Aiko ready to wake the Dead with two Park City


Nashville-based Aiko, featuring Parkite Ben Anderson, center singing, will honor the Grateful Dead with two Park City concerts next week. The first will be June 29 at O.P. Rockwell Cocktail Lounge and Music Hall. The other will be July 1 at Forum Fest at Canyons Village.
Courtesy of Ben Anderson

Nashville-based jam band Aiko is set to play two Park City shows that will pay tribute to the Grateful Dead.

The first will be Thursday, June 29, at O.P. Rockwell, 268 Main St., and the other will be Saturday, July 1, during Canyons Village’s Forum Fest, a five-day party that leads up to the Fourth of July.

The June 29 concert will be presented by local musical nonprofit Mountain Town Music, overseen by Brian Richards, said founding bassist and vocalist Ben Anderson

“I’m so happy to work with Brian and Mountain Town Music,” he said. “I’m also grateful to Scott ‘Scooter’ Thomson, who still runs O.P. Rockwell. We always sell out there, so I would encourage people to hurry and buy tickets.”

The July 1 concert has a cosmic connection with the music Aiko plays, because that date marks the 40th anniversary of when the Grateful Dead played in that same spot when the resort was known as ParkWest, according to Anderson, who lives in Park City.

“It is so inspiring to know the Dead played in that same spiritual vortex,” he said. “There will be people in the audience who, I guarantee, saw the Grateful Dead 40 years ago on that same hill.”

Anderson has been a Deadhead for 39 years, which just so happens to be as long as Aiko has been together.

“Everything I thought I knew about music went out the window to a larger extent when I went to my first Grateful Dead show,” he said. “To a smaller extent, [the concert] rolled everything that I had learned about music into one. It’s like that lyric from the song ‘Stella Blue’ —  ‘it all rolls into one and nothing comes for free.’”

While the Grateful Dead’s music touched Anderson on a sensory level, the attitudes of the band members inspired his lifestyle.

“They taught me everything about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that I ever needed to know,” he said. “They evoked the great American spirit like no band I’d ever come in contact with. They reached for greatness, but always did it in a different way.”

Part of that mystique came from the fact that the Grateful Dead never played the same show twice, Anderson said.

“Heck, they never played the same song twice,” he said with a laugh. “As bassist Phil Lesh once said, ‘We never played the same song once.’”

Aiko, in turn, seeks to play different interpretations of Grateful Dead songs during their concerts, Anderson said.

“We want to honor the tradition that that band laid at our feet,” he said. “The Grateful Dead stood for a sense of community, creativity and spontaneity and love, mindfulness and inclusivity, as well as just freedom. And they stood for just going for it, and they reached beyond the four corners of a sheet of music to create a different kind of connection with their fans and audiences.”

Parkite Ben Anderson, Aiko co-founder and bassist, says the Grateful Dead taught him about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Aiko will perform two concerts, June 29 and July 1, in Park City.
Courtesy of Ben Anderson

Anderson is never offended when people try to dismiss Aiko as “just a cover band.”

“We are a cover band of one of the greatest cover bands ever,” he said gleefully. “If you look at the Grateful Dead’s set lists, sometimes you will see up to 50% of the songs were covers by the Mamas & the Papas, Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, Howlin’ Wolf, Elizabeth Cotten, Marty Robbins, The Beatles, Bob Dylan or Martha & the Vandellas. The Grateful Dead knew good music when they heard it, and they wanted to do those songs in their own way. And Aiko is not unlike that same spirit.”

Aiko takes the responsibility of performing Grateful Dead originals and covers seriously.

“We know there are people who are new to the music, and we know there are people who are O.G. Deadheads who expect you to bring it and bring it hard,” he said. “For us to be able to get up there and to, in some small way like a drop of water in the ocean, evoke the same spirit the Grateful Dead did, is truly not only an honor, but impactful and meaningful to us.”

Aiko, whose name was taken from the song “Iko Iko,” a call-and-response song written by James “Sugar Boy” Crawford in the early 1950s that was inspired by a “collision between two ‘tribes’ of Mardi Gras Indians,” according to various music historians and musicians, features founding members Anderson, lead guitarist and vocalist Steve Ballenger and drummer Ross Mason.

The lineup also features keyboardist Scott Fernandez, lead guitarist and vocalist Steve Krafft and vocalists Jessie Krafft (Steve Krafft’s niece) and Michelle Yah (Krafft’s wife), Anderson said.

“This year, we’re also adding my son Ben, who we call ‘B2,’ to the vocalists,” he said. “To have him  singing on stage with those two beautiful women and their beautiful vocals is beyond my wildest dreams.”

Anderson said there is one more thing that can match the honor of performing with his son in the band.

“I love looking into the audience and seeing kids and adults from ages 1 to 91 dancing and playing air guitars,” he said. “Over the past six years in Park City we’ve developed a wonderful group of fans and following here who know what to expect when they go to an Aiko show. And if people don’t know what we do, please come see what we do for yourselves. We’re just a bunch of guys and gals who are trying to make you happy by helping you let go of the tether of earthly things so you can move into the spiritual realm.”

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