Railroad Earth’s, “Captain Nowhere,” falls like a beautiful tear on the tumultuous face of humanity. Exposing a wonderful maturity throughout, Todd, Tim, John, Andy, and Andrew each freely offer one another all the space they need to create a multidimensional experience, while at the same time bringing about a singular effect. I marveled over, and deeply appreciated, the openness in which this small sample of songs (6) was delivered. Not afraid to look directly at what ails us, Railroad Earth sees right past the pettiness of issue in adding their voice, and touch that place within each of us that recognizes the deeper causes of today’s symptoms. I couldn’t help but feel the music rising out of the depths of time—time with one another, time on the road, time with the fans, (they molding us, we molding them) each of us growing together over the years as we reach for the gold ring down inside. This album couldn’t be a better expression of what’s at the band’s core in a beautifully simplistic manner. I found myself welling over as some part of me kept opening up throughout the ride, from somewhere deep, profound. Was it the music? Was it what they had to say? Or was it that Captain Nowhere reveals all?
Opening with, “Blazin’ A Trail”, Tim and Andy immediately take us down the locomotive tracks with violin and banjo wheels a-spinnin', putting us on the run, busting us out. From what? A jail of our own defining? Physicality itself? We have to wonder as, “Only By the Light,” puts an immediate stop to our sense of fleeing and sets us down by a serene pond, where we look to a sky of both meaning and being. Contained by Tim’s violin, with gentle, melodic undertones occasionally rising to the surface in guitar and mandolin, Andrew bares all as we feel his cry for a better world, a better place . . . and we cry out with him.
Without a misstep, Todd adds to the dialogue in, “Addin’ My Voice,” and what a voice he has become. Touching on sounds that made me think, “Black Bear,” Todd sings about a very different beast, offering an almost ironic delivery considering the peace the music offers and the disgust referenced. Yes! We’re all tired of this ridiculousness. Can we please move on? Lead the way, guys! We’re with you.
Allowing us time to ponder, we are next taken through the instrumental arrangement, “Berkeley Flash.” This song could not have been more appropriately named, or delivered. Taking us for a pleasant stroll through the forest of sound, we are happy to point out each note and part as the musical landscape unfolds before us. I felt as if I was listening to six different songs being played at once, each with their own concert hall, their own expression . . . then suddenly, we’re slapped together, and we’re all in the same raft as we float the river. Breaking things up mid-song, Tim grabs us, rolls us over a few times, and releases us unto an unfolding of string, piano and percussion, which immediately expands into the wonderful everywhere of note and chord. Tim then reappears to neatly wrap things up, almost as if he were saying, “Did that really happen?” I don’t know Tim, you tell me . . . preferably live at the next show.
We couldn’t be better prepared for, “Raven’s Child,” than we are when struck by an oriental opening in which to deliver not a legend as one might think, but rather, our truth. In the midst of a fabulously haunting musical score, Todd’s voice offers great comfort as he points the way. Simply put, we are the eyes of the world, we only need to become what we are . . . then we’ll see the world with the eyes of itself. This is awakening!
Hey, “Captain Nowhere,” where ARE we going to? Mutiny on the train tracks? Yes! Slavery’s not over, just taken another form, another people. Yet truth cannot be contained, and it will shake the very heavens apart to remain free. The Captain’s countenance is formed with subtle ambiance and driving force. Do you feel the waves? The truth in their expression? Railroad Earth means this one. Ship of fools, anyone?
While I understand the limitations of a studio album for a live band, Railroad Earth appears to have easily stretched those boundaries by planting seeds that left this listener thinking, “Boy, I’d sure like to hear that live!”
If I were to have any critique of this album, it would be that it left me wanting more. However, while just six songs, I certainly did not feel like the message wasn’t delivered. Matter of fact, they could have just taken out the breaks, blended each song right into the next, and all would have been fine by me as one miraculous cry of an aching, yet striving soul. At just seven bucks minus a penny, this album offers infinitely more than the two-mocha value price tag. Not only a great addition to any music collection, but also a heart opening experience there for the sharing. Thank you, Railroad Earth, for an honest, genuine revealing of yourselves. Your subtlety and power of emotion were not lost on these ears. “Sometimes the songs we hear are the songs of our own.” Good job, guys!
Grab your glow sticks, blinky-light ice cubes, and favorite tie dye! Grateful Web is thrilled to present, the John Kadlecik Band at Boulder's very own, Fox Theatre, Monday, (Yes, Monday) February, 19th.
Thinking you've seen the John Kadlecik Band before is like saying you've heard Jerry play, "Dark Star," before. And if you haven't seen JKB, well then, you just don't know, do you? Ever dynamic, John has long since moved from prodigy to mentor. Master of the improvisational moment, one never knows what might arise when John takes the stage, and that alone is reason enough to set foot on the hill. Mixing and matching bands like notes on his guitar, John is joined by Further's Jay Lane on drums, the ever versatile, Benjie Porecki on keys, and frequent, Terrapin Flyer, Wavy Dave Burlingame on bass, (maybe a banjo, maybe not) setting the conditions for a unique, wonder-filled, mind-enriching musical experience.
Kicking off their month long winter tour, JKB will head to Boulder's intimate, Fox Theatre for their fourth show in Colorado before continuing on. All things considered, you might be wise to load up the Volkswagen and head out on tour. "Shall we go, you and I, while we can, through the transitive nightfall of diamonds?" Colorado awaits!
To purchase tickets to the show in Boulder, click here.
"You're in a different place. It's very sensual . . . It satisfies that thing of going to space. You can go into the water and pet eels and octopuses and things. I really love it; it's an amazing experience." Jerry Garcia
Before plunging into the layers of GarciaLive Volume 10 Hilo, Hawaii, 1990, (set for release February 23rd) I believe it sensible to first understand the conditions from which they arise—for to recognize the broad scope and deep appreciation from which Jerry delivers at this delightfully small, Hilo Civic Auditorium, is to hear Jerry at an enlightened moment in his life, allowing us to keenly empathize, for on this night he holds nothing back in the love he is feeling.
Offering warm emotional comfort with profound insight, Garcia (donning shorts and slippers with his trademark black T) makes evident his want to share his love of living, guiding us through a musical illumination of his joy, of his appreciation for life, for us, for all. John Kahn, Melvin Seals, and David Kemper are all-too-happy to share in the exuberance, illuminating their own brilliance in doing so, and offer Jerry the perfect forum in which to sing (be it voice or string) of love and death, and life’s lessons, as he jubilantly revels in the transitory nature of existence, inviting us all to join.
The song selection alone cries out, as the lyrics of each seem specifically chosen in which to express his appreciation and understanding. And while the majority of the songs are written by others, I’m sure they never imagined them being played quite like this, for Jerry makes each his own—a change that goes way beyond turning water into wine . . . this is turning water into Universe Juice!
Using what some might think ordinary tunes in which to wet our toes, Jerry takes us out through the shallows, wading through the crystal clear waters of the sound, where before we realize, we’re completely submerged, deep-sea diving in a musical ocean, swimming with strange and exotic vibrations, exploring translucent being . . . realizing the pearl that is Hilo. Somehow, “Forever Young,” epitomizes this for me, as I literally feel myself in the warm, salty waters with Jerry, the notes of his guitar rising likes bubbles off the ocean floor—his childlike joy, permeated by an undefined wisdom, has me melodiously realizing he never left that glorious, watery palace . . . nor the revelations therein.
“May you always know the truth, and see the lights surrounding you . . . May your heart always be joyful. May your song always be sung.”
Every song in Hilo seems to surprisingly manifest itself into this amazing spark of discovery. And while I admit I haven’t heard every JGB show, I can certainly say, I never heard any like this! Opening with a spirited, “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You,” speaks for itself. And I believe I can speak for everybody when I say—Jerry, how sweet it is to be loved by you, too. Feeling all googly as he is, we’re not surprised when we hear, “They Love Each Other,” next.
I have no desire to go into each song individually, as I would hate to limit the Hilo experience with a singular viewpoint, nor detract from the miraculous discoveries, pleasant surprises, and mind-boggling turn of events that await the first-time listener. However, I will say, when Jerry sings, “Turn around, and I'll be there, like a road, like a road leading home,” in that powerfully emotional voice of his, a few tears will be shed, for how many times has Jerry been there for us, in grand celebration, exploration, or in reaching out a musical hand, pulling us from a shattering of mind we wished we’d never encountered?
“It's my duty to bring you down to the field where the flowers bloom.”
The quality and fatness of sound on Volume 10 is a true pleasure, as all in the band are feeling, “the happy,” and magically fill the space without hindering one another. Melvin Seals is all over the place, changing sounds like the raven, as he moves throughout, dances with, and spins about, offering us the flavor of the islands with subtle abandon, as if he can’t help himself. I see the palm trees and the Mai Tai in my hand. I feel the waves behind me, and the warm breeze on my face. Sonic illusion at its finest! Banging away at the keys, Melvin offers, “All good things, in all good time.” His and Jerry’s musical dialog throughout, “The Way You Do The Things You Do,” is nothing less than remarkable. Thank the stars, Kemper and Kahn keep them contained, or the conversation would’ve been unattainable to us mere humans.
“If we walk together, little children, we don't ever have to worry, through this world of trouble. We gotta love one another.”
When it comes to, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” I’m just going to have to ‘fess up, for I have no description of what’s going on here . . . but damn! This is one of those special “somethings,” an extraordinary gift from the never-after. John Kahn shows himself to be a playful master of the down line, in ways that scream, “Inspiration move me brightly.” The rich texture and snappy tone of John’s bass warms the entire show with its fire. And my God! This version of “Deal” left me laughing and shaking my head in awe by the end. There’s no stopping this train, for we’ve long since been rolling by the time this request comes around. Is it reggae? Or is it not? Eureka! It’s both.
Far into the experience by the time, “Tears Of Rage,” materializes, we’ve become immersed in an overall essence, and can’t help but take a moment to reflect, to feel. How did we ever leave the ocean in the first place? And not an ocean defined by water, but rather the great wonder of all that brings water about.
“It was all very painless when you went out to receive all that false instruction, which we never could believe. And now the heart is filled with gold as if it was a purse, but oh, what kind of love is this, which goes from bad to worse?”
