On September 3, 1977, musical history was made in Englishtown, NJ. While The Grateful Dead, New Riders of the Purple Sage and The Marshall Tucker Band were expecting about 10,000 people to stand in the heat for their triple-bill concert, more than 100,000 fans packed into Raceway Park to see the rock bands perform. Now, more than 40 years later, members of the groups are coming together for a tribute to the now-legendary concert. The Englishtown Project hits Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center (WHBPAC) on Saturday, November 30.
Guitarist and vocalist Michael Falzarano, who performed with the New Riders of the Purple Sage for more than 15 years, as well as Hot Tuna, is spearheading the project. “While in the New Riders of the Purple Sage, it seemed like everywhere I went someone would say, ‘Hey, I saw you guys at Englishtown! Englishtown was my first show!’” he says. “Englishtown was the biggest concert in New Jersey history, certainly, and at the time, one of the biggest The Grateful Dead had ever played, with the exception of maybe Woodstock. So somewhere along the way, I thought I’d put together a show with some of my friends from the East Coast and we’ll pay tribute to that show. That was the plan.” The idea was a success and The Englishtown Project has since performed more than 40 concerts.
Falzarano believes there were many contributing factors to making the original Englishtown concert such a significant moment. “Several things happened that year,” he says. “The Grateful Dead had taken a little hiatus. They were also in the studio and released Terrapin Station, a big album for them. So when they came back, everybody was starved for it. It was the end of the summer, and I think Marshall Tucker were hugely popular by then, the New Riders of the Purple Sage were playing large venues…so the combination of the three bands and The Grateful Dead having had a hiatus, and simply being at a very large venue in New Jersey where there’s a strong fanbase there, all the stars lined up! At the time, the Dead were at the top of their game—they’ve always been at the top of their game—and it was a convergence of those things. It was a teeny little stage and all those people. I don’t think anybody, including The Grateful Dead, thought it was going to be quite that big an event.”
The Englishtown Project has drawn both longtime fans of the three bands and younger people. “It goes both ways,” Falzarano says. “A lot of people are nostalgic for the music and other people want to live and hear something that they didn’t back in the day. It’s a good thing all the way around. When we first started, I had a plan to just follow a festival format, but we [decided] to just play a mashup and play the songs of all three bands. We’re very fortunate in that, on that day, there were close to 70 songs played, so it’s not like ‘Oh, gee, there’s no songs to choose from!’”
The band comprises many Long Islanders. Falzarano grew up in Copiague, and members of the Long Island-based Grateful Dead tribute band the Zen Tricksters will also be onstage. Rob Wolfson will be on guitar and Clare Maloney will be on vocals. “The night before [Maloney] joined The Englishtown Project, she was singing at Carnegie Hall,” Falzarano marvels.
“We try and have a good time and play some really great music. We’re playing the music of three iconic bands,” Falzarano says. “We’re looking forward to it. If we’re having fun and the audience is having fun, it’s a win-win.”
See The Englishtown Project at Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on Saturday, November 30 at 8 p.m. For tickets and more information, visit whbpac.org.