Vic DeRobertis has a pretty good idea of what to expect when his band, Playing Dead, plays Fenway Park next week as part of the Red Sox’ annual Grateful Dead Night. And he knows exactly what not to do. “This doesn’t feel like the right situation to launch into a 45-minute version of ‘Dark Star,'” DeRobertis admits.
That might not go over too well among the mix of Deadheads and Sox fans congregating on Yawkey Way before the Red Sox’ April 11 game against the Baltimore Orioles. But what should play well is the inclusion to Playing Dead to the night’s festivities, part of the Red Sox’ increased effort to feature New England musicians as part of their music-themed nights spread across the 2017 calendar.
In addition to Playing Dead performing at Grateful Dead Night, other special events at Fenway this season include Taunton’s BaHa Brothers performing live at May 2’s Margaritaville Night; Danvers’ Annie Brobst, the 2016 New England Music Awards’ Country Artist of the Year, performing at May 25’s Country Night; and Boston-based Billy Joel cover band Heart Attack Ack Ack Ack Ack Ack supplying the sounds for August 1’s Billy Joel Night. (The series is rounded out by April 14’s New Kids On The Block Night, where a pre-game party on the Budweiser Right Field Roof Deck will feature the pop group’s music, and Pride Night (June 9), when the New Hampshire Gay Men’s Chorus will sing the National Anthem.)
The live band performances will take place pre-game on Yawkey Way, and are loose-tie ins to the summer concert calendar at Fenway Park, which includes Dead & Company (June 17 and 18), Florida Georgia Line (July 7), and the real, actual Billy Joel himself (August 30).
“As we have grown our special events on game days at Fenway, Red Sox fans have shown a great love for our music-themed nights,” says Travis Pollio, the Red Sox Manager of Group Sales Special Events. “Starting with Grateful Dead Night and Country Night in 2014, we have now expanded to over six nights in 2017, specifically geared to the many musical interests of our fans. These nights give us the ability to reach out to the many talented local bands and other performers in the area to share that energy and love for music, and get the fans excited to see the Red Sox take the field.”
For Joshua Pickering of Heart Attack Ack Ack Ack Ack Ack, the decision to take the Red Sox up on their offer to play during Billy Joel Night was a no-brainer, and the crowd on August 1 should be significantly greater than the one Heart Attack recently played for at the Sinclair in Cambridge. “We’ve never done a gig like this, so we don’t have anything to compare it to,” Pickering says. “Everyone I have worked with at Fenway has been incredibly nice and easy to deal with. First and foremost — it’s so exciting to be invited by Fenway Park and the Red Sox to play… the Fenway faithful are some of Billy’s core audience; it’s great exposure for the band all around. It’s a big, fun gig at a really famous place to people who love Billy’s music. It’s going to be a career highlight for me and the other guys in the band — one for the ages.”
Like Pickering, DeRobertis also sees an opportunity — both to grow the band’s fan base and to have a good time. After the Red Sox reached out to Playing Dead for the potential gig, DeRobertis sent the team back a video of the band playing live in Southbridge, and locked in the gig soon after. “Aside from hoping it won’t be too chilly, most of the guys in the band are Red Sox fans, and Fenway is such a Boston icon that it’s a big thrill for us to play for the fans, whether they are Deadheads or not,” DeRobertis says. “A gig like this is a little different from our regular shows, not necessarily in terms of size, as we play some fairly large festivals and rooms, but because the audience will be a mixture of Deadheads and Red Sox fans. Some will listen to the entire set, and some might hang around for just a couple of songs on their way into the game, so we will probably lean toward playing some more accessible songs, some of the tunes that might be familiar to the casual Grateful Dead fan, and probably not delve too much into the tunes that get more experimental in nature… But people of all ages will be familiar with tunes like ‘Truckin’,’ ‘Touch of Grey’ and ‘Sugar Magnolia’ so I would not surprised if we play those, among others.”
And given that the atmosphere around Fenway in recent years has evolved into one giant party up and down Yawkey Way, the vibe shouldn’t be too different from a regular Playing Dead gig, even if they are playing to sports fans who might not necessarily be music fans.
“The very nature of Grateful Dead music is to play it differently every show,” DeRobertis says, “so we are definitely looking forward to the atmosphere and opportunity to play to people who might not necessarily come to a Playing Dead show. That and a Sox win, of course.”
Featured Heart Attack Ack Ack Ack Ack Ack photo up top by Dave Gannon.