The band everyone knows as Jefferson Starship sprouted in the early 1970s from the roots of legendary Rock band Jefferson Airplane. Led by Rhythm Guitarist Paul Kantner, Vocalist Grace Slick, and Vocalist/Guitarist David Freiberg, Jefferson Starship was a new beginning for the talented musicians. Hailing out of San Francisco in 1965, Jefferson Airplane were one of the first bands from that area to get a major record deal, paving the way for many other artists from that area, such as the Grateful Dead. With Jefferson Starship, the history is also long, deep, and rich with highlights along the way. Classified as Psychedelic Rock or Soft Rock, the keyword has always been Rock. Releasing ten records over the course of three plus decades, their 1975 effort, Red Octopus, stands to be their best selling album ever, and is considered an important piece of Classic Rock history all these years later. With a variety of lineup changes through the years, Jefferson Starship continues to regularly tour and perform their vast array of hit songs, along with Jefferson Airplane’s hits, to dedicated fans around the world.
No stranger to the Long Island, New York region, Jefferson Starship returned to the area on the evening of Saturday March 19th to perform at historic Suffolk Theater in Riverhead. A celebration of sorts, this sold out show marked the end of the ninth annual Long Island Winterfest; a five-week mid-Winter music festival that takes place in many different venues throughout Suffolk County. It was also a celebration of Paul Kantner’s life, as the show was done in memoriam for the band founder who sadly passed away at the age of seventy-four back in January. His passing has left the band devastated, but in his honor, Jefferson Starship carry with leadership by co-founder David Freiberg.
Starting the evening off, there were several announcements, including short speeches from sponsors of the event, East End Arts and Suffolk County National Bank. Then it was time for the show to begin and Jefferson Starship came out on stage to cheers from an excited audience. The lineup of Freiberg (vocals/guitar), Cathy Richardson (vocals/12 string guitar), Jude Gold (guitar), Mark “Slick” Aguilar (guitar), Chris Smith (keyboards), and Donny Baldwin (drums) kicked right into the first song as they played “3/5th Of A Mile In 10 Seconds” from Jefferson Airplane’s 1967 album, Surrealistic Pillow. Bringing their fans on a journey of their hits, they next played “Find Your Way Back,” from 1981’s Modern Times and then two songs off of Red Octopus, “There Will Be Love” and “Miracles.” Excited by the songs offered, many fans could be heard singing along as the band played them perfectly note for note. Taking the audience back with “Today,” before going into 1968’s Crown Of Creation, Freiberg mentioned that they would do the song in honor of the late Kantner. An emotional moment, the band and crowd reflected on fond memories of Kantner before the music played on with another great track, “Stranger.”
Moving along in the show, Freiberg took several minutes to talk about his history with Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, and even his history with the Quicksilver Messenger Service. Fans cheered and clapped as he recalled his special moments with the audience and the band treated them to a song from Quicksilver off of their 1970 Just For Love album with “Fresh Air.” Shouting out the lyrics, “Take another hit” each time it came around, Freiberg smiled as the crowd participated. Before the next song, Richardson announced, “The next song is a sing along song! Please join in with us.” The band kicked in with “Count On Me” from 1978’s Earth album. As soon as the chorus kicked in, Richardson raised her hand and pointed out to the audience who all sang at the tops of their lungs, “Count on me, count on my love.” Towards the end of the track, Richardson let the fans sing the lines of the song by themselves; it was an exhilarating moment. At the end of the song, Richardson thanked the audience and also said, “Nice singing. Nice job!”
Then the band departed from the stage, leaving only Freiberg and Gold. There was an exchange between them that could not be heard and then Freiberg departed as well. As the audience wondered where the show was going, Gold then played the beautiful guitar driven song “Embryonic Journey” from Surrealistic Pillow. During his smooth rendition of the song, the fans would periodically cheer out, giving Gold recognition for his undeniable talent. Once the song was over, the band returned on stage without Richardson and began to play the classic hit “White Rabbit,” also from Surrealistic Pillow. Soon enough, Richardson sneakily came on stage, shrouded by a Fender guitar amp cover and slinked over to her microphone. At that point, she removed the amp cover and ripped into the vocals. Some fans got up from their seats and swayed along while others sang to every word. At the end of the song, Richardson asked, “What did she say?” and the audience shouted the closing lyrics, “Feed your head!”
After Richardson’s spot-on performance of the last song, it was now time for Freiberg’s vocals to shine. Richardson grabbed a cowbell and drumstick and started hitting away, fans knew just what was coming next. The band played the hit off of 1979’s Freedom At Point Zero, “Jane.” Freiberg held nothing back and gave his fans his all, hitting every note, no matter how high it was. Gold was jumping off the floor of the stage as he jammed out to the guitar lead. Coming to the end of the song, the band stopped playing altogether and let Freiberg’s vocal carry the song to its end, then the band kicked back in and ended the song with a grand finale. Graciously, Richardson said, “Thank you, what a beautiful theater, thanks for having us!” before introducing each band member.
Closing out the night, they played another hit off of Surrealistic Pillow, “Somebody To Love.” More fans rose from their seats and those still seated bobbed and swayed to the song. Once the song was over, Richardson again expressed thanks and all the band members joined her at the front of the stage in a single line, joined hands, and took several bows. The whole audience was on their feet screaming and cheering, and after the band left the stage, chants were heard of, “Encore, encore!” After several minutes, the band returned to the stage, displayed on the screen behind them was a memoriam to Paul Kantner, and thereafter they played two Jefferson Airplane songs for their encore. The first song was an all-time favorite off of 1966’s Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, “Let’s Get Together.” Lots of fans were up on their feet dancing and singing, but one fan got the attention of Aguilar and he asked that she be brought up on stage with them. The audience went wild and, from their seats, they joined this elder lady in the dance. The lady left the stage after the song was over, but not before kissing Aguilar on the cheek. Closing out the night, the band played one last classic hit, it was the title track from 1969’s Volunteers. Everyone was now up on their feet, dancing and singing along, at times the audience’s singing drowned out the band. At the end, Richardson gave several more thanks as the other members waved and blew kisses to the fans before making their final exit.
Simply put, Jefferson Starship rocked the Suffolk Theater and gave their fans a great show. They performed every song perfectly, note for note, and went far beyond giving their all. While they do not have a scheduled tour lined up for 2016, they do have some sporadic dates in the future. Definitely keep a watch to see if they are coming to your area and catch them live if you can, they surely know how to please their fans.