I’ve chatted with Tim Sullivan quite a few times over the years from his solo singer-songwriter days in the early 2000s to his current gig as a member of The Shakes. In fact, it was in January of last year when I touched base with the musician once again after I learned about The Shakes. So when his name came up as the contact person for The Maine Dead Project, which will perform Saturday, Nov. 12, at Johnson Hall, I just had to have a conversation with him one more time.

Q: Are you still working with The Shakes?

Sullivan: Yeah, we’re still playing with The Shakes, yes.

Q: Now tell me about The Maine Dead Project, if you would be so kind.

Sullivan: Well, the Maine Dead Project formed the summer of 2015 and essentially we started with a residency gig in Portland, enjoyed doing it and then just sort of kept expanding on the catalog. Now we’re playing upwards of 150 Grateful Dead songs. We’re enjoying the music a lot, enjoying playing it, and with no preconception, we’re seeing where it goes and we’re having a good time doing it.

Q: Did I read someplace that you recreated an Augusta concert the Dead did sometime in the mid-’80s?

Sullivan: Okay, yes. So on Nov. 12 at Johnson Hall in Gardiner we’re going to do one of the two shows they did at the Augusta Civic Center in October of 1984. And where we’re actually playing the show in Gardiner right down the road, we thought it would be fun to cover one of those two shows. We haven’t really announced which one of the two we’re doing, but we kind of figured maybe some of the same people that were at that concert in ’84 might come out to the Johnson Hall show on the 12th.

Q: Are you old enough to have gone to the Augusta Civic Center shows yourself?

Sullivan: No, I would have been 9, so I guess technically I could have gone.

Q: How do you know about the songs the Dead performed those nights? Do you have access to a set list?

Sullivan: Well, most of that show is actually on YouTube through old, hand-held camera footage. But most of those shows you can listen to on www.archive.org. When we go to do a show, we’ll pull the show up and sort of get into that particular performance and kind of what they were going for. Obviously, we’re not going to play it note for note, but we’re going to try to tap into whatever they were sort of doing during that particular time period.

Q: That’s wild, just wild! So how many people are in the band?

Sullivan: There are six people. There are two drummers, which is the same as The Grateful Dead, and they are Christopher Sweet and Ryan Benoit. They’re good buddies from way back. The bass guitar player is Josh Robbins, keyboards is Justin Maxwell.

Q: How come that name strikes a familiar note?

Sullivan: Oh, he’s been playing around Hallowell with us forever. And then, for the Nov. 12 show, we will feature Joe Farrell. He’s from the band Percy Hill.

Q: And, of course, there is you.

Sullivan: Yes.

Q: On guitar, as well?

Sullivan: Yup.

Q: Now, who is vocalizing in the group?

Sullivan: I sing, Josh, Joe and Justin, all four of us sing. We take turns on lead vocals and we all sing harmony as well. Everybody except the two drummers sing.

Q: Now, with 150 Dead songs in your repertoire, will you have to learn anything new to recreate the ’84 Augusta show?

Sullivan: Yeah, I believe we’ll be debuting about three songs we have yet to play on this show.

Q: You’re in Bar Harbor for a show tonight (Oct. 21) with the band, correct?

Sullivan: Yeah, we’re doing two nights at Carmen Veranda here this weekend.

Q: Will you be doing those three songs to work them up and into your catalog?

Sullivan: I don’t think those are on the set list for this weekend. I think those are going to be first-time played at Johnson Hall.

Q: I don’t want to assume, but I’m pretty sure no albums will be coming out of this particular musical project, correct?

Sullivan: No, you’re right, but four of the members that are in this group are in The Shakes. I actually have four of these guys working on my next album with me that’s going to be coming out this winter at some point. So we do play original music together, a lot of us, but this is sort of a side, knock-off kind of project.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to pass on to the folks reading this about the upcoming show in Gardiner?

Sullivan: We’re just really excited to play Johnson Hall. They’ve done a lot of updates to the venue, (and) this will be our first show there. This is my hometown personally and a lot of us live close by, so it’ll be good to see some familiar faces. I would also like to add that we really appreciate all the support from everybody that’s come out to see us at our residency this summer at Portland House of Music.

Lucky Clark has spent 47 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.


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