There’s nothing better than live music. Okay, the birth of a child, blah, blah, blah. But really, live music is where it’s at. And when the universe contrives to deprive you of that which you love, and both the audience and the musicians have an equal willingness to give themselves to the moment and really go for it, well, that’s when the magic happens. Saturday night was one of those nights.
A benefit show for Woodbridge Addiction Services with a $20 ticket, the event was set for 5-9 p.m. on a field behind Woodbridge High School. “Tickets” were available online only which is interesting because there was no gate, no ticket checker, no scanner, you get the idea. It was basically the honor system, or, checking that, the COVID equivalent of passing a virtual hat. You parked your car in a high school parking lot and walked on to a large field with a mobile stage and socially distant 8 x 8 foot boxes painted on the field, with another 8 feet between them on all sides. It was as safe and civically responsible as could be and, for that matter, an improvement on a different show (which kind of sucked) that I saw on the same field a week or so back.
I arrived at 4:58, somewhat confused that the band was already halfway through “Crazy Fingers” (turned out to be a soundcheck) and the socially distant box that occupied the equivalent of front row center was there for the taking. So I took it, not because I’m a rail rat per se, but because all the PAs were on the stage and there was no louder spot than the singular one that I occupied, front row just left of center, twenty feet back with nary a soul between the speakers and myself. I’ve never seen people be more respectful of the personal space of others, and with good reason, but maybe this is something we can carry forward as a society when we attempt to re-enter a world of normalcy. Pipe dream, I know, but there it is.
Tarping may be a hot button issue at GA events, and on Phish tour in particular, but, COVID be damned, field painted socially distant boxes gave rise to the most spatially luxuriant, stress free, and socially responsible front-row concert experience of my lifetime. I figured that my buddy and I had about 75 square feet of space to share plus another 400 square feet of empty space surrounding us. For comparison’s sake, think of a typical oversold GA floor, nuts to butts with human contact on all sides; or, perhaps, the 3 square feet of dancing room you’re allotted in front of an assigned seat. Silver linings. Add the pent up energy of a global pandemic as this was most people’s first taste of live music, and the band’s first show in 147 days, and fuhgeddaboudit, our collective latent energy was bubbling like a volcano ready to explode. The vibe in the air was thick with mutual love, respect, and appreciation.
Like the inverted exclamation point found at the beginning of a Spanish declaration, “Dancing In The Streets” opened the first set, letting the crowd know early and with emphasis about the party that was about to begin. As their name and the artwork on their amps imply, the Cosmic Jerry Band plays homage to the Grateful Dead—and they do so quite well, I feel rather qualified to add. That’s not the whole story, however, as about half of their show is comprised of original material. Due to the fact that they are a Dead cover band, you’d think Cosmic Jerry Band may fall into the jam band or psychedelic bucket. Maybe they do. Okay, they definitely do, at least the former. But they’re also an inspired rock and roll band and the next two songs would demonstrate that as they segued from “Dancing” into “Crooked Tree”, which really highlighted Billy Seigel’s mastery of his keyboards, and then “Hopelessly Everafter”. Each of these was a compact five-to-six minutes that not only allowed the band to showcase its range but simultaneously spotlighted the musical chops of each of its members: Michael Jaskewicz on guitar/vocals, John Nemeth bass/vocals, Billy Seigel keys/vocals, and Dan Donovan on drums.
The setlist turned back into tie-dyed territory as “Feel Like A Stranger” into “Music Never Stopped” impelled the removal of my sweat soaked shirt and launched my step count into the stratosphere. The back half of that combo represents the live music moment I’d been anticipating since my last such moment (“Whipping Post” by The Brothers at Madison Square Garden on March 10th). All the sweat. All the energy. All the joy. None of the inhibition.
Heart rate firmly into the 150’s, every breath a valuable commodity as sweat dripped, the sun still beating on my face with temperatures firmly entrenched in the 90s. Only five songs into the first set and already this was shaping up to be a night for the memory books. As if to underscore that exact fact, Jaskewicz would announce at the end of the ensuing “Wharf Rat” how blessed he felt to be playing live, the band’s first show in 147 days, a harsh reality not lost on but rather celebrated by every soul in attendance. Even the band’s setlist noted, “147 days since last show.”
