CULTURE- FRIDAYS UPDATE Not dead: Alligator surfaces for rare concert
It'd be easy to write off Alligator as just another Grateful Dead cover band were it not for the fact that they've been around for so long. Singer Bob Girard puts it at ten years; drummer Corky Schoonover says five– but neither seems to be particularly sure.
Either way, the band's roots run back as far as 1972, when Girard, Schoonover, and fellow local legend Charlie Pastorfield put together a band called the Hawaiians up in Foxboro, Massachusetts, which Girard says was a kind of "a Dead/outlaw country band." (Schoonover notes that while they were stylistically similar, they didn't actually play many Dead covers.)
The Hawaiians eventually said aloha, but Girard and Pastorfield revived the idea in Charlottesville a few years later.
"Because we knew it wasn't going to be a small, compact band where the share would be important, the idea was just to go full out; we use two drummers, two guitar players, two singers," says Girard. "We were an eight-piece band right away."
Girard contrasts the band's approach with that of Dark Star Orchestra, whose members pore obsessively over the details of the Dead covers they do, selecting equipment from the appropriate era and even recreating shows verbatim. In keeping with the Dead's improvisational spirit, Alligator usually just wings it.
"[Usually] it's some arrangement that has mutated over the years," says Girard. "Chord progression, key, and lyrically, it's right on the money, but tempo and arrangement are all up for grabs."
"This band plays, on average, twice a year," he continues. "That makes us a pretty occasional group of guys. The trick here is to get together and play with people you don't play with very much who understand the same material."
That shared vocabulary is enough to get them through their biannual performances; Girard says that whatever minimal preparation they do typically resembles a meeting more than a rehearsal.
"The fact that it works at all is kind of a miracle," he laughs. "We know the same material, we know the keys, we know how they start and end, but everything in the middle is up for grabs."
Alligator surfaces for a Fridays after 5 concert May 25 at– guess when– 5:30pm at the Charlottesville Pavilion.