PARK CITY, Utah – Aiko is a Grateful Dead-inspired band of musically related brothers and sisters, many of whom have played together for decades. Aiko’s free show on Wednesday, July 20, is a Grand Valley Bank Community Concert Series event sponsored by Mountain Town Music at Deer Valley’s Snow Park Amphitheater.
The July 20 performance is a summer jubilee of dancing in the grass and comradeship. Concertgoers should be familiar with Deer Valley’s Concert Faqs and plan to get there early. The show starts at 5:30 p.m. sharp, and Aiko intends to play for at least three hours.
Aiko band members performing on July 20 include three musicians who have played together since the band’s inception in 1984 – Ben Anderson (bass/vocals), Steve Ballenger (lead guitar/vocals), and Ross Mason (drums). Also performing are Aiko members Lance Deal (drums) and Steve Krafft (lead guitar/vocals), who joined in the late ‘90s, plus Scott Fernandez (keyboard), Jessie Krafft (vocals), and Michelle Yahn (vocals), who joined in 2018.
Aiko’s ties to Park City are through one of the band’s original members, Ben Anderson. Anderson is also the founder, organizer, and inspiration behind the upcoming Park City Song Summit.
During a lively conversation, Anderson reveals how his childhood laid the foundation for his musical endeavors. “Growing up, there was always music in my home,” Anderson remembers, “Music was important in our family. My dad was a minister of music for many years in churches and led choirs. So, my first association with music was gospel music in the church as a young Southern Baptist growing up in a small town in Tennessee.”
Anderson’s musical career started with solos in the church choir at 6. By 12 years old, Anderson decided rock-n-roll was more his style, and he played in a band throughout middle and high school. Upon starting undergraduate studies at Vanderbilt University, Anderson believed his musical performing career was ending.
“When I left my high school band, I thought for sure that was it and wasn’t thinking I would join another band anytime soon,” Anderson remembers.
The reality, starting college at Vanderbilt also marked the beginning of lifelong friendships and musical performances with Aiko members Steve Ballenger and Ross Mason. “We played fraternity parties, block parties, local clubs, and were the house band at a place called 12th & Porter,” Ben explains.
Even though Aiko’s members reside across the country, the band is deeply rooted and entwined around a love of music. Particularly the Grateful Dead, who played an integral role in inspiring and shaping the band’s experience as musicians and fans.
For Anderson, his first Grateful Dead concert in 1985 brought him back to his spiritual and musical foundation. “What was interesting from my childhood that carried over into being a Dead Head was that religious experience you get with music,” he states. “When you pull people together for a common cause with a common belief who want to commune together for something bigger than themselves – There is a spiritual awakening that the band and the audience have together when the music gets played live… It’s like who’s playing who?”
Between obtaining an undergrad degree from Vanderbilt, then a law degree from Pepperdine University, and running his law business, Anderson traveled throughout the United States and Europe to attend hundreds of Grateful Dead shows. Other Aiko members mirror Anderson’s zest, commitment, and understanding of the Grateful Dead. Over the years, Aiko members have collectively participated in an uncountable number of Grateful Dead shows.
“There is something about the Grateful Dead’s music, this culmination of all different forms of American music: gospel, bluegrass, country, rock-n-roll, rockabilly, classical… And of course, the psychedelic jazz experience,” Anderson exclaims, “I loved the fact they could take a song to so many different places and that they never played a song the same way twice.”
The Aiko concert at Deer Valley celebrates 38 years of musical kinship. It will serve as a festive gathering that brings together fans and bandmates from across states and occupations.
“We are so spread out! And we keep doing it year in and year out,” Anderson exclaims, adding, “What we have found is that the people who started seeing us 38 years ago still come. It becomes a reunion.”
Many of Aiko’s decades-long fans now bring their children. Anderson views Aiko shows as “A wonderful tradition, a generational thing that keeps getting passed on,” he adds, “I’m always filled with gratitude when we take the stage and see all these great familiar faces.”
Anderson is quick to cast his appreciation out to Utahns, too, stating, “The people of Park City and Salt Lake have really embraced our band. We have a wonderful following who loves coming out to our shows.”
Aiko is serious about putting on the most engaging performance they can. Despite being separated by miles, geography, and careers – Aiko prioritizes rehearsing and often practices via Zoom for months before a physical reconvening and rehearsal sessions prior to the show.
Keeping to the spirit of the Grateful Dead, Aiko never plays the same show twice. “After 38 years, we have hundreds of Dead songs in our repertoire,” Anderson states, “We try to bring something new each year.”
The last time Aiko played a Deer Valley concert, a whopping 4,000 people filled the amphitheater. “It was a hoot to come out on the stage and see thousands of people who showed up to dance, commune, to appreciate us and the music we bring,” Anderson states, “That was the community the Grateful Dead had. It was about playing at the highest level, bringing the love, and letting the audience drive the band.”
“We had such a great turnout last time. I sure hope people will come out and enjoy our music again,” Anderson says. “We have some real nuggets we can’t wait to share.”
He adds with a chuckle and a smile, “We are going to be the best free show of the summer.”
P.S. Ben Anderson will perform with Anders Osborne at the Park City Song Summit this September.