Snapping us from our contemplative dream is David Kemper’s consistent and lively step, and we are thrust into dancing upon the vibrating beaches of that wild thing, “Evangeline.” Gloria Jones and Jacklyn LaBranch, musical instruments in their own right, decorate this show like tropical birds, imbuing the music with the quiddities of the islands in reggae flare, delicate gospel roots, and a touch of bebop.
With instinctual mastery of music theory, GarciaLive, Volume 10 infuses all with wonder on this 75th anniversary year of Jerry’s birth. I can only speculate what he might think today of all he, the Grateful Dead, and the Jerry Garcia Band inspired, and still inspire, yet I will say, “We got the message. Thank you.” For if it wasn’t for all involved, over all the years, this Dead Head shudders at where he might be otherwise. And while I know that stardom wore on Jerry at times, Hilo, Hawaii is not one of those times. So, let’s all rejoice in life, focus on the miracles of existence, and offer our appreciation for the family we’ve been blessed to take part in, for we are truly a monument, and not just to the music and the times that forged our construction, but one that points the way, illuminates the light, as we are all well-reminded by the many grains of sand that form our island.
"Ride in the whale belly. Fade away in moonlight. Sink beneath the waters to the coral sand below."
Having arisen out of the Phish tank, Holly quickly became known for her beautiful, and extensive, piano transcriptions of their live improvisations. Now, through her album, “Better Left Unsung,” released last year, Holly offers orchestrated flare to the Grateful Dead’s spontaneous moments and classical undertones with such favorites as, Wharf Rat, That’s it for the Other One, Terrapin, Eyes, and Dark Star, among others. Moving beyond the limitations of her two hands, Holly separates her digits into the different members of her own band, awakening a holistic show in a single body. She is quite simply, something to marvel over, and a pleasure to behold.
Playing with the likes of Greensky Bluegrass and Phil Lesh, Holly has become a delightfully rare gem within the Dead inspired family. Her joy and love of music permeates her performance, offering a wonderfully ethereal feel, leaving one swept away by the vibrations of her intricate touch and sensitivity.
Every so often a unique musical opportunity arises that inspires and transcends, and in this case, does so in the form of Holly Bowling. “Like a song that’s born to soar the sky.” You won't want to miss this one!
Of the many stars that light the night’s of the Grateful Dead family, none have done so more than Candace Brightman. With loving creativity and artistic passion, Candace brought visual flare to our eyes as we drifted in and out of musical bliss. Now, in her later years, she has been struck with Macular Degeneration within those magnificent eyes of hers, and it’s our turn to help keep her light show going. Candace’s good friend and neighbor, Carly Wyman has gratefully established a YouCaring page, in which we can all share our loving support, both financially and personally, for Candace’s frightful plight.
And while Candace is receiving care from her local doctor, more is needed. Thankfully, there is a doctor working on the cutting edge of treating AMD in Dallas, Texas. “Dr. Jerry Tennant believes that a closer look at published studies and basic physiology/pathology allows one to offer additional insights in dealing with macular degeneration that many mainstream MD’s don’t consider,” states Carly.
Candace and her husband Larry will use the funds raised from YouCaring to pay for travel expenses and the cost of a week of treatment and consultation with Dr. Tennant. For one whom has brought so much beauty to our world, perhaps we can bring some beauty to hers. “Without love in the dream it’ll never come true.”
If wood and string is your thing, then pack up your dancin’ shoes, because a rip roarin’ hootenanny awaits all! Loaded with uplifting lyrics and tight picking, Rapidgrass promises to fill the night with a joyful presence and playful sound. Mark Morris’s smooth vocals and impish delivery, combined with Alex Johnstone’s frolicsome behavior and dynamic energy, ignite the stage as well as the party. Add Coleman Smith’s sharp and zesty fiddle, Carl “MinorKey” Meinecke’s fat sounding bass, and Billy Cardine’s slippery dobro sliding around the in-between, and your feet won’t know what they’re dancing to.
And for those who like a little spatial ride with their vibrating wood, then hang on, because the psychedelic jam grass sensation, Rumpke Mountain Boys, are ready for blastoff. Barreling through Colorado, midway into their extensive countrywide tour, has the band warmed up and ready to go,. A night with “the Boys” is like an evening at a cosmic amusement park, blinky-lights and all. With onslaught of note, and a complexity of interplay, Adam Copeland (guitar), Ben Gourley (mandolin), J.D. Westmoreland (standup bass), and Jason “Wolfie” Wolf (banjo, dobro, harmonica, and saw), twist and tweak the mind in hallucinatory sound. Nobody’s walking out of this show without having fun! So best get your tickets now.
Open to all ages, (15+ w/o parent) this circus has something for everybody! Prefer the young night? Or fun with your teen? Catch the early show, as Steepland String warms up the stage and primes the evening with a traditional bluegrass sound steeped in their own spice and marinade. “Calliope wails like a seaside zoo.” Doors open @ 8:30. Show starts @ 9:00. Purchase tickets here.
“Some things don’t change. People die. Others get born to take their place. Storms cover the land with trouble. And then, always, the sun breaks through again.” John Barlow
Robert Hunter recalls, “Enter, John Barlow, in Pecos Bill getup, silk kerchief, and Stetson hat, as befit a Wyoming ranch boss and author of the lyrics to ‘Mexicali Blues.’ Billy goats together, only he knew Weir well enough to butt horns with him, part friends, and do it again.”
John Perry Barlow, long time lyricist for the Grateful Dead, and later, The String Cheese Incident, passed away quietly in his sleep, February 7th, 2018. And while the ripples of his life will far surpass the sorrowful emotion of his passing, in the coming months, we are all destined to find ourselves acknowledging Barlow’s intricately intertwined existence within each of us. Maybe it was on some stretch of highway between Minnesota and Ohio, where you stopped, confused as to whether you had blown it all . . . or found it all. Or perhaps it was when the world became too big in its overwhelming awe, and suddenly, there was “Let It Grow” making life beautiful and okay again. Sometimes, out on the road, penniless and hungry, when “the compass card is spinning, and the helm is swinging to and fro,” all we had was the shelter of John Barlow’s words. “If the song is any good, it detaches from its apparent source and enters into the hearts and minds of those who hear it to make its own home there.”
Who could have imagined at the time where a chance meeting at a prep school would lead? Who can even fathom the infinite pieces that formed the Grateful Dead, and the subsequent community? Yet we all know, without Barlow, we would not be enjoying the blossom the Dead have become today. By taking up residence in the fabric of our being—his words have become a permanent blooming force within this flower we call, family. “Hell, we thought it had been a long, strange trip in 1969! We didn’t know from long or strange, as things turned out,” chuckles Barlow. “But we really did enjoy the ride.”
In offering metaphorical understanding for which to grasp our existence, John Perry Barlow revealed a wonderfully expansive mind, filled with paths into being, illuminating fluid ways of perceiving reality, bringing a richer, more joyous experience to this grand existence we call life. This is not merely the work of a lyricist, but also that of an artist, a visionary, a philosopher, a man; one whose legacy has become a living, thriving embodiment, within the often coined, “jam-band scene.” But we all know, collectively we’re more than any name could imply. (May as well count the angels dancing on a pin.) “Grateful Dead songs are alive,” says Barlow. “Like other living things, they grow and metamorphose over time . . . The words, avidly interpreted and reinterpreted by generations of Deadheads, become accretions of meaning and cultural flavor rather than static assertions of intent.”
Barlow’s vast view and comprehension of being was a true testament to his illustrious mind. Bringing us not just through word into the depth of music, but also through vision to the depths of existence—the majesty of which eclipses any perspective of petty concern. This is life! The most miraculous thing! It’s glorious, and fun! Let’s go run and play in the particles of its body, laugh with the face of the great swirl. “The Holy WhoKnows, would zap Its stunning meaningfulness at you through the Grateful Dead,” John recalls. “And it was as much a gift to us as it was to you. And what is being that like? It’s like being a faucet or a crack in the rocks from which the water emerges. The spring doesn’t make the water. At best, it knows how to get out of the way and open itself wide to the flow.”
Like so many who heeded John Barlow’s words, I stood inside the thunder, and listened. And now have to wonder, would I have ever found the “I am” in all things without him? Would I have known the glory of a universe comprised of conscious particles of infinite form, different only in time and space to itself? Would I have not had the most phenomenal experience of my life—to become all things being . . . to awaken as the “I am” of the cosmos’s awakening within itself? Who would I be otherwise? John’s ability to focus on the broad view, catapulted us past a world of insignificant understanding, whereby we could become one of his metaphorical characters of life, shattering any definitions we had of just being human. We are the woman bending down to gather her water, we are Cassidy, and we are the Saint of Circumstance. We are the children of the cosmos! Laughing, dizzy with eternity.
This depth of music, depth of understanding is merely one of the boundless gifts John Barlow left behind—a gift that resides in each of us, as it resides in all the universe. We will not soon forget his ability to coalesce word and sound into an elevator down, down into being, down into beauty, down into the innate joy of existing.
Quoting lyrics like philosophy students quote Socrates, we will continue to use John’s words to guide our lives, express understanding, and nurture the insight that is no more evident than it is today. His progeny fill the stages, fire-circles, and audiences across the country, illuminating a world within a world, where each of us helps one another, hand in hand, happy to utter the words, “This one’s for Barlow.” And we’ll pass his words down to our children, too, as they pick up their guitars, sit at their keys, beat on their drums, and stand upon the stage, singing, “We will not speak, but stand inside the rain, and listen to the thunder shout, ‘I am!’” As Barlow relinquishes, “I think now that no more Grateful Dead songs will be written. It appears that after forty years, we can say, truly and finally, that the words are yours. All the Grateful Dead songs that will ever be written are in your hands.”
John Barlow, friend, father, ethereal guide, how many ways have the winds of your influence moved me? In how many places have you swam in my essence? How many times did you reach out a hand when I was lost and confused? How often have your words been the light by which I see? I was, am, and always will be, Lost Sailor, a Saint of Circumstance. How could I ever thank you for that with mere words and tears? Oh, so deep it goes. Fare thee well, my friend.
“Flight of the seabirds, scattered like lost words, wheel to the storm and fly.”
Occasionally a flower rises up out of the garden of humanity that stands alone in its beauty and inspiration. In this case, it does so in the form of the Barton Hills Choir out of Austin, Texas. Headed by elementary school choir director, Gavin Tabone, BHC made their big splash onto the music scene through the Dead Covers Project. Submitting refreshing renditions of “Touch of Grey” and “Ripple,” the Dead family was instantly charmed by these talented young vocalists. “And it’s been snowballing from there,” states Gavin. “And I’ve got to say; the Grateful Dead community is just fantastic!”
