When Blake Dean heard The Band for the first time, he had yet to realize the influence the group would have on him in later years.
He was in his grandma’s log cabin in Alabama when he first heard his uncle play “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” As a hopeful musician, he attempted to show off his own talents by playing along with the song.
“[The song] had all these weird stops and all these things,” Dean told The Journal in an interview.
“I’m trying to play along and show them what a good guitar player and I was getting totally lost, meanwhile the entire room was all singing along to a song I’d never heard.”
Dean, who plays bass, started covering The Band with his own bandmates.
Himself, guitarist Daniel Cervantes, and pianist Jody Bagley comprise the San Diego rock group known as Mrs. Henry. Though they perform and record their own music, the group—who’s namesake is a nod to the Bob Dylan song “Please Mrs. Henry”—has been covering The Band since getting together in 2015.
The ensemble got its start playing longer sets entirely devoted to The Band, beginning with a Last Waltz concert at a Solana Beach venue called The Belly Up Tavern in 2017. Over the course of several hundred hours, the group coordinated with several other musicians to recreate the final concert originally put on by The Band in 1976 prior to their disbandment.
Despite covering The Band previously, the group did not view the first performance of The Last Waltz as an easy task. Preparations for the show entailed learning and memorizing upwards of forty songs prior to going on stage.
“Since it was such an important concert, we knew that if we were going to do it, we had to really focus on it and put a lot of attention to it. We weren’t kind of half ass-ing this show; we were going to have to really shift our focus to learning this music,” Bagley said.
Since their initial performance, Mrs. Henry, now known as Chest Fever, have taken to the stage to do more runs of the Last Waltz in both 2021 and 2022.
They were approached by a group that works with surviving members of The Band who saw the documentary Cervantes produced about Mrs. Henry’s first performance of the Last Waltz. Stakeholders working with The Band and original guitarist Robbie Robertson wanted to collaborate with the group to continue spreading the legacy of their music.
“It turned out to be the start of a really cool and unique relationship, working with them to help kind of carry on this music,” Bagley said.
“So, it was at that point where we then kind of talked as a group about maybe creating a new band out of our original band—Mrs. Henry—and kind of putting it under the moniker Chest Fever, which is one of our favourite [and] most badass Band songs.”
Under the new name, the group toured across California in 2021, putting on a second performance of the Last Waltz, performing alongside Eagles collaborator Jack Tempchin and violinist Scarlett Rivera who played on Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder tour.
2022 brought the group its first international tour in the United States and Canada to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Band’s 1972 album Rock of Ages.
Despite being officially approved by stakeholders working with surviving members of The Band, Chest Fever is not a tribute band, but rather is a group of friends who love playing The Band’s music and are putting their own spin on the songs while embodying the feel of the original recordings.
To maintain an authentic portrayal of The Band themselves, Chest Fever is careful to adopt certain practices and mannerisms on stage. No band members are to refer to sheet music; all music must be memorized prior to a performance.
“If we’re going to play another artist’s music, we want the audience to believe it,” Cervantes said.
Each member also looks to the original members of The Band when looking for inspiration on how to put their own twist on songs.
“If I’m not playing a particular line that was exactly like Richard Manual played, I’m going to try to play something that I feel would be in the style of Richard Manual by trying to get in their minds a little bit,” Bagley explained.
The group is set to play The Mansion on March 10 as a stop of their Freeze in the North tour.
Set to celebrate The Band’s debut album Music from Big Pink, the group will play two sets featuring the entirety of Music from Big Pink, several songs played on live sets by The Band during this era, and a number of other favourite songs and deep cuts.
“We love to play, and we’re used to playing multiple sets a night,” Bagley said.
“We’ll take it. We’ll take it up real high. We’ll, we’ll bring it down real low. And everything in between.”
alternative, band, indie, Music
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