While the night before St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago had most people envisioning shamrocks, I couldn’t stop seeing roses. That’s because Melvin Seals and the JGB‘s, “Run for the Roses,” Tour was making a stop at Park West, along with Chicago’s own Grateful Dead band, Terrapin Flyer. With a Dead double-header like this, green beer and cheap leprechaun decorations could wait.
Chicago is a world-class city, and Park West is no exception. Upon entering, you pass a sizable lounge area of reserved tables, all of them the classiest available shade of black. You also see two bars flanking the rather large dance floor, run by two spiffy bartenders, also dressed in black. If this wasn’t swanky enough, the bathroom also has a towel lady. Yes, a towel lady. At a Grateful Dead/Jerry Garcia Band cover show. Speaking as someone who usually sees Dead cover bands in dank, windowless dive bars, the night was sizing up to be quite the experience.
Terrapin Flyer kicked off the evening with special guest Scott Guberman of Phil Lesh & Friends. Within an almost ridiculously short one-hour opening set, the band played 5 songs–Dancing in the Street, Hey Pocky Way, Ramble on Rose, The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game, and Deal—taking time in each to showcase the guest keyboardist, as well as lead guitarist, Josh Olken. One of the highlights of the set was Smokey Robinson song and Jerry Garcia deep cut, “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game,” sung by vocalist Kara Cavanaugh. They masterfully ended with classic set closer, “Deal.”
With the tie-dyed attendees warmed up and ready to go, it was time for the main event. Melvin Seals, former Hammond B3 player for the Jerry Garcia Band, was joined by guitarist Zach Nugent, bassist John-Paul McLean, drummer Peter Lavezzoli, vocalists Sunshine Becker and Lady Chi, and saxophonist Ron Holloway for two full sets of JGB goodness. They not-so-subtly let the crowd know their intentions for the evening, kicking off the show with a high energy, super funky, “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” The first set continued to be hot and heavy, including versions of “Cats Down Under the Stars,” “Tore Up,” and “Scarlet Begonias,” that had the colorful crowd rocking out. Even with all the electricity building, the band decided to take a breather near the end of the first set, slowing down to play a soulful version of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” with Melvin Seals taking the vocals.
The second set picked up right where the first set left off with the bold and bright reggae vibes of, “The Harder They Come,” followed by an excellent version of tour namesake, “Run for the Roses,” and a “Brown Eyed Women,” that had entire venue singing along. Then, the set took a rather unexpected turn. It was time to go to church. Melvin Seals & The JGB closed the show with 4 beautifully performed gospel songs in a row: Sitting Here in Limbo, I’ll Be With Thee, Sisters & Brothers, and Magnificent Sanctuary Band. As if the powerful lyrics to these songs wasn’t enough, the low and sultry vocals of Sunshine Becker and Lady Chi took these songs to a higher level . And if one really tuned into the saxophone solos by Ron Holloway, it felt like Jesus had returned and chose Park West as his destination.
If Park West was church, then all the bells and whistles and bathroom attendants made sense: cleanliness is next to godliness. Another spiritual aspect of the show was Melvin Seals’ incredible humility, consistently sharing the spotlight with fellow members of his band song after song. This harmonious balance rippled into the audience, inspiring attendees to openly celebrate the music through dancing, singing, and sharing in the groove all night long. With three sets of pure Jerry Garcia coursing through my veins, it felt as if my soul was cleansed…just in time for a wee few pints of Guinness the next day. Jerry would understand.