Not limited to just Grateful Dead music, these songbirds fill the entire jungle of music history with their voices; exploring the likes of David Bowie and the Nutcracker, Peanuts and the Flaming Lips, the Muppets and the Beatles. Opening for Dark Star Orchestra, and playing with the likes of Roger Waters, David Gans, Belle and Sebastian, and almost Bob Weir himself (if it weren’t for logistical problems) proves these cats are the real deal. “They’ve had some really cool opportunities to play with some amazing musicians. They get to experience what it would be like to be part of a band—touring, going to different gigs, rehearsing, coming up with arrangements. They have this kind of ownership of it, which I think is pretty cool for them to see and experience.”
Collaborating on many songs with Austin’s totally rockin’ Dead cover band, Deadeye, the Barton Hills Choir took it to the studio, producing the album, Grateful Dead, Volume I, as well as smoking-hot YouTube videos, including “Scarlet Begonias” and “Cassidy.” “We did enough Grateful Dead songs to release a CD,” says Gavin. “And we’re working on enough to release another one (Volume II). We’re about six songs in, so we have three or four more to go, shooting for this summer. We’re actually doing our first out of town show. This summer we’re flying to Wyoming to perform in the Evanston Bluegrass Festival. David Gans will be performing with us, and we’re planning to release the CD then.” For the price of postage, it’s yours for the asking, and if you’d like to help in the promotion, Barton Hills suggests you send stamps so they can continue to mail out their album free of charge. How’s that for being Gratefully Deadicated!?
Providing a marvelous consistency of talent, despite (or perhaps enhanced by) the continual flow of new faces, these young singers not only project an excellent voice but also a surprising comfort with the microphone. “I start them very, very young,” explains Gavin. “They start doing solos in first grade, when they’re like six, so by the time they’re older they’ve had a lot of experience performing in front of people."
But it’s not all fun and games; these young artists work extremely hard. “There’s a lot of after school stuff, a lot of early mornings. I get into the cafeteria around seven in the morning and sit at the piano, and different fifth and six graders will come over and we’ll kind of work on stuff there. Then after school, choir rehearsals are once a week, where we’re either recording or working out tunes. I work them pretty hard; I can be pretty strict.”
While the quality of their videos is blazingly obvious, their happiness is what’s truly infectious. Whether taking their camera to the river where they play to a wonderfully fresh rendition of “Brokedown Palace,” or to the park, as they run about to their own voices singing “Eyes of the World,” or to the playground, dancing and climbing to a vocally crisp, tie-dye flourishing version of “They Love Each Other,” these kids bring joy into the lives of any who choose to watch and listen. “The Kids enjoy being part of the recording and arranging process,” Gavin informs me. “When I start with a song, I just love the process. I bring in a few kids, and we work on the melodies. Then I might bring a few more kids in, and we work on the harmonies and adding some counter melodies. Then we start thinking of where the solos are going to go, what the best key is, a lot of different things go into arranging these tunes. Then when we get to the finish line, it’s very satisfying to make that final video and get it out there."
Transforming classroom into studio, the Barton Hills Choir produce fantastic visual recordings of their talent and creativity. Offering a truly unique impression of “Fire on the Mountain,” with xylophone and kazoo, or Day-Glo renditions of David Bowie’s “Heroes,” and the Foo Fighters’, “Times Like These,” or whether it’s a delightful version of “Box of Rain,” these kids show they’re not just something for the future, but here in the now, filling this listener with nostalgia, inspiration, and true joy. Not stopping there, BHC also brings stop animation, artwork, and a screen full of lips, among the many other artful innovations to their film shorts, including their latest interest, live streaming, where the students operate the iPad controlled cameras.
Joined in-house by the likes of David Gans, playing a beautifully accompanied, “Uncle John’s Band,” or Nakia, who just tears it up with Bowie’s “Golden Years,” we can’t possibly imagine the mind-opening affects this has on the members of the choir, or the musicians who have the fortune of partaking in this dynamic program, but we all instinctually recognize that the Barton Hills Choir is most certainly something special. In a day when playing with Bobby or Phil offers the right-of-passage to so many artists, I can easily say, it won’t be long before being able to say you’ve played with Barton Hills is what makes you cool.
These savvy young artists don’t just sing the lines either; they ponder them. “We spend a lot of time talking about the lyrics. The kids love the stories of the songs. Now, a song like “Ripple,” we will talk about, and I try not to tell the kids this is how you should feel about this line. I’ll ask very open-ended questions so the kids can come up with their own meanings for the words, especially with a song like “Ripple,” where everyone has their own view of that song and what it means to them. We’ll take a certain line, and I’ll ask the kids, ‘What do you think about this line? What do you think Robert Hunter meant by this, or wanted you to think?’ We’ll have discussions about it.”
With such an endearing program in the works, it’s not surprising to find the graduates returning, sometimes for a song. “I keep in touch with a bunch of them, they come back, help with choir camp—they’re camp councilors—and so I thought it would be fun to bring the girls in and record them doing a tune. So all the girls on that, “Going Down/Rider,” are all alumni of the choir. They’re all juniors and seniors in high school now. When Gans was here, he loved playing that with us.”
“We’re working on some pretty crazy shows right now, there’s this new Elvis documentary coming out on HBO that’s premiering at the South by Southwest Music Festival, and the kids are singing at that, so I’m coming up with an Elvis medley. And there’s a Dolly Parton tribute show, so we’re working out Dolly Parton tunes. We do have a good variety, but the videos that get the most action are the Dead videos, but that’s not all we do, though Dead tunes have definitely gotten us the most exposure.” They’ll also be performing at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, where they have become quite the regulars.
In a time that can seem so dark, it’s not surprising to find that when we turn to our children—these bright young artists—we’re offered comfort and light in return. The world will be theirs, and I see no better stewards than what is produced by the fountain that is the Barton Hills Choir. Keep it up guys—you’re an inspiration to us all!
“I may not have the world to give to you, but maybe I have a tune or two.”
Spring is here and it’s time to rejoice! So pack up your party ‘tude, for Grateful Web is thrilled to present, a Festival of String at the one and only, Fox Theatre in Boulder, Colorado, Wednesday, April 18th. Join us for a mini mountain jamboree as the Kitchen Dwellers come down from Montana to meet Boulder’s own, Tenth Mountain Division and Kind Hearted Strangers for a profusion of vibrational happenings.
When it comes to the Dwellers, one must wonder if anyone ever told Torrin Daniels he’s playing a banjo, for his guitar style of picking darts about with Feisty Fingers Funk and his standup bass giving rise to a differently shaped, fun-filled interplay of string and dance. Add Torrin’s gravelly voice with the smooth playing and smart chops of Max Davies and Shawn Swain respectively, and you’ll find your mind drifting through the sound with wondrous abandon, celebrating moments of rapid excitement and harrowing falls. One never knows what the next bend might hold, but one thing’s for sure, this show will be one hell of a good time.
Coming fresh off WinterWonderGrass, the Kitchen Dwellers will be inspired and raring to go, and they know right where to kick off their five-show, 420 stand in Colorado, at one of their favorites, the Fox Theatre. Where else? So don’t miss out as the Dwellers drop their own special strain of galactic grass onto the scene and liven things up with rip-roarin’ solos feelin’ the mood, playful timing and rhythm change ups, and their own brand of original material that says, “We get it, let’s play!”
You can purchase your right to entry at www.foxtheatre.com. Doors open at 8:30, show starts at 9:00.
“There’s a dragon with matches loose on the town.”
Every once in a while, an extraordinary being comes along who recognizes the obvious where no one else does. Working with a Nobel Prize winning astrophysicist and a cutting-edge neuroscientist, Mickey Hart continues to be an undeniable force within the human mind. Just as Newton brought gravity to sight, Hart brings sound to light; and while his achievements are mind-blowing, they’re not nearly as magnificent as the vision that drives them.
Through books, cultural recordings, music, paintings, and deep explorations into the fabric of being, Mickey Hart has done a miraculous job of gathering information and projecting a lucid articulation, while becoming the living embodiment of what he seeks to express—an all-encompassing perception of life as the sublime instrument. Yet this is only the beginning, for as Mickey has shown with over 50 years of investigation, the ramifications of his insight ripple into forever, everywhere, illuminating uncharted space, a place wide open to exploration for each of us, a world whose glorious reality reaches beyond even our ability to imagine.
Grabbed by the wonder of sound and existence, Mickey Hart dove into the mysteries of music of his own accord. Following his love and fascination, he traveled all the way to and throughout the birth of a cosmos, finding it again inside each thing, both the drummer and the drum. So, it’s no wonder his work is being showcased by the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Appearing in concert with the museum’s, Our Senses: An Immersive Experience exhibition, Mickey will be performing two shows in the Hayden Planetarium, Friday, April 13th, and Saturday, April 14th. Presenting an original composition for this event, Musica Universalis, Mickey Hart will play this great instrument, Life, and take us through her song from Big Bang to Big Brain, where our entire cosmos becomes the creation of one thunderous strike of a drum from the underside.
Recently Grateful Web had the privilege of talking with Mickey about his upcoming show.
GW: Well, Mickey, I can’t say I ever saw this coming.
MH: I can’t say I ever saw it coming either, but in a way it’s logical. I’ve been working in deep space for a long time, taking the epic events in the universe and sonifying them. Taking the light, the radiation, and changing its form into sound. I’ve been doing that on my records for a few years and was kind of pointed in that direction anyway. I don’t know how this all came about to be honest with you. (pauses) I guess it was the museum. It was the museum that reached out to me, and I am overjoyed. When I was young, my grandma used to take me to the Hayden Planetarium—I’m from New York—and it was always so special, it was magic, and it kind of piqued my interest and my imagination. It took my imagination to a whole other place, and there I was, flying through space—It was just the wonder of it all, such a great mystery. If you’re not interested in a mystery like that, or anything, any mystery. . .
This was the one that caught my eye—beside the mystery of music—the idea of a vastness of space, and what was out there, how it happened, how did we get here, who are we, what are we . . . why are we. And that the story is all told in the cosmos—that’s what this is all about. It (Musica Universalis) is a journey from the Big Bang, which was 13.8 billion years ago, to us, to the macro, to our body, and all its functions, and also to the mind as well, to the brain. So, it was a round trip. Those vibrations birthed us, and that’s the science of it all. So, this is a real sonic, uh . . . how would you say? Sonically, it’s superb . . . even if you didn’t have any visuals. (chuckles) It’s all Meyer Sound, it’s surround system in the Hayden, and you know I love it, love it low and loud, so it’s a top talent experience.
