Tribute group Terrapin plays songs from The Dead at Ridgefield Playhouse Feb. 9
You don’t make a fortune in a cover band or a tribute band, but if you’re one of the better ones, you do win a following and bigger gigs across the region.
Good-size venues, meanwhile, sometimes don’t like to admit that many of their nightly acts aren’t originators of the songs they play. But that’s the nature of a busy entertainment scene in 2019.
Enter Terrapin: The Ultimate Grateful Dead Experience, a Connecticut-based band that will make a return engagement to Ridgefield Playhouse Saturday, Feb. 9, after a packed show last year. With more than 160 shows under its belt in Connecticut mostly, the band is booking more gigs in Boston, Vermont, Philadelphia, Mohegan Sun and New Hampshire.
We asked keyboard player Matt “Helm” Winthrop, whose day job is financial adviser at Aegis Capital in Westport, about tribute bands, The Dead and his favorite gigs so far.
“We’re playing at Ridgefield for a second time,” said Winthrop via phone, “so that’s a thrill because ... it’s a venue that’s been a real bastion of the rock scene locally.” He also named the Tarrytown Music Hall and the Hard Rock Cafe in Boston.
Long Island-raised Winthrop has twins who were born in 2001 (on Sept. 11, actually), so he and bandmates are old enough to chase musical dreams a little more these days. After not having played publicly since high school, he played briefly with another Dead band earlier this decade, then met musicians Paul Dunay and Geoff Schneider and formed Terrapin.
“The first time we played together, it clicked,” he said. “...And we would play any pizza parlor or restaurant that would have us. And it started working, and because of Facebook we started to build a good following.”
Ridgefield Playhouse, 80 E. Ridge, Ridgefield. Saturday, Feb. 9, 7:30 p.m. $29. 203-438-5795, ridgefieldplayhouse.org
He talked his way into a gig at Fairfield Theatre Co. about four years ago, and since has sold out a few shows there, then in Manchester, N.H., followed by Mohegan Sun’s rooftop summer party series. (A Wolf Den date is set for October.) But when you’re hustling as a tribute band, you also attend the annual meeting of the Connecticut Recreation and Park Association for summer park gigs — from Shelton to Southington to Farmington. “It’s great. It’s fun for us because you draw big crowds. We did Cheshire and drew about 2,000 people a couple of years ago (and you can get home by 10 p.m., he noted).”
It’s hard to catch the original superstar groups (or remnants of the originals) and some of those old groups are fetching more more than $100 a ticket in a big venue. So a good tribute group is like a classical musician playing the music of long-gone composers such as Mozart, since fans still want to experience that music live.
“I think personally that we live in such an electronic, silicon-based world, where everything is just-in-time, in-your-face technology that, to go out and actually see some live music... to be with people and to see people working and playing and communicating (is worthy),” Winthrop said. “You’re looking for experiences.”
Experiences that evoke a similar feeling as the original band.
“Yeah, alright, we didn’t write it. OK. We’re playing tribute music. But we put a lot of time and energy into it,” he said. “And every night’s different. With Terrapin... we’ve never played the same show twice ever... because that’s what The Dead do.”
Terrapin’s concert sets are so varied that you might not hear “Truckin’” every time but you might hear “Alligator,” “ Mountains of the Moon” or another deep dive. “We try not to push too much of the hippie... thing. We try and push the music... (with) a little more of a progressive show.”
SoulShine, another group of seasoned musicians that plays Allman Brothers tunes, will open.
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