Tribute band Shakedown Street keeps the Dead alive

Dylan Tusinski

Shakedown Street performs at the Aggie Theatre, accompanied by Boots Jaffee on harmonica Aug. 20. (Dylan Tusinski | The Collegian)

For Fort Collins Deadheads, or fans of the psychedelic rock band the Grateful Dead, Friday night was a cathartic experience.

The Grateful Dead are an American phenomenon known for their improvisational jams that can stretch for 10-15 minutes, their devoted group of hippie fans and their ability to meld musical genres together. The group officially disbanded in 1995 after the death of lead guitarist Jerry Garcia but is survived by a number of spinoff groups formed by other band members and local tribute bands like Shakedown Street.

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Shakedown Street, one of the world’s longest-running Grateful Dead tribute bands, returned to the Aggie Theatre after a year and a half pause on local music. Before the band even took the stage, scenes from Deadhead life were back after a long break.

Outside the show, a man wearing tie-dyed jeans and a multicolored tank top was waving his finger in the air, partaking in a long-standing Deadhead tradition of asking for a “Miracle” — essentially, a free ticket to the show. Lo and behold, an older man stopped by the box office and bought him a ticket. 

Inside the Aggie, the vibe was similar albeit a bit different from normal. Roughly half the crowd was wearing masks, and the capacity-sized crowd Shakedown Street usually pulls was lowered to only a couple hundred due to social distancing measures.

Even still, the concertgoers were still wearing their tie-dye, grooving to the beat and lighting up their joints as if nothing had changed. The band fed off their energy and ripped into a four-hour-long show that mixed the genres of rock, folk, psychedelia, blues and country.

After the band took the stage and before the music started, Shakedown Street’s lead guitarist Josh Rosen addressed the crowd with a sincere word of appreciation.

“It’s good to be back in Fort Collins, my hometown,” Rosen said. “It’s been 17 months since we last played here. Feels like it went by in a second.” 

The statement elicited a roar from the socially distanced crowd just before the band opened with “Bertha,” a Grateful Dead classic. After they finished with that bluesy tune, the band dove into “U.S. Blues,” a tune with lyrics that resonated after a long, strange pandemic. “Gimme five, I’m still alive!” the band sang to hoots and hollers from the crowd.

Shakedown Street followed with “Beat it on Down the Line,” opening the song with 17 thundering beats — one for each month since the band last played at the Aggie. The song was brief, energetic and breathed more life into the already-energetic crowd.

What really got the Deadheads grooving, though, was the addition of Boots Jaffee on harmonica. He took the stage adorned in a cowboy hat and leather vest, accompanied by the crowd shouting, “Boooots!” He played with the group for the Jerry Garcia Band tune “That’s What Love Will Make You Do,” before waving to the crowd and stepping offstage.

Throughout the night, Shakedown Street dipped in and out of the many different genres and vibes the Grateful Dead are famous for. They ripped into an emotive and powerful rendition of “Looks Like Rain,” an uncharacteristically groovy “Let it Grow” and an energetic, jumpy and fun “Sunshine Daydream” to close the show out.

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In channeling the ethos of the Grateful Dead, Shakedown Street played a grand total of 23 songs over two sets and an encore. This article would be damn near endless if I went through and chronicled each and every individual song, so suffice it to say that the show was as any Dead-related show should be fun, explorative, chaotic at times and full of musical adventure.

There’s a reason that Shakedown Street has been playing live music since 1987: The band just rocks. Outside of the Dead themselves, or any of the related offshoot groups, Shakedown Street may just be the best active Dead-related act still playing.

Whether you like the long, spacey, improvisational jams that stretch for 30 minutes or longer, the groovy, disco-like tunes you can’t help but bob along to or the short, snappy, blues numbers that crackle with energy, Shakedown Street truly is the ultimate Dead band in Northern Colorado.

Shakedown Street is comprised of Rosen on lead guitar and vocals, Peter Czolowski on rhythm guitar and vocals, Edwin Hurwitz on bass, Joe Weisiger on keys and vocals and Christian Teele on drums. The band’s next gig is at the Knew Conscious Collective on Aug. 28.

Dylan Tusinski can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @unwashedtiedye.