GW: Over the years, you and I have traveled the universe together, to some pretty deep and far-out places I might add, and I can’t help but think, “Mickey Hart has a spaceship.” You’ve turned rhythm into a propulsion system and are flying to all these different dimensions of existence. The pleasure of getting to ride along with you has been eye opening.
MH: Well, thank you. Yeah, it’s all about the music in everything. I hear the sound in everything—and certainly once I found out that anything that moves out there, and the radiation that it was emitting, light, could be measured. Pythagoras did it in 500 BC. But he didn’t have machines, he just had something I call, mystical flight, where he gave numerical equations to all the revolving orbs, and it was like the universe was singing its song, and that’s the music of Musica Universalis. He called it the music of the spheres. And so, the music of Musica Universalis tells the story of the whole universe as this giant instrument, we being one small, perhaps insignificant player in this dance. If it can sound—and I can’t hear it—then it ain’t right. I have to hear it, or it ain’t right. I just like looking at a star, looking at the moon; hearing the moon and looking at it, that brings it on home, that puts you where you are in the universe. It’s about man and the universe. The whole concept, I guess, is the “How?” of our relation to the universe. And it’s the greatest story ever told, in my estimation.
GW: With the universe being made up of vibration, can you play it like an instrument? Like the mood of the day, or your spouse’s mood? Are all life’s rhythms instruments that can be played?
MH: Well the art form of all of this is not just taking the radiation. You see, with radio telescopes we bring this data down. Radio telescopes record the data coming from any object, and then I get that radiation, and I take it and I do things with that sound. I make art out of it. And then I play the universe. Then I can play, yes, I can play the universe. But I don’t play it, you see there’s a lot of collisions, there’s a lot of, ‘boom, boom, boom, boom, boom,’ there’s a lot of what you would call noise. Now I love noise myself, but you wouldn’t want to sit through thirty minutes of noise. So, I take it and make it into what we would call music. I give it sonority; I give it a harmony, a melody, a rhythm so you have the whole universe dancing. That’s the art of it. You know—the joy of it. You don’t need me to collect data, and so when some data gets collected, I send it to Mark Ballora, who’s a computer scientist at Penn State. Ballora uses his algorithms, which changes the radiation into a sonic waveform. Then I take it, and I make music out of it.
GW: That’s got to be an amazing experience to be playing along with the universe, to be central in the bubble of it all. Does it bring about the joy and wonder of the little boy inside of you, where you’re just like, “Wow! Life is just this amazing stuff.”
MH: Yeah. (laughs) It’s true. It’s a blast! I never thought it was going to be this involved with so much detail, because when I signed up, I didn’t really understand—I knew the story, but doing the show for the planetarium, doing a show for the dome, in multi-channel, ooh, ooh, real challenge. Really, a big challenge—to get it really right, especially the Hayden Planetarium. Then I thought about all the people that are going to be exposed, all the kids, and all the people that are going to change their idea of the universe. And maybe the light might turn on, and they’ll be scientists, they’ll be cosmologists, audio cosmologists. Whatever, whatever the feel is.
GW: Just bringing the wonder of existence back to our lives. The marvel and joy of the big all kind of breaks up your mind, and suddenly all those little problems fall away because you realize you’re walking in such a miraculous place.
MH: Yeah, yeah. Yes! It’s a great story! Great challenge! And you know, I have the monochord, I have the beam. And the beam is a Pythagorean monochord—which I played every night with the Dead—and that was imagined by Pythagoras himself, that’s how he figured out the sonorities of the universe. He figured out the octave, he was the tempered scale, he was the father of the science of music. So this is his instrument. This is also an ode to Pythagoras.
GW: Wild how one mind can reach across twenty-five hundred years to another.
MH: Yeah, if Pythagoras was here, I’d love to take him out to dinner. Pythagoras rides shotgun with me, I tell ya. If he was there, he’d be smiling ear to ear.
GW: You’re a huge subject. I had a hard time pinpointing you down to find the right question, an avenue into the center of it all so to speak, yet I found myself laughing over the idea of Mickey Hart with a brain hat. Bringing something to the mind of science is a rare and amazing accomplishment, but to get a brain hat out of the deal . . .
MH: You also see my brain, not in real time, but an MRI of my brain, and I’ll be playing my brainwaves simultaneously with this beautiful image of flying through my brain. It’s called, Glass Brain. Dr. Adam Gazzaley, known neuroscientist, created this glass brain where you’re able to fly through it, through my crania, as it were. And you’ll be able to see the inner workings of a brain. And it’s really fantastic! And of course I’ve sampled the brain waves—which are electrical in nature, they’re not radiation as would be the universe or the cosmos. Then I take those brain waves and I make them into music. And so it all comes together in the Hayden in spectacular surround. Meyer Sound is gold standard, and in sonic payload, the speakers are extraordinary, the best they could be . . . and I’ll be stokin’ ‘em, and they’ll be barking, they’ll be barking, optimally.
GW: Is it fun playing with your brain? Watching it actually react while you’re beating on a drum?
MH: Yeah. Yeah it is. It is fascinating, I just try to stay away from all my gray area. Yeah, (laughs) I don’t focus on the gray area. I focus on everything else. (playfully adding) It’s a healthy brain. It’s kind of handsome actually. It’s grotesque, but handsome somehow. You might say it’s like a Renoir, or a Picasso.
GW: I wouldn’t doubt it for a minute.
MH: That’s the way I see it.
GW: When you’re looking at sound, you hear the moon, do you see sound itself, perceptually speaking?
MH: You can’t touch music. You can’t see music. Music is invisible. Sound is invisible unless you amplify it; change its form into light, where you can see it on a screen. But you do get the synesthesia of light and sound, which is very powerful. In this synesthetic moment, it brings it on home, and you go, “Wow! There’s a sound to that.” Now you might not understand it, you don’t have to understand it—you do have to know something is happening up there . . . and it’s moving around and you’re part of it, and it’s all kind of a Gaia situation, all interdependent, and that’s where you came from. As Carl Sagan would say, “We’re made of star stuff,” and the carbon in your cheesecake perhaps came from a star that exploded four billion years ago, because that’s where all the matter comes from, that’s where all the energy comes from, and that’s what forms the human. Life, life on this planet, comes from stars . . . and the cosmic events as well . . . not just stars.
GW: When you’re right there at that moment, in the center of an atom, or the center of the universe, beating the drum with the other side, have you come up with an articulation for what music is, or do you leave it be and try not to name such a thing?
MH: Well, I do both. I hear what it sounds like, because I have the sound of the atom, and I have what it looks like—In BIG 3-D—and so it’s synesthesia, it’s a combination of sound and light. But it’s music. I’m not a scientist. I’m a musician who studies science, a student of science . . . a student of music, too. Student of everything. It explains things to myself, which I have questions, big questions, and I read a lot of science, and once you start to understand the science a little bit, these gigantic questions—you know, string theory, quantum mechanics, all these things, these visionary ideas of how the universe all hangs together—not all of them are science, some of it’s pseudo-science, and some is potential science.
GW: Don’t forget us philosophers.
MH: Yeah, philosophers as well, but that’s not science. I’m really interested in the science of it. The philosophy of it is really wonderful, too. It’s a harbinger of science. People come up with thoughts and ideas and science goes after them. Then makes it real.
GW: It’s truly impressive that you were able to bring something to the attention of science in healing the mind with sound.
MH: Well, a lot of these astrophysicists, they don’t even think of sound. It’s data to them. So approaching it from the sonic point, it’s very interesting to them. My first real contact with scientists was when I met George Smoot. George Smoot won the Nobel Prize in 2006 for his work finding and locating the background radiation, the afterglow of the Big Bang. He discovered this hiss that was left over from the creational moment. He called it the Singularity. From the Singularity there was an afterglow, like the dust, if you will. I worked with him for quite a while. And so I really got a “real uppy” on all this, working with the Nobel scientist.
George would say, “Do you want to hear the sound of time and space?”
“Wow! Sure, George. Lay it on me.” I was into it before I met George, but George was the catalyst of my deep dive.
GW: I’m curious if we interpreted the Big Bang as a synaptic flash of a space mind rather than an explosion of physicality, would this change your interpretations of the radiations? I mean, from right down there in the center of cosmic birth, is it really a physical birth, or is it a mental birth, a thought in a cosmic mind? So in the same way we picture imagery in our minds, our universe is a picture in the space mind.
MH: I think I can answer your question. It’s both. I mean, it is the idea of something happening that created all of this. That’s one part of it—and the other part of it’s saying, “Wow, there’s a sound that’s connected to all that stuff. Everything that’s out there that moves, that’s alive, has another component to it besides light!”
The other thing is to be able to sit back and enjoy the thought that the whole universe is a musical instrument, a cosmic instrument being played by nature. When we play music, it’s a miniature of what’s happening out there. That’s a big part of this. You see, there’s no human culture that does not have music. Music is species specific, and its species defining, and that’s my real connection with the musical connection between the universe—It’s played by the forces of nature, and it’s multi-dimensional. We can hear and see our universe as sound and light, and that’s pretty cool. And all of these rhythms, patterns, moving in time—“It’s the rhythm stupid.” That’s what I always say.
We’ve become human because we learned to make music. We not only make music because we’re human, but we’ve become human because we learned how to make music. That’s the big important take-away from all of this, and that’s why music. Why is music a trillion dollar business? Why do musicians all over the world go through all these incredible rigors just to survive to make music? And all these people that want to hear music? Well, it can be explained, that’s what makes us human, and it comes from out there. And that’s the interesting connection between us—man and the universe. And that’s what this story is all about. And that’s why I call it, “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” What could be more incredible?
“Come on out singing, I’ll walk you in the sunshine.”
The Infamous Stringdusters—mid-stride a strong driving, country-wide, Grammy inspired tour—came rolling through Portland’s Crystal Ballroom breathing fire March 9th, and smoked the house. With the Stringdusters receiving well-deserved coverage from news media, music magazines, professional writers and PR firms, Grateful Web looked to the fan for the “real story.” I recently contacted Gail Lordi, whom attended the show with her husband, Kliff Hopson, and was kind enough to share her pictures and videos from their Duster experience.
