Stacy Webster of Iowa City didn’t experience the Grateful Dead live until 1987. At that point, the legendary band was at its peak. The uncompromising jam band reached the Top 10 of the Billboard pop charts with the catchy but quirky “Touch of Grey.”
Less than a decade later, Webster’s musical hero, Jerry Garcia, died.
“Jerry’s music always spoke to me,” Webster said. Garcia’s music from the 1970s inspired him to become a musician.
“The Dead was great in every era,” he said. “They kept evolving. But the period that really got me was from the ’70s. I absolutely love that period.”
After leading a number of bands over the years, the vocalist-guitarist formed Winterland, which delivers sets from that golden era. When Winterland performs Saturday (12/15) at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City, the band will deliver tracks from the Dead’s May 9, 1977, show from Buffalo, N.Y.
“That’s the night after the acclaimed Cornell (University) show,” Webster said. “They led off with ‘Help is on the Way.’ It’s a great way to start a show.”
Winterland also will offer other Grateful Dead songs and even some covers from other bands.
“We recently did (Black Sabbath’s) ‘War Pigs’ at a show and the crowd went crazy,” Webster said. “There was so much great music from that era. Every now and again we’ll slip something in and surprise the audience. It’s about us and the crowd having fun. It’s fun when you give the audience what they don’t expect.”
Winterland isn’t reverential when it comes to the Dead. Songs aren’t always played note for note and jams are common.
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“I kind of play like Jerry Garcia,” Webster said. “Our band is spontaneous like the Dead was. We’re not trying to replicate songs. We like to do some improvisation. We don’t play the same song twice. We’re open. That’s part of why I loved the Dead and I love playing their songs. There is no band that’s like the Dead. I always felt connected to them.”
That might be due to his early exposure to the band, said Webster, 50, who grew up in San Francisco.
“My mother would always take me in the stroller though the San Francisco parks and she told me that the Dead would often be playing for free in the park. She believes we strolled by when they were playing. Maybe that’s where it all started for me with the Dead.”
It’s not just cover bands, like Winterland and Dark Star Orchestra, that are keeping the music of the Dead alive. The Dead and Company, which features Grateful Dead icon Bob Weir, is touring and selling out arenas.
“I think it’s cool with what they’re doing,” Webster said. “They’re taking the music in a different direction and that’s what the Dead has always done. I saw them a couple of times and I’m impressed. They’re great. The fans of the Dead obviously love them for good reason.”
Webster is thrilled to be playing in Iowa City.
“I love living here. There are so many cool, creative people living here. Hopefully quite a few of them will come out to the Englert Theatre to see this show.”
WHAT: Winterland: Legends of ’77: Buffalo, N.Y.
WHERE: Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., Iowa City
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday (12/15)
TICKETS: General admission, $12 advance, $15 show day; Englert Box Office, (319) 688-2653 or Englert.org
EXTRA: A Grateful Winterland Pre-Party, 5:30 to 7 p.m., Billy’s High Hat Diner, 630 Iowa Ave., Iowa City; $20, Englert Box Office or Englert.org