Q&A: Rob Eaton & Jake Wolf of Rocky Mountain Grateful Dead Revue talk keeping live music alive during the pandemic

The Rocky Mountain Grateful Dead Revue will play the Vilar Performing Arts Center’s Ghost Light Sessions date on Thursday. The live-streamed concerts hosted from the VPAC’s stage have featured local artists. The Vail Daily sat down with the band’s drummer Jake Wolf and guitarist Rob Eaton, known also for his work with Dark Star Orchestra, to catch up before the show.

New for this week of streams, which have been occurring regularly since May 7, the Vilar has invited a limited number of local essential workers to enjoy the show. All social distancing protocols will be followed. Viewers at home can watch the stream starting at 7 p.m. from the VPAC’s YouTube channel as well as Dark Star Orchestra’s Facebook page.

The conversation below has been edited for length and clarity.

The Ghost Light Session concert will be streamed from the VPAC’s YouTube page and Dark Star Orchestra’s Facebook page.
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Vail Daily: It must be nice to have a show planned, and not just be cooped up at home.

Rob Eaton: I’m not used to having so much time at home. I’m always on the road. I would have already done a couple of tours by now. I started touring in Seattle on February 6, ended in Los Angeles on the 25th, played everywhere in between. This is all while COVID was starting.

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VD: And we had our first case here in Eagle County on March 6.

RE: Right, and that’s right when I started getting sick. I don’t know if it was COVID, but I couldn’t breathe very well, and I had a low-grade fever for about a week. But it was there. Everybody has different symptoms, flu’s are all a bit different. I’m putting two and two together.

VD: Well obviously things weren’t shut down at the time even though COVID was starting.

RE: I was playing mass gatherings all February on the West Coast. It’s kind of ironic that it all started where I was. We were playing to thousands of people every night, close quarters and everything.

VD: Wow, that’s wild.

RE: I don’t think I’m going back to work until next year.

VD: Yeah, you do this full time.

RE: Yeah, it’s my job. When you’re a musician, that’s what you do for a living. We are the last people that will go back to work. We won’t go back to work until you start seeing sports stadiums filled with people. Then, we’re still two months behind. 

VD: It’s weird to think about, because it’s not like you’ve been laid off.

RE: For these little streams that we do, we have tip jars.

VD: Yeah, so Dark Star has been doing Facebook streams.

RE: We’ve been doing Facebook streams. Rob, my son and I, started it about 6, 7 weeks ago, for 30 minutes every Tuesday. It’s successful. We’d make 500 bucks, 250 bucks each. Then we started stretching out and doing electric. Agave gave us our space so we were able to do a couple of streams from there. And then we were able to hire some of my Dark Star crew that lives in Denver, and give them some income. We’re not talking big dollars, but 100 bucks there, 200 bucks here…

VD: It’s still something.

RE: It’s beer money. 

Jake Wolf: It’s food for a week.

RE: It’s taco money and beer money.

VD: What else do you really need, right?

Rob Eaton (left) and Jake Wolf (right) are two of the Rocky Mountain Grateful Dead Revue members.
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RE: But this particular stream that we’re going to do at the Vilar is going to be our first ever cross-stream. So we’re going to stream it to YouTube and Facebook at the same time.

VD: It will go on your Facebook page and the Vilar’s YouTube channel.

RE: At the same time, which is a new thing that we’ve never tried. We’ve been doing test streams. We have high confidence. We’ll be able to reach a lot more people. My Dark Star Orchestra page has 300,000 people that follow it.

VD: They have their following and you have your following.

RE: So we’re going to hit them both.

JW: None of it’s really stressful at all. Extreme sarcasm. 

RE: Well, think about it. It’s like live television. If it’s not working, you can’t pause. We’re trying to do multi-camera. Just something different than somebody putting their phone on a table and playing acoustic guitar on their couch.

VD: That’s another thing you get to do when you’re at the Vilar too, is stage an actual production.

RE: It’s multi high-def cameras, pro-shot, which we haven’t done yet. We’ve done multiple iPhones. Now the Vilar is handling it.

JW: That’s probably the most stressful thing. Oh, they forgot to click that button or plug the thing in. For this show, stress will be zero.

VD: It should be super fun.

RE: We’re going to have some people in there too, which is the first time they’ve allowed people in the venue. It’s first responders. 

JW: Doctors, nurses, physical therapists. 

VD: That’s a really awesome sect of people to invite right now, obviously because live music is financially suffering. It would be easy to extend the invite to folks who have the ability to be generous with their finances, but it’s right to give that experience back to those who are keeping our society running.

JW: Those donors spend a lot of money. That place is there because of them. I want the Vilar to remain open. I’m nervous. People need to understand the importance of having an open venue in this valley. People have behavioral health issues right now. The last thing we need to do is take things away from people that are keeping us sane. When we have the opportunity to go do it, to keep the doors open… if we can put the Vilar’s name in front of 50,000 some people? We’re doing good for our community. That’s huge for us. 

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