So . . . the Stringdusters. How was it?
Incredible! Absolutely amazing. The Dusters totally rocked! They’re such phenomenal musicians.
That is the word. And at the Crystal Ballroom, no doubt.
Way fun! The band members were incredibly in synch, and truly jammed their hearts out. These guys are so worth seeing live! Kliff and I feel so fortunate we were able to see them at the Crystal Ballroom. Kliff wanted to make sure you knew the reason the videos are a little bouncy is because the Crystal Ballroom has a fancy, bouncy floor—which is really exciting to dance on—though keeping the camera steady was a little tricky, but thoroughly enjoyable since the Dusters were so captivating.
I understand this was your first Dusters show. How was the music? The set list? What did you think?
I enjoyed all of their songs. They put an exorbitant amount of energy and creativity into each of their tunes. You may be able to tell by the videos. Kliff said he thought most of their original songs were mixed meter, which was quite impressive. He and I absolutely loved all the covers they performed: Stash by Phish, Fearless by Pink Floyd, Not Fade Away, and an awesome encore, Ophelia, (a cover of the Band, if I recall right). They did that with the opening band, The Last Revel. And Mimi Naja from Fruition. Check out the photo! You can see how much fun they all were having.
Was the crowd pumped? How was the vibe?
The audience was loving it too! If you ever have a chance to see these guys, it's one heck of a jamming good experience! They are individually such incredible musicians! So tight. You can see they highly inspire each other in all their jams together. They were vibrating at a level that went beyond. They just have the skills that take bluegrass and indie jamming to new heights. I think it’s the way they collaborate. It allows their music to reach out for new levels of evolution. They were totally bonded, blended, and expressed this artistic talent—individually and as a whole—that moved the audience, that allowed us to fully appreciate their valuable talents.
Wow! Sounds like you came away with quite an impression.
Oh! The light show! I don’t know who did that, but the light show at the Crystal was extraordinary, too! The Portland crowd loved the show, as did Kliff and I. I hope you get a chance to see them in the near future. To see them is to appreciate them!
“A leaf of all colors plays a golden string fiddle to a double-e waterfall over my back.”
Grateful Web is psyched to present, a night of “Rowdy Roots Music,” where audience participation is another instrument of the band. So, unleash your character and become the stage, for The Brothers Comatose and The Sam Chase and The Untraditional will be popping out of the void at the notorious, Fox Theatre, Thursday, April 26th, Boulder, Colorado.
Being born of San Francisco’s cosmic soil, the Brothers Comatose have a sound that transcends the limits of the city, landing where the earth gives rise to the living, and the everyday becomes the everything. The Brothers draw people into their songs as if a bonfire at a music fest—a place of camaraderie and warmth, crackle and pop. Sauntering along in that sweet spot, Ben Morrison’s baritone crafts a definitive shape to the Comatose feel, manifesting a wonderful mood for the body and mind to sway and dance, friends to laugh, and the crowd to play tug-o-war with the band as one unifying force, leaving one to wonder, “Who’s playing what? Who’s driving who?” The obvious answer—We all are. Let go the separation! Feel the groove.
Recently returned from Australia, The Brothers Comatose are on the move. Touring strong through festival season, and having released the first album, Ink, in a trilogy of mini albums, The Brothers invite us to travel with them as they live through and create the next two, to have our say ethereally recorded within the spirit that gives rise to their sound. Pairing up with the playful antics, sharp playing, and originality of approach of The Sam Chase and The Untraditional, The Brothers Comatose are a bubble of fun floating around the country waiting to be released whenever their airplane happens to land . . . It all depends on what’s with you. Just ask the Fox; they’ll show it to be true.
There’s only one first time! And tonight’s the night. Grateful Web is thrilled to present, Ghost Light, at the Fox Theatre, Boulder, Colorado, Friday, May 11th. Join us for this fabulous event, as two of today’s hottest musicians team up with one of the best venues in the country for a quintessential exploratory musical experience.
Having recently set sail on their maiden voyage, Ghost Light is full of discovery and pushing the limits, as they explore the possibilities and extent of their reach—creating the perfect conditions for a musical extravaganza of mind-blowing proportions. Featuring, Tom Hamilton of JRAD, and Holly Bowling, acclaimed pianist from her solo renderings of Grateful Dead and Phish transcriptions, Ghost Light is the most exciting, musically experimental band to hit the circuit this year. Inspired by their spontaneous times of playing together, Tom and Holly have joined with Dopapod’s, Scotty Zwang, (drums) Steve “Steaks” Lyons, (bass) and Raina Mullen, (vocals/guitar) for what Ghost Light calls, “A true musical collaboration.”
“There’s layers to this thing that’ll show themselves in interesting ways, “Holly Bowling tells Grateful Web, speaking of her enthusiasm for Ghost Light’s current inaugural tour. “The back and forth between the audience and performers, and everyone in the room together doing the thing together—that’s going to bring a whole other element to this music that we haven’t let it go into yet.”
This is one of those rare opportunities where you’ll be telling your friends for years to come, “I was there,” when the music was fresh and raw, the musicians were riding a wave of inspiration, and the intimacy of the venue encapsulated the experience perfectly. Who knows, this could be your first of fifty shows to see, as Ghost Light most certainly has the talent, creative and exploratory, to be that kind of band. Selling out shows from the start, Ghost Light is entrenched in the deep and subtle now of playing, road happy, and still a mystery unto themselves. Be there for the discovery! Take part in the happening.
Opening with Boulder’s own, Envy Alo, and their Boogaloo fusion, this is a ride you’ll want to come early for, and stay late. The docks open @ 8:30, blast off @ 9. Obtain your boarding pass at www.Foxtheatre.com. Open to all ages. (15+ without parent)
“Who can stop what must arrive now? Something new is waiting to be born.”
Mood and muse, two inexplicably intertwined elements of an ethereal nature, yet their power to move both body and mind know no bounds. Flowing throughout the in-between like gravity and wind, these forces are foundational and creative to the many worlds that arise out of the relationship of things, out of the happenings originated by togetherness; a place born betwixt seed and light, lung and tree, heart and rhythm, a place where all things come together to form each thing (each moment) throughout all size and time. And where all things come together—so too, does mood and muse.
Occasionally, the infinite conditions of being align in just such a way they take the form of a unique and rare person, or swirl assorted people, times and places into an unparalleled counter-culture, growing like ivy across the landscape. Where and how will the flowers bloom? What petals will take us back to that place of metaphorical understanding, where just the joy of being is enough, and dancing to the rhythms of the day is life? What nourishment will we each offer and draw from the garden?
Holly Bowling, sprouted in rich Dead soil, nurtured by love, and brought to light through a spectacular smattering of events that transcends generations, enriches the life of any whom hear her story or listen to her play. Her love of life and music is glowingly apparent in everything she does, in everyone she touches, whereby we can’t help but feel honored to have her upon our stages or revel in the joy of her vibrations.
Grateful Web recently had a chance to chat with Holly, about family, education, love, music, and her new band, Ghost Light.
GW: Well, Holly, I must say, as a Deadhead parent to a musician son, I can only imagine what your parents must be feeling watching their daughter jump up on the stages and be received as you have been. I’m sure they were blown away the first time you told them you would be playing with Bob Weir and Phil Lesh.
HB: Oh, man, my parents are the best. They raised me listening to the Dead. My parents are the reason I’m aware of the Dead’s music at all. They really set me on my musical journey, and they’ve been behind me every step of the way. They’re super psyched about it. My mom’s a teacher, so she can’t get away very much, but my dad is always trying to make it to as many shows as he can. He came out and saw a show at Terrapin when I was playing, and he seemed pretty super happy, and I got to introduce them, (Bob and Phil) and my dad didn’t even know what to say. (laughs) I did this gig out here in California, with Phil and Bob, and both my parents came out, and uh . . . yeah, I just got really lucky in the parent department.
GW: I understand you studied music under Shinichi Suzuki’s method. I’m curious about the effects it had on you as a person, as well as in music.
HB: You know, it’s kind of hard to say because I started playing Suzuki, (the piano in general) when I was five. I never learned it any other way, so it’s really as long as I can remember. So, to try to separate out how that affected me from that early on is kind of hard, because I’ve never known it any other way. But I can say this, I taught Suzuki for years, later, and so going through it from the other angle and really picking apart what the Suzuki method is at its core, gave me a little more insight into that, and I feel like the biggest thing is it’s not just an emphasis on what you can play, and the technique and the difficulty of what you can accomplish, it’s really about developing a sensitivity—musically going hand in hand with that emotional sensitivity—which carries over into the rest of your life . . . and I feel like it builds that connection and sensitivity to other people. That’s how you communicate through music—if you’re not emotionally invested in being very sensitive to what’s going on around you, and what’s happening in the music, it’s going to be dead, lifeless and empty. So, I think that sensitivity to the world around you, and to people, is necessary to be a good musician, and I feel like with the Suzuki method, that’s kind of at its core just as much as any other part of the approaches.
GW: The first time I saw you, you were playing with Greensky, and I think it was that sensitivity to them, the crowd, the music, and all that was happening, that caught my attention. How do you take that sensitivity into your transcriptions? How do you derive that kind of emotion when transcribing such intricate performances?
HB: The transcription is more a process for me—getting to learn each player, you get to know each player’s style more in depth when you’re transcribing and spending that much time with any one piece of music. It was also a good lesson in what the music is saying versus the actual nuts and bolts of how it’s saying it—like picking apart the notes and the rhythms and everything, you can be a hundred percent accurate with all that stuff and still miss the point. A computer could probably do that work, and it would sound like it didn’t mean anything. So, the biggest challenge for me, the biggest thing I learned from it was sometimes you don’t play all the same notes, or sometimes you leave things out, or you add something. It’s about trying to get the message across at what the music was saying at its core, at the heart of the thing, than it’s about replicating note for note what was going on. That doesn’t mean I don’t get hung up on accuracy, I love that puzzle aspect of it, but if that’s getting in the way of the point of the thing, then you have to leave it behind.
GW: Listen to what I mean, not what I say?
HB: Yeah, you want to move in respect to the original piece of music, especially if you're arranging something in a different context than what it was originally. If you play all the notes that were happening in four or five or six band members, you’re going to end up with something on the piano that does not convey the emotion that it should be conveying at all. That’s where the personal choices come in.
