Every Grateful Dead fanatic has their own personal favorite period. For a lot of people, that is the early ’70s, when the band was heavily influenced by Americana elements. Other people prefer the late ’60s, when they were much more psychedelic. For guitarist/singer Matt Hartle, the best period is 1976. In fact, he named his Grateful Dead tribute band the Spirit of ’76 after their musical output from that year.
“They were coming off a hiatus after playing all these large venues. When they came back, they played more intimate settings, and the arrangements became simpler,” says Hartle. “As the ’70s progressed, they got more formulaic. In 1976, they were still figuring that all out. There was a looseness to the arrangements at that point.”
For some shows, they will recreate Grateful Dead setlists from that year. But even when they don’t go that far, they play the songs the same way the Grateful Dead would have likely played these songs in 1976, including the lineup. For instance, Donna Jean Godchaux was in the band from 1972-1979, so they have a female vocalist to sing her parts.
It isn’t a note-for-note recreation of the Dead’s music, and as the group has progressed, they have introduced songs the band wrote after 1976. But they continue to bring the loose, intimate version of the band to Santa Cruz crowds whenever they play, giving them a unique take in a city that boasts several other Dead tribute bands.
“I’m blessed to live in Santa Cruz, where we have a great contingent of people that love to come out and dance to the Grateful Dead’s music,” Hartle says. “When we book a show, we’re guaranteed to get a good crowd that comes out that knows the songs, that loves the songs as much as we do, that has danced to the songs a million times, like we’ve played them a million times.”
INFO: 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27. Don Quixote’s, 6275 Hwy. 9, Felton. $12/adv, $15/door. 335-2800.