PARK CITY, Utah — The Grateful Dead and jam band-inspired tribute band Aiko is technically named for the song Iko Iko by James “Sugarboy” Crawford. It’s kind of an if-you-know-you-know scenario.
“[The name is] rooted in a traditional song from New Orleans, which Grateful Dead covered at some point in the 70s,” said Ben Anderson, bassist and original Aiko member. “I was looking at some of the linguistic history of the phrase Iko Iko, and the song is rooted in a really cool tradition of how the Mardi Gras Indians would do these chants to celebrate and do their competitions with each other.”
Aiko has been performing together for 40 years. During one show, an audience member gifted the band an Aiko-printed Utah license plate, which donned his Volkswagen Microbus throughout the 70s and 80s as he followed the Grateful Dead.
On Thursday, June 29, Aiko takes the O.P. Rockwell stage for a night of dancing and songs you know and love. Just like the Dead, Aiko never has and never will play the same show twice. And if they play the same song, it’s a different rendition.
“The Grateful Dead experience is something that we are thrilled and honored to be able to celebrate because it’s about community, connection, spontaneity, love, creativity, and freedom,” Anderson said.
What is now known as Park City Canyons Village was once Park West. Forty years ago, on September 4, 1983, Grateful Dead played a concert there. Not only will Aiko be playing a free concert on July 1 at Forum Fest this year, but original Dead member Bob Weir will be performing as part of Anderson’s Park City Song Summit on September 8, just days after he played at Canyons Village four decades ago.
From Santa Cruz to Dallas to Park City, Aiko members make time to get together for practice. The four original band members are Steve Ballenger lead guitar/vocals; Ross Mason, drums; Ben Anderson, bass/vocals; and Ted Pattison, guitar/vocals. Steve Krafft (lead guitar/vocals), Lance Deal (drums), and Stu Manning (keyboards/vocals) joined the quartet in the 90s. Recently, the band was joined by Scott Fernandez (keyboards), Michelle Yahn (vocals), Jessie Krafft (niece to Steve and Michelle), and B2 (vocals), as the band refers to Anderson’s son.
“Grateful Dead’s genre of music is indescribable because they were rooted in jazz, gospel, country, the blues and bluegrass, and psychedelic rock,” he said. “That’s why we’ve loved and we continue to play their music because their music was about being at the top of your game, but also being able to work through things when you aren’t. It’s true musicianship and a way different experience because the audience and artists are both interacting and feeding off of each other.”
In addition to the lyrics and fun of the Dead shows, Anderson more importantly found community and camaraderie.
Anderson found much solace in the Grateful Dead through the different phases of his life, including and especially throughout his recovery journey. Wharf Rats are Dead fans that live a drug and alcohol-free lifestyle and were found at most shows by their signature yellow balloons.
“Wharf Rat is a wonderful song by the Grateful Dead that I love singing because it was sort of Jerry’s [Garcia] story and my story as well. These meetups really piqued my curiosity—amidst a very psychedelic experience, those who can’t use drugs and alcohol safely found each other, so there were communities within the communities of the Grateful Dead. They were really just microorganisms of one large amoeba.”
Aside from getting together and performing the music they all love, Aiko revels seeing what some may think of as differences in demographics, come together under one experience.
“People are connected, not only the OG Deadheads, but also just music lovers,” said Anderson. “We see the inclusivity of younger people in their teens, 20s, and 30s who’ve latched on to it. It’s not because they just want to wear a tie dye or to say ‘I went to a Dead show.’ It’s because they feel something. We feel it when we play.”
Tickets for Aiko’s June 29 Summer Nights show at O.P. Rockwell are on sale. Note, that every time Aiko has played there tickets have sold out. The band will be playing a free show at the Canyons Village on July 1.