GW: I suppose each night is different, each performance is different in that way, too, depending on your mood, the crowd’s mood, all the infinite conditions that come together every night.
HB: Oh, for sure, and in some of those things I’m doing transcription, so I’m actually trying to create an actual live performance I thought was particularly good. But other arrangements of mine are much looser, a lot of room for freedom, and a lot of interpretation each night, and long stretches of improvisation. So that stuff is entirely going to change depending on how I’m feeling.
GW: How much coffee you’ve had? (laughter)
HB: (laughter) Yeah, how much coffee I’ve had. What happened that day in the world. It all comes to play.
GW: You had quite the rise to notoriety, seemed like it was kind of quick. What have you learn about yourself in the process of it?
HB: Oh man. Yeah, I don’t know how much I can dive into that because I’m constantly learning things about myself through this process, but I think that would be the case anywhere. I mean, I guess, the biggest thing is like this opportunity did present itself pretty suddenly to me, and I made a choice to go after it with everything I had when the door opened. I guess the big lesson in general throughout this thing has been, whenever you have the decision you can keep doing the thing you’re doing, and it’s safe, and it’s good enough, and you could be successful at that, do that thing and it’s a sure thing . . . Or, you could go jump off this cliff and take a risk and try something new, and it’s probably going to be really hard, but it could be amazing—I’ve really tried to take that avenue each time, like as soon as things start to get comfortable, I try to do whatever the next thing is to keep pushing forward, keep finding a way to challenge myself. So, that’s not really something I learned about myself, but it’s something that I keep pushing to do in general.
GW: Your husband is an intricate part of this as well. How does working together so intimately enhance your relationship?
HB: Oh yeah, man, he’s my tour manager. He also does this whole projection show behind me that reacts to what I’m playing. He’s built this whole thing from the ground up, so he’s more than just my TM. He’s been an integral part of this whole thing from the beginning. It’s cool. Sometimes it comes with its set of challenges, your work, and your relationship is one and the same, but it’s a lot easier in some ways. Being on the road is a big strain on a relationship, and often just being that invested in anything you’re doing can also be a strain if you’re not both in it, and so if you’re going after something a hundred and ten percent, it’s nice to have the person along for the ride. (laughter) Be on the same train.
GW: Well, then, I guess I’ll take this train into the Ghost light scene by first asking, (laughter) will you still be doing your solo stuff while taking part in a band?
HB: Yeah, I’m not going to leave that behind. I’m putting it on pause for the moment because I really want to give my all to this band. I don’t want to be dividing my time and half-assing anything right now, so I’m really focusing on Ghost Light for the time being, but I can’t see giving up the solo thing. It’s a different type of freedom and a different type of improvisation when it’s just you. I’m excited to have a counter balance to that—when you’re listening to others and playing off what they’re bringing to the table—but the solo thing will return. It’s just on pause for a minute.
GW: Speaking of counter-balance, I watched you and Tom play an “Eyes” back in October that was just smoking, and it made me wonder, when was that moment—you’ve met Tom, you’ve played together a few times—when was it that you go, “We should do a band?”
HB: (laughs) You know, we played together a bunch of times last year, and every time we really enjoyed it. Sometime around last fall, we started talking like, “Hey, maybe we should form a band,” rather than it being like playing together whenever we happened to be at the same festival, or we’re in the same town on the same night. Rather than when the stars align . . . Like, “Hey, let’s make things align,” you know. (laughs)
GW: Sounds as if you guys challenge each other?
HB: Yeah, absolutely. Everyone in the band is challenging each other one way or another. Everyone has really different strengths, which is cool to feel like we’re all bringing something in, we’re all learning from each other. Tom’s an incredible listener. It’s hard to find people to improvise with that right off the bat you can go off the deep end, or make one little hint at a change and you hear they’re right there next to you. It’s not a struggle to push, like, “Are you hearing me? Are you hearing me?” You’re right there, and that gives you a freedom and a sense of musical connection that I think really spoke to both of us, I know it really did to me.
GW: Are you writing original material? I hear you have this album going on at the same time as your introductory tour. Are different people bringing songs in?
HB: Yeah, this is an original project. It’s been really cool. We put this thing together, and we’ve been preparing to tour and working on an album at the same time, so we’re kind of coming at it on all fronts, and it’s coalescing and changing rapidly, which is really, really cool to see the pieces start to fall into place here. Everybody is involved in the writing process. Some tunes come into the studio, or rehearsal with all of us fully formed, and we’re kind of showing each other what we want to happen in one place or another, and other stuff is coming in like a little seed of an idea, and then it’s in how we build something together, which has been a really interesting way to get to know each person musically because, well, we’re a new band. (laughs) And this is how we get through this process.
GW: Do you have enough material to cover an entire tour?
HB: Oh, yeah, yeah, we got enough material to fill a whole show, and we have enough material to keep the nights different. We’re not looking to go out there and play the same set every night in a row (laughs) in the same order, just like replicate the same thing night after night on this tour at all. It’s not really what any of us do. Ever. (chuckles) And we’re not looking to do that here either.
GW: I’m really excited to see what you guys end up putting together. I can only write about music that offers me the words from the listening. That’s why I liked Jerry so much, he gave us all so many words from the listening, and you were like that for me. I think in the Dead family, we’ve perhaps become a little spoiled, and really expect our music to take us somewhere. What can we as a listener expect from you guys?
HB: I’m hesitant to put too many words to the music because I want you to hear it, and see where it takes you. But I will say—you mention how you want the music to take you somewhere, that you expect that out of your music—we’re all growing out of a similar aesthetic here, we all want that, too. And if that’s what I want as a performer and a musician, and that’s what I’m chasing after . . . That’s got to translate (laughs) that’s gotta translate. So, I think you’re safe in that regard. (laughter) I can safely say, it’ll take you somewhere.
GW: (laughter) Well, there we go. We have something to work with anyway. Is this looking like a long-term project?
HB: Yeah, this isn’t a one-off thing where we’re going to do a tour this spring and call it. This is definitely something we’re committed to, and it’s going to be around for a while. This is step one; this is the beginning of this thing; this tour is not the beginning, the middle, and the end. This is a thing being born, right now.
GW: Sounds very fluid, very growing and changing. That’s what’s so awesome and inspiring about your story, your music because you’re playing from that place. What’s happened in your life can seem miraculous, destined, being a part of life swirling to form, and have all that coming out of you musically for us to hear and participate in makes everything you have going very exciting.
HB: Yes, I’m definitely excited about it. It’s interesting too like we’re all people that are coming from a place of music we listen to—we’re talking music with a heavy dose of improvisation and capacity for risk-taking—but that’s not the only influence playing into what we’re doing here. One thing I think is really cool and really different about this is that my primary canvas the last few years has been on an acoustic instrument, just a solo, stripped-down acoustic piano, and that’s not what I’m going to be doing here, primarily, but I think that there still is going to be a sensitivity and aesthetic there that comes with that. And Tom, as much as he absolutely plays on the electric guitar, he’s done a lot of acoustic stuff as well—and if you listen to his past records there’s some of that vibe there for sure—and so I think we have that sensitivity and that background that we’re bringing to a band that is energetic and electric and has this whole other thing happening there, but the stuff from before is still present as well. So, I think there’s sort of layers to this thing that’ll show themselves in interesting ways.
GW: That is exciting. So we’re looking at something original?
HB: It’s hard to talk about art in any form. The best way to understand it is not to describe it with words like you don’t want to enjoy a meal by having someone write to you about the flavors you’re going to experience. You just want to eat it. (laughs) That’s why I’m hesitant to explain too much, like, “So, what should we expect from the band musically?” Well, I’d really just love for you to hear it, and we’ll be out on the road, and it’s going to be there. (laughs) Yeah, so I hope I’ve painted around the corners of it enough for you to describe the general idea of where it’s going.
GW: Your story seems to be kind of rare, but at the same time, what do you tell the teenagers that want to follow suit? Is there any kind of leanings or encouragements you would give?
HB: I guess my one piece of advice here is, the way I got where I am right now was not . . . It was something I always wanted to do . . . but when I did the thing that was the thing that gave me my break and opened all these doors, I wasn’t doing it because I was like, “This is going to be the thing that’s going to give me my break.” I was doing it because I loved it, and I was doing it for me, and I had no other stuff attached to it. And that’s not to say you can’t have ambition and stuff attached to what you’re doing, but I think when your heart is really in it, and you’re doing the thing that speaks to you and feels good to you, that resonates with other people, that’s really powerful. And you know, at the end of the day, if you’re doing the thing, and you love it, and you’re happy with it, then regardless of where it goes, it’s still going to mean something to you and it’s still going to be successful. Keeping that priority straight is the best piece of advice I can give.
GW: When the motivations are true and genuine, they take you to true and genuine places. It’s funny you say that because my wife and I have a tendency not to make our decisions based on money, and that seems to throw everyone off. (laughter)
HB: (laughter) Oh yeah, they don’t love that. Yeah, it’s always a balance. You got to eat, but uh . . . You got to keep those priorities in line.
GW: Is there anything, in particular, you’d like to say about Ghost Light?
HB: I’m just so excited. I’m excited for you to hear it. I’m excited for everyone to hear it. We’ve been working on this stuff in the studio with just us in the room, and I’m so excited to take it out there on the road and share it with people. And also, just like the energy that comes into that stuff when it’s not just the band in the room, but the back and forth between the audience and performers, and everyone in the room together, doing the thing together, I think that’s going to bring a whole other element to this music we haven’t let it go into yet. I’m excited for the additional conduit and spark and energy that’s going to bring to it. I just can’t wait.
GW: You sound like a little girl with a happy secret she gets to tell soon.
HB: Oh man, I mean, I’m excited. I have the best job in the world. How could you not be excited about going out and playing music with people you like playing music with? It’s pretty great. (laughter)
GW: It’s nice to see happy people.
HB: Yeah, we got to keep that going around.
GW: Don’t want to forget we’re riding on a rock in space.
HB: (laughter) True story. True story.
GW: So, album next fall.
HB: It should be out in fall. It’s still in progress right now, so, we want to take the time to really get it exactly the way we want it.
GW: Sounds great. Look forward to seeing you out on the circuit and catching how the music develops. It’s been fun, Holly. Thank you for spending some time with us.
HB: Thank you.
“Let’s see with our heart these things our eyes have seen, and know the truth must still lie somewhere in between.”
