Lovelight Brings Dead to Life at Gateway

Jun 07, 2017
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

Lovelight, one of 10 to 15 Grateful Dead tribute bands in the tri-state area, prides itself on “re-creating the timeless sound of the Grateful Dead and capturing the beauty and spirituality of their live performances,” and that’s exactly what the band achieved on Friday night at The Gateway on Long Beach Island. Many attendees were seen sporting their beloved Grateful Dead concert tees and singing along to their favorite tunes.

The usual lineup includes guitarist and vocalist Steve Sprague Jr., bassist and vocalist Dana Carroll, guitarist and vocalist Mark Diomede, keyboardist and vocalist Marty Schearer, and drummers Marvin Kay and Danny Albi. This weekend, guest player Eric Escoffery, a guitarist and singer for the New York-based Grateful Dead tribute band Dead on the Tracks, filled in for Diomede, a jam scene veteran and founding member of bands Solar Circus and Juggling Suns. Carroll said Diomede performs regularly with Lovelight, bringing a unique energy to each show. The band feels fortunate to have Diomede on board, with his captivating stage presence and their undeniable chemistry.

Lovelight, named for the Grateful Dead song “Turn on Your Love Light,” holds a significant meaning to the band members.

The name “evokes positive energy, which is what I like about it,” Carroll shared. “That’s what we are all about.”

Sprague and Carroll formed the band in 2011 and sought out the rest of their bandmates when they traveled and met other musicians who all shared a love for the Grateful Dead. Kay met Sprague and Carroll through other Dead cover bands he played in, Steal Your Face and Pure Jerry, a Jerry Garcia-influenced group that focused mainly on playing songs written by Garcia.

“I schlep a long way to play with these guys,” Kay joked. “But it’s a passion, and you do it because you love it.”

“It becomes sort of like a family – we have an extended family,” Carroll said. “We have different players that will join us for bigger setups. Sometimes we have two drummers. Sometimes we have two drummers and a percussionist. We’ve done that before, here at The Gateway.”

One recent collaboration and tour highlight for Lovelight occurred a few weeks ago at Paul’s Tavern in Belmar when the band shared the stage with singer/guitarist Michael Falzarano of New Riders of the Purple Sage and keyboardist Scott Guberman of Communion, a band founded by original Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh.

“Nationwide, there is a lot of activity surrounding the Dead, usually on the coasts, so it was very cool to be a part of something where the West Coast came to meet the East Coast. It was very exciting for us,” Carroll said.

“The more, the merrier” is a sufficient motto for Lovelight; having more players allows them to “get the real feel of the Grateful Dead.” When the Dead played, they had two drummers, and Lovelight enjoys being able to replicate the authenticity of the original act with each of its outings. Carroll best describes the band’s chemistry as a “musical tapestry,” a fulfilling experience in which a listener will get a little bit of everything.

That is also the beauty of the music – for Deadheads and non – the Grateful Dead’s songs encompass an array of genres, from blues and bluegrass to jazz and folk. Because of the variety of styles, all members feel as if they have learned a lot about music in general and how to interpret emotions within particular sounds.

“A lot of it is stuff that people know. A lot of people who don’t follow the Grateful Dead are surprised with how much they actually do know, which is good, and people remember them,” Carroll said. “We tend to play a lot of the stuff that people like to dance to. It’s fun music. People come and expect to hear certain songs, so we make sure to keep those on our set list.”

Although the band lives and breathes Grateful Dead music, each player has many other inspirations when it comes to his or her personal music making. Sprague still admires the unparalleled talent of Johnny Cash and the Allman Brothers Band, while Carroll finds her inspiration in an unlikely source: Paul McCartney.

“I always admired his style because it is very upbeat. He has a very melodic way of playing. Phil Lesh’s style is also unique. It’s not something I would try to duplicate. I play my own way, but part of the unique sound of the Dead came from Lesh’s playing,” Carroll said. Outside of the Grateful Dead, Schearer, who has been singing for his entire life, connects with bands like Alice in Chains or “anything Chris Cornell-related.”

Lovelight enjoys performing at intimate venues to allow the audience to become “part of the family,” but its favorite place to jam is in a festival setting. The group loves watching its fans dance and get into the songs, and Schearer explained that seeing people happy and moving around to the beat is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a musician. Guests often arrive dressed in colorful bear costumes, one of the most iconic and familiar symbols of the Grateful Dead.

“We don’t ask them (fans) to do any of this. They just do it because they want to. There’s a local doctor named Bill, and he comes to many of our shows wearing a tie-dye lab coat. The music of the Dead is an escape from everyday life, and that is why people are attracted to it,” Carroll said.

Another benefit of playing festivals is more band-bonding time. Lovelight spends its weekends camping out and setting up “Camp Lovelight,” which includes assembling tents, firing up the grill and playing acoustic instruments together.

Lovelight will keep on truckin’ and spreading its love for the Grateful Dead to venues near and far. For more information about the band, or to see a schedule of upcoming performances, visit

— Sandra Weyant


Set List Snippet:



“Casey Jones”

“Hell in a Bucket”

“Ramble on Rose”


“Sugar Magnolia”

“Uncle John’s Band”

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