The annual Tree of Life benefit concert is tonight, Saturday, 2/29/20 at Garcia’s in Port Chester! The event will raise money for the Tree of Life Fund at Ferncliff Manor, Inc.
I chatted with Midnight North member and Tree of Life Concert musical director Elliott Peck last week about what she has in store for Garcia’s tonight.
You can still grab tickets for tonight’s festivities at the Capitol Theatre’s website.
Let’s talk a little bit about the Tree of Life Benefit. How did you initially get involved with the benefit? Tell us a little bit of history of show.
Back in 2015 Rob Rosman contacted me and he was interested in putting together a benefit show for young adults with developmental disabilities. His son has a severe one and he started to notice as his son got older, the lack of support and resources out there for this community. He’s starting to think about, well, what’s going to happen when my son’s out of school and too old to receive these resources. What’s the housing and job market look like? He was finding that there there was a real need to support that community. And so he contacted me.
I had never met him before, but myself and some of the other musicians that were playing regularly at Terrapin Crossroads were contacted by Rob. He wanted to bring some of the West coast players to the East coast. So that was the first year. And then from there it really blossomed, not just from a benefit, but into a full blown charity. Rob is doing these concerts very regularly and I went from being a musician and part of the the show to now directing the show as the musical director and help with the lineup, the setlist and organizing the whole musical side of things.
What’s it like playing at Garcia’s and the Cap? There’s so much history and it’s just such an awesome venue. What’s it like playing there?
Like you said, it has such history to it. I played several times on the Cap stage and you walk in there and there’s this just like feeling of legacy. There’s a lot of great people that have graced that stage you just feel the quality of that presence in the room. The sound system is great. The lighting, the stage, the theaters all been renovated—Peter Shapiro has done just an absolutely beautiful job of bringing that theater back to life.
A little bit about Garcia is in particular is it’s really neat to have that kind of offshoot from the Cap, for smaller bands and for up and coming bands. Um, so we’ve always had a great time playing that stage. There’s just a wonderful crowd that comes out from the New York area and they love like music. You could feel the energy in the room when you play there—people are hungry for it.
The tree of life benefit concert you have coming up has quite the lineup. Tell us a little bit about how you brought the lineup together and if we can expect any special collaborations or sit ins.
My band, Midnight North is comprised of myself and Graham Lesh kinda co-lead the, the band. Also the Cosmic Twang, which is comprised of Ross, James and Scott Law—two guitarists from the West Coast that are just absolutely phenomenal. They are also regulars in Phil Lesh’s lineup. So you’ll see them together making some guitar magic happen, which will be really fun. And then we also have a band called Colonel and the Mermaids. That is Alex Coford, who often drums for Phil Lesh and now has his own band and he just has a really mixed varieties of styles.
Those are the three main acts. But we always do what’s called the Tree of Life Band which will open and close the show for those folks that are VIP ticket holders. That‘s comprised of an all–star lineup. Several folks from each of the three bands will be playing as well as special guests.
I think there’s gonna be a lot of mixing and matching during the show of different bands, inviting different folks up to jam with them. Midnight North’s gonna have Sean Alexander, he was with Marcus King’s band—great, great, great piano player. He’s going to be joining us on keys, which will be awesome. I’m sure we’ll get Scott Law in the mix and other folks up there during our set as well. It should be a great night of music.
So you’ve talked a little bit about playing with Phil and you’ve had a lot of great opportunities to play with the co–founding member of the Grateful Dead. Did you grow up listening to the dead? Aside from sharing a stage with him, what’s your personal connection to the music of the Grateful Dead music?
My family, my dad in particular, my mom, we’re both big music lovers. They came up in this in the sixties and seventies and were a huge fans of the classic rock of that time. My dad had an outstanding record collection I got into during my teenage years, started thumbing through and found all these records and started exploring. I started listening Crosby, Stills and Nash and, and some Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix and all this stuff he had in there. I remember finding the Skull and Roses record in there and pulling that out.
One of the first songs I listened to and really connected to was “Wharf Rat.” What I really fell in love with about the Grateful Dead was the songwriting—the songs were well written, had great melodies and incredible lyrics. I think that’s why they are still such a force today. The next generation of young people are starting to fall in love with them as well. I think those songs are just absolutely timeless.
Do you have a favorite Dead tune that you like to perform? You’re obviously extremely versed in the catalog. What’s your favorite, and tell us a little bit about that.
I’m going to have to say ”Brokedown Palace” is my favorite? Just last summer when we were on the road quite a bit, doing a lot of festivals with Phil Lesh; the Terrapin Family Band was the band I was working with. Phil asked if I wanted to sing the lead vocal to that song which typically isn’t sung by a female but we switched the key up a little bit and made it right for my voice. It’s just such a powerhouse of a song. It’s absolutely gorgeous and melody and lyrics—it’s just one of those where the emotion comes through every time. You can’t help but feel it as a singer and I feel the audience responds to it just as well.