Another couple heady originals, “Treat You Right” into “More Time” preceded a cover of “Just A Little Light” that featured Billy Siegel as a Dead ringer for Brent Mydland. An explosive “Let It Grow” closed the set, with face melting guitar solos and a bone shaking rhythm section to match.
I am, I am, I AM.
Setbreak had arrived. Now this may sound like nothing, but I don’t even remember the last show I was allowed to bring a cooler into—it’s been that long. Thus, sitting to catch my breath and eat a dinner that I prepared was reminiscent of the time I brought my parents to a Dead show at Giants Stadium in 1995 and ate a giant chicken parm sub from home at intermission (they let you bring food in back in the day). Granted, this was the Cosmic Jerry Band at Woodbridge HS so take that last comment with a grain of salt. But I needed no further reminding of the awesomeness of this night, from the totality of the music to the individuality of the songs to the socially distant and respectful crowd that boogied down with the best of ‘em, to a healthy, homemade, and energizing meal with homemade Rice Krispie treats for dessert. Another box with a big fat checkmark on what was shaping up to be a perfect night.
The second set shot out of cannon with the interesting placement of “One More Saturday Night” as the opener. Somewhat embarrassingly, every time I see a Dead-related band on a Saturday night, I always seem to forget that this tune is not only on the table but imminent. This past Saturday was no exception. “Set Me Free”, a hard-charging rock and roll original laden with some serious guitar shred, was nothing short of awesome, right up to and including its abrupt and sharp turn into a glorious “Cats Under The Stars”.
Another pair of Cosmic originals preceded a brief and awesome “Drums” that kept fans (read: me) dancing hard and gave Donovan his moment in the spotlight, though in fact he shone brightly all night long. The band shortly returned for a perfunctory “Space” before Jaskewicz dazzled with “I Was Worth It”, an emotional ballad that seemed to come straight from the depths of his soul. Not only was this the most powerful original that Cosmic put on display, but its placement in the set, a spot normally reserved for a Jerry Garcia ballad like “Standing On the Moon” or “Stella Blue”, made a statement all on its own. The last of the evening’s original numbers, “Bloom”, was up next before the band veered back into the familiar territory of the Grateful Dead with a gorgeous “Estimated Prophet” into “Eyes of the World”.
Now, although I was certainly not expecting the set closer that followed, it somehow didn’t catch me by surprise either. Earlier in the night, not sure exactly where, I’d swear I heard a snippet of the Velvet Underground’s “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’”. Now, that may or may not have actually happened, but it somewhat prepared me for the segue from “Eyes of the World” into “Rock and Roll”, also from the Velvet Underground’s 1970 masterpiece, Loaded. Regardless of my preparation, this was an emphatic and glorious slice of some serious badassery, so good in fact that if they kept playing, I’d have been kind of disappointed because there was nowhere else to go.
That didn’t diminish, however, the crowd’s collective desire for an encore. As a matter of fact, some of the evening’s more clever fans were pleading for another set. Well, except for a small handful of folks with their paws on the night’s printed setlist, none of us expected the triumvirate that was the encore of “Ripple” into “Baba O’Riley” into “Weekapaugh Groove”. Yeah, you heard that right. Good lord, was that a treat.
Now this hasn’t yet been mentioned, but the people you share a memory with are, in fact, often more important than the memory itself —at least they should be. I was blessed to share last night with such a person, a lifelong friend with whom I’ve been doing exactly this for thirty years. There’s a lot more story here but I’ll cut it short. Suffice it to say, we still got it!
17,995 splendiferous steps (though I’m a bit out of practice and feeling a bit sore today).
Check out a gallery of photos below, as well as live streamed footage of the show.
Setlist: Cosmic Jerry Band | Woodbridge High School | Woodbridge, NJ | 7/18/20
Set one: Dancing In The Streets > Crooked Tree*, Hopelessly Everafter*, Feel Like A Stranger > The Music Never Stopped > Wharf Rat > Treat You Right* > More Time* > Just A Little Light > Let It Grow
Set two: One More Saturday Night > Set Me Free* > Cats Under the Stars, Apple Tree*, We Are Divine* > Drums > Space > I Was Worth It* > Bloom*, Estimated Prophet > Eyes of the World > Rock and Roll
Encore: Ripple > Baba O’ Riley > Weekapaugh Groove
* Cosmic original