Before The Dead is by no means an ordinary musical release. This collection of early, and quite-remarkable-they-exist-at-all recordings is a phenomenal delight for many reasons, ones so obvious to any Deadhead I will pay you the respect of not listing them. And yes, while the many reasons for which we have all been eagerly awaiting this release are exciting enough within themselves, it is the overall palpable essence and holistic sensation that arises in the listening that snuck up on me, as if falling down a rabbit hole, where the history of Jerry and the Grateful Dead becomes the story of how each of us, and all of us, have become who we are. Jerry will never be more accessible than he is here—he is Jerry before he is JERRY; he is a friend sitting in our living room playing music; we are down at the coffeehouse together, meeting up with other friends, slurping joe and jammin’ on the scene.
From the very first moment, we are sucked back in time with joyous abandon as Robert (Bob) Hunter and Jerry Garcia’s warm, lively personalities form the stage, and the background voices of the intimate venues become the melody. And while all of our youths did not take place at the same time Jerry’s did, we are drawn nonetheless into the timeless ethos of youth, where idealism adorns itself in a righteous invincibility, and where wonder and fun is what life is all about, as if to say, “If life’s not bugging you out, you’re not looking at it right.”
Before the Dead takes us to the calm before the storm, where Jerry is so digestible I couldn’t help but engorge myself; except this was some very rich chocolate cake. Each song, each tidbit of dialogue gently pulls on one like water over rock. My mind was consumed by intertwining tears of sadness and beauty as Jerry joyfully talks and sings and plays with an alert youthful exuberance, each thought coming wrapped in a little bubble of emotion for me, which seemed to well up from within my being before popping into understanding. Evoking forgotten places and synchronistic moments from happenings gone by, I was reminded of, not only myself before awakening, but a mind before chaos. As I listened, I was immersed in the currents of an open heart, tossed between the seas of rejoicing and lamenting the sad beauty of an innocence lost—The story of a man who knows not what he is to become.
Before the Dead comes from a time of seed, both in the forming and the cracking, where the plants of yesterday and the blossoms of tomorrow all came into and arose out of the soil of the present. Tiny little, if-this-hadn’t-happened-that-wouldn’t-have-happened moments spiraled through the air like birch seeds, each forming the stories we’ve all read. You know the ones, about Jerry’s infatuation with the music and musicians of the past, how Bill Keith inspired him, how Jerry bought a banjo from Kreutzmann’s dad, and thankfully, how we never got to know what might have been had Jerry tried out for Bill Monroe. We all came to know Robert Hunter as we read about how he and Jerry ate cans of pineapple and lived in a car. We came to know Barbara “Brigid” Meier as we were told about the infamous never before heard recording of Jerry and Bob playing at her sixteenth birthday party, which opens this release—Yet none of this prepares us for the coalescing dimension that arises in the actual hearing of the characters live, overflowing with personality, chatting up the moment, introducing the songs, and teasing each other and making jokes in the doing so. Such delight!
Plunged into Brigid’s birthday party, Bob and Jerry have a wonderful folksy sound, a sound that is vigorously protected by Brigid’s periodic shooshings of would-be talkers. I think I’ll always be partial to these first two shows quite simply because I so enjoyed Robert Hunter’s warm voice, alone with Jerry, drifting about my house. The rhythms are simple and comforting, Jerry singing a cappella is as much fun as hearing him speaking in his young voice, and the banter back and forth is priceless. “All My Trials” has a wonderful hint of the renaissance, minstrel sound that peppers the Dead in the early years.
By the summer of 1961, Jerry joins Marshall Leicester on banjo, with Bob playing mandolin, and they are hitting the Boar’s Head pretty regularly. We only get to catch a couple of songs before Jerry plays solo. During this performance, an unknown bass player sits in while Jerry tries his hands on a new-fangled 12-string—And what fun it is to hear when Jerry throws out energetic versions of “Long Lonesome Road” and “Railroad Bill,” obviously having a blast playing with this new toy.
By side three, it’s the summer of 1962 and we’re still at the Boar’s Head, this time as a band called the Sleepy Hollow Hog Stompers, featuring Dick Arnold on fiddle, and Marshall Leicester swapping back and forth with Jerry on banjo and guitar. For the most part, from here on out we’ll be exploring the banjo with Jerry, from some slow-picking strum patterns to some wicked fast, finger flying, free-for-alls, both of which naturally draw out the mountain flavor and timeless life of the scamp, as if Jerry were the reincarnation of a man who had known both. The Hog Stomper sound will continue on, finding refuge around many a fire pit at many a Dead show over the years. Love the sound here, the life, the early versions of “Shady Grove” and “Sweet Sunny South,” and Jerry a cappella, yet again, with “Man of Constant Sorrow.”
Ken Frankel appears, as does David Nelson, while Robert Hunter reappears, this time on bass with the Hart Valley Drifters. This show is great fun in both the witty repartee and the damn fine string-play. Performing in the studio of KZSU radio, Stanford in the fall of 1962, the Drifters show that the serious bluegrass has begun, and we are introduced to a band we’d love to see tearing up our festival stages today. I can see it now, Young and Making Way—Jerrygrass at its finest. For me, the standout was undoubtedly “Sitting On Top of the World,” which I dare not describe lest I spoil the surprise, yet I can’t help but tease the appetite—This version screams Etta Baker and would have been better served had it stayed in this form throughout its long history. Yep, I said that.
During the winter of ’63, we move over to the Top of the Tangent with eight numbers from the Wildwood Boys, featuring Jerry (banjo), Bob (mandolin), David Nelson (guitar), and Norm Van Maastricht (bass). During this time, Jerry was frequenting the Tangent, sometimes playing with Pigpen, sometimes with Sara. Strange to think that writing songs has yet to occur to them, (thankfully, Dylan came along to give them the idea) however, this set does contain “Jerry’s Breakdown,” the only known instrumental composition of his from these times. Some of us may have heard bootleg recordings of this show made from San Francisco’s KFOG’s 1984 radio broadcast, yet never in such context or with such quality.
One of the truly special gems of this album is Sara and Jerry performing together. What an enchanting “Deep Elem Blues!” Sara’s voice is magnificent and blends beautifully with Jerry’s, even when they mix up the verses. Husband/wife team doing early versions of “I Truly Understand” and “Long Black Veil.” What more need I say?
For the next several shows, the Black Mountain Boys take the stage and get down to some serious bluegrass picking with Robert Hunter on bass, David Nelson on mandolin, and Eric Thompson on guitar. Other versions of the group include Sandy Rothman on guitar and Geoff Levin on bass. The bluegrass aficionado could actually appreciate the music here more than your average Deadhead, but don’t be fooled, anyone who drops themselves into the notes of it all will most certainly be taken for a ride. Already pushing himself to his limits with a Bill Keith inspired arpeggio style we’ll all come to appreciate, Jerry challenges himself with “Noah’s Breakdown,” playfully forbidding his students to listen to his attempt. Filled with some dynamic string play, the Black Mountain Boys seem to think they’re staying true to bluegrass form, and while they do so in every respect, I can’t help but sense a desire to break free percolating underneath. “Paddy on the Turnpike” is a good example of this as Sandy and Jerry toss solos back and forth, and I loved the “Rosa Lee McFall,” familiar, yet different.
Wrapping things up in the summer of 1964, the Asphalt Jungle Mountain Boys, a mix of Jerry (banjo), Jody Stecher (mandolin), and Eric Thompson (guitar) provide the final four songs. While this marks the end of an era, we can find comfort in knowing that what was, remains imbued within what is. Before the Dead is a treasure trove of music and ambience, music one would do well to consider savoring, like the proverbial bottle of wine, aged exquisitely—Not to be rushed in the ingestion, but contemplatively rolled across the pallet in the swallowing. The rest is history.
At 84 songs, most under three minutes, Before the Dead is filled with rare and sparkling jewels that are a true joy to sift through. Accompanying the limited edition LP release (a mere 2,500) is an intriguing thirty-two-page booklet, which breaks down the music and paints pictures of the circumstances that surrounded it. Neil Rosenberg gives a comprehensive history of each song, and a glimpse into the happenings of Jerry’s life at the time, including the history of each recording in “Tales of the Tape.” Essays by Sara Ruppenthal Katz, Stu Goldstein, and Dennis McNally provide an excellent backdrop, which quickly inspired me to peruse my Grateful Dead book collection so I could reread all the old stories as I listened, and I was glad. The real pleasure to this release is found in the thoughts and memories we have by taking this time to spend with Jerry, to ponder the phenomenon, and to recall the enrichment the Dead had on our lives, right here, from the effervescent beginnings of what we are to become. How wonderful it is to be reminded of our younger selves, and to be thankful to them for having the courage and insanity to do what they did so that we may appreciate being who we are today.
I can only imagine all the work that went into compiling this release, yet Dennis McNally did an amazing job corralling the bits and pieces of humanity, moments, and artifacts in order to bring this chunk of heart out of the void and into our hands. And let’s not forget the ones that opened their upstairs to a bunch of bohemians who couldn’t help but explore vibration beyond all else, or were there to make the recording, or copy it, or save it, or were there plucking strings, for without them, Jerry wouldn’t have been Jerry—For without them, none of us would be who we are. Oh, to so many people and things can we express our appreciation for the gift that is Jerry, before the Dead.
“So forget about your yesterdays of sorrow
And forget about the darkness you have seen
For there’s only you and me at the edge of an endless sea
Did you hear? Melvin’s coming to town! And this is a good one, for Grateful Web is presenting, Dead Funk Summit, at Boulder’s heart and soul, the Fox Theatre, Friday, June 8th. Featuring Melvin Seals (keys), George Porter Jr. (bass), and Joe Marcinek (guitar), this show possesses well over a century of some serious note-flinging experience.
Dead Funk Summit is not just a band! It’s a summit; a masterful blend of musical expression, one derived from decades of too many times, places, and people, for us to even imagine. We’re not just talking musicians, we’re talking the pioneers of musical style and genre in the making. Whether throwing down with Garcia, jamming out with Paul McCartney, or rocking with the likes of Taj Mahal, Kreutzmann, or Steve Kimock, among too many others to name . . . Well, nobody can fake that. And for us to be afforded the chance to catch a trio with such an empirical understanding of music, in such an awesome setting as the Fox, is a rare, don’t miss opportunity—If not just for the fun-loving laymen, then most assuredly for the music connoisseur. Dead Funk is more than old school—They are an accumulation. These men have seen things; these are men who not only grew out of, but helped form, the dirt and roots of two of our most highly celebrated musical forests.
