Big Sky keeps sounds of Dead alive

By Nathan Gillis
Special to Life After 50

“Thank you … for a real good time!”

So goes the line from “Loose Lucy,” one of the many Grateful Dead songs covered by Colorado Springs’ own Dead cover band Big Sky. And when sung to- and along with- an enthusiastic crowd, it becomes an almost irresistible invitation to join in the fun.

Many musicians find success playing in tribute bands, faithfully recreating the live performances of iconic bands from the past. However, paying tribute to the original rock ‘n’ roll jam band is a different endeavor. Preserving what’s essential while venturing into uncharted territory requires a delicate balance.

The members of Big Sky – Jim Cowell (bass), Teddy Galloway (guitar), Todd Yuill (keyboards) and Dave Deason (drums) – enjoy the challenge.

“One of the things that makes the Dead attractive is that it incorporates all aspects of American music,” Dave says. “Everything from bluegrass to jazz to symphonic to freeform stuff … you’re not playing any one genre all night, and you aren’t expected to.”

So, with the musical possibilities wide open, how can a Grateful Dead cover band successfully set itself apart from any other band in the jam category?

“You have to know what the rules are.” Jim says. The idea elicits laughter from the others (and himself), suggesting that if there are profound understandings among them, it would be useless to try to explain them.

More than anything, they have the musicianship and experience to do the songs justice. They come from varied backgrounds, and all four bring a broad range of skills and interests. Members of the band take part in other projects and write original songs. The emphasis in this setting, though, is mostly on interpreting well known songs. They play Dead songs, as well as occasional covers of classics by other bands. They see what they do as being very much in the spirit of jazz.

The band also understands the visual aspect of the Dead experience. Tie-dyed drapes serve as a backdrop for the stage. But if there is one thing that takes it up a notch, it would have to be Ted’s resemblance to Jerry Garcia. From his full white beard to his guitar, which looks unmistakably like one of Jerry’s custom instruments, he fits the part. Sly one-liners delivered in between songs give him a certain edge that is all his own.

Asked whether their bandmate would adopt his distinctive image if he weren’t in a Grateful Dead cover band, the others say that with Ted, what you see is what you get.

“He’s crafted his own persona,” Dave says. “And it’s a good one!”

Before Ted played with Big Sky, he was a member of Shakedown Street, another Dead cover band. Originally established in Colorado Springs, the band is now based in Denver.

Big Sky’s current lineup has been in place for the last seven years. The onstage communication they’ve developed over the years is immediately apparent. However, the full effect of the band’s performances is probably best experienced over the course of a full show. Songs flow from one into another, the crowd loosens up, and the band hits its stride. The cumulative effect is impressive.

“It’s like having a long involved conversation,” Dave says. “You stray away from the main point, and many times you come back to it. It becomes an organic thing.”

“How you get there, that’s the adventure,” Jim adds.

Find Big Sky on Facebook.


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