Splintered Sunlight-Musikfest Cafe – Bethlehem, PA

Splintered Sunlight

Musikfest Cafe – Bethlehem, PA – 12/30/2023

Review & Photos – Rebecca Wolf

It’s been almost 60 years since the formation of the Grateful Dead, a musical group that created a style now described by the term “jam band.” The Grateful Dead’s sound includes elements of rock, folk, jazz, blues, bluegrass, and reggae, intertwined with a unique psychedelic feel. While live performances by “typical” bands generally include predetermined set lists and songs with distinct beginnings and ends, Grateful Dead shows are all about improvisation, numbers that flow from one to the next, often instrumentally extending well-beyond a studio track. Not only is this what Grateful Dead performances are known for, this is what their devoted fan base, “Deadheads,” thrive on. They flow with the music and get lost in the mood and the sound with little care about the start or the finish…they rather get waylaid in the middle. 

While it’s now almost 30 years since the passing of the Grateful Dead’s beloved leader, Jerry Garcia, the adoration for the band and their music has never abated. Rather, as new generations are introduced to their music and culture their fanbase has expanded. What has also grown over the decades is the number of Grateful Dead tribute bands. Deadheads don’t want to merely sit home listening to music on their stereos. Hearing the music live is the best way to become absorbed in the mood and to and share it with others. This love and longing for the Grateful Dead’s music is so broad that there are now tribute bands in virtually every state across the US. There are even websites devoted to providing information on these tribute bands. There are tribute bands with larger, more regional followings and others with smaller, more local fanbases. What they all have in common is a love of the Grateful Dead. 

One of the highly-regarded tribute bands in the Philadelphia area is Splintered Sunlight. The fact that they’ve amassed a considerable following over the past 25 years was evidenced by their sold out performance at Musikfest Cafe in Bethlehem, PA on December 30th, the day after a packed performance at Ardmore Music Hall, a mere 50 miles away. And, the band will be returning to Musikfest Cafe on January 26th and to Ardmore Music Hall on February 2nd.  Lead guitarist and singer, Butchy Sochorow, performs as the band’s leader, having affectionately been dubbed “Asian Jerry” by longtime fans of the band. Bob Weir’s “part” is held by Mike Kennedy on rhythm guitar and vocals. The lineup including Stephen Spatz on bass, Micheal Borowski on keyboards and Scott Toop on drums. 

The audience members filling the cafe’s floor space, surrounding tables and balcony were in enthusiastic spirits. While looking around it was obviously an eclectic crowd, what everyone had in common was Deadhead enthusiasm. There were fans in pairs and groups, singing and dancing together while other fans remained solo, singing and dancing in a world of their own. A woman to my left twirled enthusiastically, as her partner stood swaying alongside.  An older gentleman to my right danced alone, his eyes closed as he passionately sang along to a beloved Grateful Dead tune. A father and young son (maybe 9 years old) stood in front of me.  The boy waited with anticipation for the start of each song, a smile spreading across his face as he recognized each one, drummed his fingers on the stage, strummed the air and sang along. 

After opening the evening with “Playing in the Band,” followed by “Uncle John’s Band,” additional songs during the almost 3-hour, 24-song set included “Help on the Way,” “Slipknot,” “Franklin’s Tower,” “Ramble On Rose,” “Scarlet Begonias,” and “Fire on the Mountain,” before ending with “One More Saturday Night.” Splintered Sunlight’s band members were equally as passionate about performing as their fans were about hearing the music. While they didn’t frequently move about the stage or spend much time engaging with the crowd, they exuded obvious joy in performing and carrying on the legacy of such an iconic band. With the vocals of Sochorow and Kennedy, the skills of these musical artists, and the psychedelic spirit the band brings to the stage, there’s no question why Splintered Sunlight is a highly regarded Grateful Dead tribute band and continues to sell out shows after 25 years.  

How fortunate that incredible tribute bands, like Splintered Sunlight, continue to keep the music of the Grateful Dead alive, 30 years after the passing of Jerry Garcia, so it will continue to be adored by fans “old” and new.