If you grew up in this area in the 1980s and 1990s, you’ll have heard of Max Creek. Perhaps you even saw them at the Capitol in Port Chester, the old Globe in Norwalk or the Rocking Horse in Hartford, among countless other clubs and outdoor festivals they’ve played. Max Creek was a fixture at the Gathering of the Vibes (last held at Seaside Park in Bridgeport in 2015), instrumental to the festival’s growth and success.
Founded in 1971 by a trio of students at the Hartt School at the University of Hartford, a performing arts conservatory, the band initially played traditional folk music and bluegrass. Influenced by Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead, Max Creek finally found its footing in the mid ‘70s and hit its stride through the last decades of the 20th century, playing up to 200 shows a year at times with various members coming and going.
Only John Rider, the original bassist remains of the founding three. As a teenager, guitarist Scott Murawski joined full-time in 1973; keyboardist Mark Mercier became a band member that same year. At 48 years, the band has been around longer than either drummer Bill Carbone or Jamemurrell Stanley have been alive. The touring has slowed to mostly weekend gigs and all members have day jobs, but the music has never ended. The band even released a new album in February of this year—the first one in 19 years—and is looking to release a recording of a recent live acoustic set next year.
“It’s better to have longevity than one explosive moment of success,” Carbone said. “There are a lot of carcasses of bands on the roadside, but we’re still doing it.”
How they do it, is by creating a musical voyage. For decades, the Grateful Dead carried their audiences away on a musical journey of discovery, drifting from one song to the next with at times long improvisations in between. That’s the hallmark of the “jam band.” Several have carried on the tradition to lesser or greater extents—Phish, Blues Traveler, the Spin Doctors. Count Max Creek among them. Max Creek has been on the bill with several of these and has even played shows with surviving members of the Grateful Dead. But that doesn’t make them a Dead tribute band as they have been mistakenly labeled, particularly in their early years.
“It got exasperating for us that we were being billed as a cover band when we were doing all original music,” admitted Murawski.
“It’s better to have longevity than one explosive moment of success."
“Playing with Creek is not like slipping into one of those tribute bands,” added Carbone. “I hear more of an influence from Little Feat and the Band than the Dead. There’s this psychedelic free improvisation that happens that to someone who doesn’t know says, ‘They played five minutes without singing, must be the Dead.’
“I’ve done my fair share of subbing in Dead tribute bands, but none of them really get the true experience of pushing off from shore and letting go of the lifeboat; they’re working in another band’s framework.”
“The whole thing about jamming,” continued Murawski, “is being willing to fail. You can’t guarantee success when you’re willing to go to those places; something amazing or horrible is going to happen.”
While others may want to play it safe, Max Creek doesn’t use a set list, rather playing with the energy of the moment and interacting with the audience. Murawski compares it to conjuring out of thin air.
“You can’t know that a certain song will feel right at 10:30 on a Saturday night,” explained Murawski. “For me it’s best when my hands are reacting to all my senses at the same time so there’s no thought involved when we make music.”
"You can’t guarantee success when you’re willing to go to those places; something amazing or horrible is going to happen.”
“And no matter how far the jam gets, we always get back to the song,” stressed Carbone.
It’s the improvisation that Carbone credits for Max Creek’s longevity.
“It’s the glue that has held it all together,” said Carbone. “We play the same songs but they’re completely different every night.”
“It’s like anything else you do for a long time,” added Murawski, “you have periods where you love it and where you hate it, the cool thing about it is that it’s bigger than all of us put together. It would be very hard for me to break it. I’m super-appreciative to be a part of Max Creek and to have been a part pretty much all my life.”
You can catch Max Creek at Garcia’s at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester on Friday, Oct. 25 and experience the legendary jam band to see where the music takes you in this intimate space.
“I’ve played at the Capitol Theatre a number of times,” said Murawski. “The Capitol is like a temple for music. There are so many musicians that have come and gone and played in that building that you can feel the history dripping off the walls.”
No doubt that history will only add to the vibe and the journey. Visit The Capitol Theatre for ticket information.