New Riders of the Purple Sage bring mix of alt-country and classic
rock to State Theatre
September 4, 2008
By Mark Maurer
As pedal steel guitarist Buddy Cage, 62, of New Riders of the Purple
Sage aimed to hit a bunker golf shot and missed, he shouted in a fit
He stood on a golf course in upstate New York, a meet-up point for
the band's crew. He loves golf and has been playing since he first
started playing pedal steel guitar -- when he was 11.
Cage deals with both passions by playing both sport and instrument in
the same style -- one hole at a time, one gig each night. He doesn't
spend much time dwelling on ways to keep his band relevant or impress
his ever-expanding fan base. Instead, he opts to rearrange old tunes.
"I play with what we play," Cage said. "I'm not in the business of
studying social patterns. We watch what goes down."
Tonight, Cage and other members of New Riders of the Purple Sage, the
psychedelic country rock band that formed in 1969, will perform a gig
at the State Theatre, 130 W. College Ave. Professor "Louie" and the
Crowmatix, an Americana blues band that played at the State Theatre's
re-opening, will open the show.
New Riders began its career in San Francisco as a part-time spin-off
of the Grateful Dead, supporting and opening for the renowned band.
The name was derived originally from Zane Grey's Western novel,
Riders of the Purple Sage.
The members signed with Columbia Records to release their self-titled
first album, which proved to be their most commercially viable venture.
Nineteen members have departed the band since it formed, including
Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia. Cage replaced Garcia as the
pedal steel guitarist in 1971 and singer/songwriter John Dawson
penned the concert staples, "Last Lonely Eagle" and "Panama Red,"
which contributed to the band's critical early success. Cage and
guitarist/vocalist David Nelson left the band in 1982 and the band
underwent a series of creative overhauls until its retirement in 1997.
The band reunited for a tour three years ago because "nobody was
doing anything," Cage said, though Dawson had fallen ill and decided
to sit it out.
Cage noticed during the first six months of the band's 2005 reunion
tour that an overwhelming number of his crowd consisted of
hibernating "old-timers" who had waited 25 years for the event.
However, within the past three years on the road, Cage said he has
noticed a youthful audience emerging.
"We're attracting a younger, thirstier crowd is how I see it," Cage said.
The band has established credibility for taking pleasure in its craft
and avoiding exercises in commercialism. In 2002, High Times
magazine, which advocates the legalization of marijuana, honored New
Riders with the lifetime achievement award at the annual Doobie Awards.
"We've never been people to jump on somebody else's train," Cage
said. "It's gratifying in one way in how we redefine what we do."
Unexpectedly, with Cage and Nelson back onboard, the band is now
preparing to record an album for the first time since they left.
The present members, including Michael Falzarano (guitar/vocals),
Ronnie Penque (bass guitar) and John Markowski (drums), have been
spending breaks in between scheduled shows in the studio recording
this new album. Robert Hunter, lyricist for the Grateful Dead, has
already written six to seven songs for New Riders. Cage warns these
lyrics carry a shadowy, darker tone.
"It's a wonderful opportunity to play new tunes," Cage said.
"Musically, they're gonna tear you up."
Kristy Cyone, marketing director for the State Theatre, said she
foresees New Riders drawing a mixed crowd of young and old who listen
to a variety of genres.
"New Riders is one of those bands that people who have seen before
when they were in their heyday will see again," Cyone said. "There's
a lot of resurgence in different generations and a lot of crossover
especially with this generation. This show appeals to a pretty good
cross-section of the community."
Regardless of how long it's been around, Matt O'Hara
(sophomore-hotel, restaurant and institutional management) said he
finds the band's music soothing.
"You listen to them and relax," O'Hara said. "It's basically like the
Grateful Dead and it is just good music."
Bands with this kind of appeal would benefit from sharing an intimate
venue with fans of different ages, Cyone said.
"You see with classic rock bands and this kind of genre that people
who are good at it tend to stick around," Cyone said.
Seth Weiner, New Riders' publicist at Shimon Presents, Inc., an
Atlanta-based public relations firm, first teamed up with the band
for its reunion tour. People should be aware the band's live show
doesn't merely consist of classic hits, Weiner said.
"It is a mix of that alt-country, Americana sound with an incredible
psychedelic sound, and it's not that '60s psychedelic sound," Weiner
said. "It's with the times. It's not like going to a museum where
you're seeing something that's not alive anymore. They're very alive
and very current."
The band's exposure to larger crowds has grown significantly because
the members pick specific music festivals, like Gathering of the
Vibes in Bridgeport, Conn., for its tour, Weiner said.
Despite 40 years of history and recent successes on the road and in
the recording studio, the horizon for New Riders of the Purple Sage
is blank. They will see it when it approaches.
"We do what we do and it seems to be growing," Cage said, as he
walked to the next hole on the golf course. "I don't really have any
future predictions. I don't think that way, man.
If you go
What: New Riders of the Purple Sage, feat. Professor "Louie" and the Crowmatix
When: 8 tonight
Where: The State Theatre, 130 W. College Ave.
Details: $23 for ages 14 and up