Painted Mandolin live at the Hog Farm Hideaway | 6/10/23

Article Contributed by Louie Ferrera | Published on Wednesday, June 21, 2023

The area in front of the Forest Stage on this sun-splashed Saturday afternoon at The Hog Farm Hideaway is alive with a swirling mass of tie-dyed dust dancing dervishes as Painted Mandolin takes the stage. The band, which gets its name from a lyric in a Jerry Garcia Band song (Reuben And Cherise), is fronted by multi-instrumentalist and former Garcia/Grisman sideman Joe Craven.

Nowadays there seems to be a Grateful Dead tribute band on every corner. What sets Painted Mandolin apart is their truly original take on many of the Dead’s classics. The fact that they can find new ways to interpret songs that frankly have been played to death is reason enough to catch one of their shows.

Larry Graff | photo by Alan Sheckter

Unlike most Dead tribute bands, Painted Mandolin also features original compositions. Rhythm guitarist and singer Larry Graff busted out three of his songs mid-set, all of which were well-received by the crowd. Especially notable was Sweet Rain, the eponymously titled tune from their new album which is set for nationwide release on August 1. This song is a lilting bit of cowboy psychedelia that would not be out of place on an early Peter Rowan record.

Joe Craven & Matt Hartle | photo by Alan Sheckter

Today the band kicked off their set with a rousing rendition of the Lennon/McCartney gem Dear Prudence. This tune was a staple in the Garcia Band canon. While Jerry’s version is slow and soulful, Painted Mandolin went full bluegrass on us. Guitarist Matt Hartle picked a mean banjo, the interplay between him, Joe, Larry, and bassist Dan Robbins was stellar. The dancers responded in kind by kicking up a Dust Bowl-worthy cloud that nearly obscured the stage.

Dan Robbins | photo by Alan Sheckter

A few songs later the band preceded to whip the crowd into a frenzy with what I’m calling the “dream medley” the dream being I’ve always dreamed that The Dead would string these songs together: Cryptical Envelopment > Cosmic Charlie > The Other One > Cosmic Charlie. Remember those ubiquitous “Cosmic Charlie Campaign” stickers from Dead shows in the 80’s? Well, I sure hope the dude who made those was in the crowd today! Painted Mandolin played with fire and intensity rarely seen in Dead tribute bands. During this song cycle the band members improvised with ease, their playing was furious and inventive,

Joe Craven | photo by Alan Sheckter

I could literally see the horse hairs on Joe Craven’s violin bow shred. Hartle’s deft acoustic guitar solos were played with blinding speed and soul, his fingers a blur as they moved around the fretboard, his eyes closed in concentration. This guy was clearly feeling it. And as if that wasn’t enough, the set ended with the wrap-around delight of Don’t Let Go > The Eleven > Don’t Let Go. The gooey goodness in the middle of that sandwich is a rhythmically complex piece that The Dead stopped playing around 1970. Painted Mandolin pulled it off without a hitch, their jamming almost telepathic.

As the dust began to settle, we all headed back to our camps happy, sweaty, and sated. I think the dust is settling still.