, said he and his girlfriend were big fans of Little Feat, the opening act at the concert, and they dubbed the concert “Dead Feat.” Merrow said they arrived at the concert early to hear Little Feat’s soundcheck, and caught a glimpse of Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia “riding in a golf cart, holding a baby and smiling.”
After practicing the bass lines for the Oxford show, Taylor said there were a number of “Phil bombs” — articulations of Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh’s playing characterized as long held loud low notes or chords for which sound vibrations can be physically felt in the audience.
“Oh yes, those Phil bombs,” said Harris. “I can still feel my chest cavity shaking. I’ll never forget that.”
Harris said “It will certainly be a lot of fun playing the Bob Weir role, as it always is, in re-creation of those shows and with a good band like Lazy Lightning.”
Lazy Lightning’s reunion has sparked reflective comments on the band’s Facebook page, with fans reminiscing about both Lazy Lightning’s 1990s concerts and the Grateful Dead’s 1988 Oxford show.
The reunion is the first concert presented by Hoboe Productions. Producer Benjamin Meiklejohn said Lazy Lightning coming back to perform is a “big deal” because they united the Maine Deadhead community for 15 years, “long before Grateful Dead tribute acts in Maine were popular or numerous.”
“Lazy Lightning provided a sanctuary for Maine Deadheads with their consistent weekly gigs for years in Portland,” Meiklejohn said. “They galvanized the community as a musical mainstay and many local musicians developed their chops sitting in with this band for a jam.”
Meiklejohn said the band has been grateful for the outpouring of support from fans who are eager to see Lazy Lightning return to the stage.
“The return of Lazy Lightning, coupled with the performance of a 1988 Grateful Dead concert is going to make for a magical trip through time,” said Meiklejohn.
Lazy Lightning will perform Friday, Nov. 18 at Portland House of Music. Doors open at 9 p.m.; tickets $8 in advance, $10 day of show.