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Somewhere Under Heaven: Tom Petty’s music celebrated

Tahoe Onstage

Petty Theft return to the Crystal Bay Casino on Saturday, Thursday, Dec. 27.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Larry Sabo

Think it’s easy to play in a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers tribute band? You don’t know how it feels.

Imagine trying to make a set list that will include each song that everyone wants to hear. There are too many hits and the catalogue is too vast to contain to a single concert.

“It’s an endless treasure trove of songs,” said Petty Theft singer-guitarist Monroe Grisman. “It’s hard for us to squeeze in some of the non-hit gems, but we always make it a point to rotate some of the deep tracks in and out of the show. It keeps it fresh for us and the audience.

“Whenever you throw in a rare song, it’s what song are you going to cut? There are just some songs you can’t cut: ‘American Girl,’ ‘Free Falling,’ ‘Won’t Back Down,’ ‘Runnin’ Down a Dream.’ I could go on and on.”

Petty Theft, which performed at Crystal Bay last August, returns to the Crown Room on Thursday, Dec. 27. The show starts at 9 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance or $20 on the day of the show.

“The last show was our best yet, great turnout and a fantastic crowd, which made it a fantastic show for us,” Grisman said. “But, I say that every time because each show we do up there gets better and better. Last year we did a show during Christmas week and it was awesome so we are expecting it will be a whole lot of fun this time around again this year.”

When the band was formed in 2003 with bassist Django Bayless and guitarist/lead singer Dan Durkin, it featured original songs and well-known covers. Because the Tom Petty songs were so well received, they decided to go exclusively with tunes by the heartland rock band from Gainesville, Florida, that broke out in the late 1970 with songs such as “Breakdown” and “Refugee.”

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were heroes to music fans during a time when rock ‘n’ roll on the radio was free fallin’ into a paradigm of new-wave synthesizers and big-hair metal. There were more than 80 million records sold, a tenure with a supergroup, The Traveling Wilburys, and a reunion with his first band, Mudcrutch, during a recording and performing career that lasted until his death last October. Tom Petty was just 66 years old.

Forty percent of the music Petty Theft plays replicates studio material, another 40 percent live shows and 20 percent is the musicians being themselves, Grisman said. There are no extended solos, but sometimes they will jam a while.

“I can’t think of a musical catalogue that’s deeper than Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers except for The Beatles,” Grisman said. “Not just the number of hits, which are extensive, but the whole breadth of the catalogue of great, great songs.”

Monroe Grisman, 51, was named after bluegrass patriarch Bill Monroe by his father David Grisman, the legendary picker whose bluegrass style is called Dawg music. Young Monroe grew up in a North Bay household where people such as Jerry Garcia and Tony Rice would jam.

“My ear developed very early on because I was around such great music around the house or going to shows,” Grisman said. “I’m the rebel in the family because I’m the rock and roller.

“I had no plans of being in a tribute band, let alone for 12 years, and we do about 50 a year and so here I am about 600 or 700 shows down the line. But it doesn’t get old to me because it’s so vast and there’s so much in there.

“The simplicity of the music is one thing. If you break it down chord-structure wise it is pretty easy to play, but the devil is in the details in the dynamics of the song. Every time I hear a Tom Petty song on the radio, I hear something new and different and I think it’s because I’ve been inside the music so long that I’m able to hear it like that. There’s a lot in there.”

In addition to Grisman, Bayless and Durkin, Petty Theft includes drummer Adam “Bagel” Berkowitz, guitarist Michael Papenburg. Keyboardist Steven Seydler is the newest member. However, Mike Emerson, who played keyboards on Aug. 18 with the band for the show in Crystal Bay, will be back in Tahoe for the Dec. 27 show. “We actually will have Mike Emerson again with us on keys by total coincidence,” Grisman said.  Emerson also plays key with the Tommy Castro Band.

The lineup has remained consistent and the band popular, more so now than ever.

“I think people have heard about us for a while, but with Tom’s passing people have wanted to find a place to celebrate the music,” Grisman said. “When people come to our shows, they find like-minded people in a place where they can sing and dance and have a good time.

“It’s also very emotionally charged. We had a show the Saturday of the week that he passed. It was far and away the hardest show I’ve done. It was very emotional. A  lot of people there were crying. It was an emotional roller coaster for the first few shows and it still is. Sometimes it just hits you and you get little teary eyed. It’s a big loss.

“I always thought Tom Petty would outlast us. It was a big, big surprise and a very sad thing. We just continue on to honor his memory and legacy the best way that we can.”

Learn more about Petty Theft at www.pettytheftrocks.com

–Tim Parsons

Different Dawg: Monroe Grisman is the rock ‘n’ roller in the family.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Larry Sabo

Tahoe Onstage

About Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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