Over the decades, Melvin Seals has more than cemented his name into San Francisco lore; he’s living music history. Born and raised of San Fran’s melodic earth, Melvin’s contributions speak for themselves, and continue to do so ever so beautifully. Long since a staple for Garcia’s guitar and Kahn’s bass, Melvin has forged his own path over the years, keeping the spirit alive for all to see.
George Porter Jr., was born of the jungles and swamps of New Orleans, and is not just a funk bass player; he’s one of the progenitors of rhythm and blues itself. But don’t be fooled, George has played it all over the years, with everybody, and he brings it to play. To see a founding member of The Meters thump bass line is an honor in itself, but to hear him tossing note and groove with Melvin Seals, now that’s a once in a lifetime, catching the greats, kind of scene. Add Marcinek on guitar, a master of the pick up game, playing with different people every time he hits the stage, and we have the ingredients for one powerful potion. All you have to do is show up and get these old boys going, and they’ll show you something you’ve never seen!
Doors open at 8:30, and the show opens at 9 with Boulder’s own, J. Wail, lighting up the stage with an infusion of live instrumentation and electronic sound to delight the modern soul. Ticket prices ($15-$18) are a steal for this one! Grab ‘em while you can at www.Foxtheatre.com. See you there!
“Spent a little time on the mountain, spent a little time on the hill.”
Hang on to your tie-dye! Dead & Company is coming to town, and the Fox Theatre is throwing one hell of a party. Grateful Web is thrilled to present, a three-day “Phantasmagorical Celebration” filled with Dead pre and after parties, July 12th—14th. So, let’s paint our faces, don our fuzzy top hats and bizarre attire, and grab our luminescent rings and lighted balloons, because things are going to be hallucinated on the hill with visual delights as Boulder goes Dead crazy.
Kicking things off the day before Dead & Company’s two-day stand at Folsom Field with a warm-you-up pre-party, BIG Something takes us to The Otherside (the worthy moniker of their newly released album) with a modern sound that promises to bend and twist the mind as it does the body. Seamlessly mixing synthesized resonations with instrumental savvy-ness, BIG Something intrinsically awakens and primes the well of any neo-day, music-loving, party-goer. Opening the night with, Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers, Kalu & The Electric Joint, the Fox offers a kaleidoscopic appetizer to the proverbial seven-course meal.
Whether you are fortunate enough, or not, to have tickets to Dead & Company’s show, it doesn’t matter, because the jam continues Friday and Saturday night with an infusion of late-night after-party festivities. With the Dead show set to end early, it’s up to us to keep the party rolling and pile on down to the Fox, where The Motet members, Dave Watts, Joey Porter, and Garrett Sayers have inspired plans of their own. Reuniting for this special occasion with old band mate, Dominic Lalli of the electronic sensation Big Gigantic, plus guest Dan Schwindt of the Kyle Hollingsworth Band, the Fox hosts a tribute to Herbie Hancock, jazz, keyboard genius; and like the Dead, a pioneer of undiscovered musical realms. One only needs to imagine the characters and escapades that will besiege Boulder on this weekend—And while some may run from, as others run to such imaginings—We all know the reality of the experience will far surpass our visualizations . . . Or be enhanced by, depending on your state of mind.
Don’t forget to pace yourself though, because this hootenanny is far from being over. For the Grand Finale, Saturday night’s, “The Music Never Stopped,” is damn near a music fest in itself, as The Motet members are back, having some Funk is Dead flashbacks with the likes of Drew Emmitt and Andy Thorn of Leftover Salmon, and Adam Aijala of Yonder Mountain String Band, for an after-party coupe de grace. And with, “Special Guest,” being hinted at, you never know who might show up to play. Chimenti? Oteil? The spirit of Captain Trips himself? Fueled by the fires of Dead-dom, “The Music Never Stopped,” is a night destined to become a treasure trove of memories to any lifetime that follows as we come together in celebration of the Dead, and what they have brought to the world.
Don’t get left out in the parking lot (though that has its own rewards) and grab your tickets now at www.foxtheatre.com where $1 of every ticket sold this weekend will be generously donated to the Rex Foundation. Friday & Saturday night’s after-party jollifications officially begin @11:30, gates open @ 10:30, but we all know, there is no beginning and end, just the comings and goings of the Now! Be “There.” Long live the Dead . . . In all its forms of illumination!
Taking place in Ninilchik, Alaska, on the beautiful Kenai Peninsula, August 3rd-5th, Salmonfest showcases the unique Alaskan music scene, along with the likes of Michael Franti & Spearhead, Fruition, and Brandi Carlile. Featuring some of Alaska’s top bands, such as Hope Social Club, with Melissa Mitchell, and Blackwater Railroad Company, Salmonfest offers a pristine environment for musicians to come together and mix it up for fish. Supported by Kachemak Bay Conservation Society, Cook Inletkeeper, and Musicians United to protect Bristol Bay, Salmonfest seeks to educate the public about Alaska’s fish-filled waters in hopes of protecting the state’s wild salmon and their habitat. Offering a family friendly environment, with Alaska’s top artists, crafts, brews, and cuisine, Salmonfest promises fun for all.
Alaska’s Salmonfest, now in its eighth year, is a shining blossom to the wonderfully charismatic Alaskan music scene. This August 3rd-5th the salmon run will be on as roughly 9,000 people of strange and exotic ilk make their pilgrimage to the tiny hamlet of Ninilchik, deep in the heart of the Kenai Peninsula. Boasting sixty-five bands and four stages, Salmonfest, nestled in the pristine environment amidst Cook Inlet and the Ninilchik River, is where musicians from around the globe gather in the name of fish, love, and music. And while showcasing some of today’s biggest stars in the indie, jam-band scene, it’s all things Alaskana that is the real draw to this festival. Hosting some of Alaska’s top bands, artists, cuisines, and brew, in a state that’s long been world-renowned for its weed, one will quickly find it is the people that make all the difference.
“The thing about Alaska is the individuality of the people, and also the pure environmental kick about being up there,” says acoustic sensation Tim Easton, Alaska’s adopted son, and Salmonfest ambassador. Arriving this summer fresh off his new release, Paco & The Melodic Polaroids, Easton is proud to claim, he and Dead enthusiast, Jim Lewin of Great American Taxi, are the only two musicians to play every Salmonfest. Having come to Alaska seventeen years in a row, Tim speaks fondly of the last frontier. “The music scene in Alaska is full of amazing musicians who could give a rat’s ass about the music business, who just want to play music with their friends, and that’s really more enjoyable for everybody.”
Be warned, taking part in the Alaskan music scene can be life-changing for musicians and bands, as well as its fans, many never leaving the state, or its vibe, once discovered. Being a land of isolation, Alaska is not a place to import its music, yet being a beauty rich state, she attracts many an instrument carrying adventurer, world traveler, and freedom seeker, whom upon arrival adopt this wilderness life as their own, joyously adding their dream-come-trues and wonder-filled sound to the heartfelt flames of the Alaskan fire.
Alaskan music is a form of its ingredients, where one need only step into the heritage to understand the uniqueness. Born of wide-open spaces and cold, nights filled with stars, the Alaskan sound was manifested throughout the long winters of man and beast sitting around the fireplace picking strings to pass the time, with only their instrument to express the moments of solitude. And when the summer returned with eternal light, and the fishermen hit the seas, and the miners once again set out to explore the land, the hard days of work turned into celebratory nights of song as the musicians of the mines, cannery tent cities, and the timber fields were once more drawn to the fire, and festival season began. Just as the Appalachian sound grew out of the east, so did the fire-pit sound grow out of Alaska. And while many a band takes the stage at many a music fest, inevitably it is the fire-pit where the stories happen. “The Hope Social Club campfire party is the best hang at that festival,” Easton happily adds in reference to Salmonfest.
Laughing over horse riding drummers and full horn ensembles at past campfire parties, Melissa Mitchell, lead singer/songwriter of Hope Social Club talks of the Alaskan scene and Salmonfest. “The fire-pit sound is the sound. Last year we had a really great campfire at Salmonfest. One night, we had the California Honey Drops, so it was all like horns around the fire, a whole horn section. The night before that we had all string instruments; we had a cello, we had violins, we had stand up basses—all at the fire—and melodicas and all kinds of different random instruments. We had a lady ride up on a horse playing drums. (laughs) Totally random and eclectic, but definitely not like your typical fireside jams—That’s what’s created by having that caliber of musicians staying at the festival. It’s that openness, artists being vulnerable—that’s what happens at Salmonfest—these smaller, fire-pit jams, really great musicians just sitting around jamming together, passing the guitar around and inviting people into their song. That’s exactly what this scene is all about.”
Born and raised in Alaska, Mitchell has probably played with more of the state’s musicians and at more of its festivals than most, as well as opening for such bands as Michael Franti & Spearhead and the Indigo Girls. “The thing I find so beautiful about the Alaska music scene is it’s a real community; it feels like a real family. We all have kind of played together in these different bands, at these different parties, and grown together. Everybody supports each other. It’s all kind of about everybody making their living and being a family together—raising their families together. That’s my favorite part.”
Alaska’s music scene is not quite the secret it used to be as bands such as Dark Star Orchestra, California Kind, Railroad Earth, Greensky Bluegrass, Keller Williams, The Motet, David Grisman, Yonder Mountain, and Michael Franti & Spearhead are making treks to this wilderness enclave to see what all the talk is about. And why not? Alaska hosts some of the most unique music festivals in the country, damn near one every weekend.
Chickenstock, the farthest north music festival, located in Chicken, Alaska, takes place at the remote reaches of the U.S. highway system, hundreds of miles from the rest of humanity, yet is a well-oiled machine, where no detail is left undone. Featuring a venue of purely Alaskan musicians, amazing world-class food, and Fairbanks’ very own, Hoodoo home brew, Chickenstock comes interspersed with the sound of bush planes flying in and out and is truly an Alaskan experience. “Chickenstock has all the attributes of a big festival, but it’s small,” claims electric guitarist Dave Parks of Steve Brown & the Bailers, one of Alaska’s more popular bands, having made appearances on both Mountain Stage and the What Do You Know show.
Perhaps you’d prefer Cantwell, nestled in the mountains at the base of Denali, or the highly acclaimed musician’s festival, Granite Creek Picker’s Retreat. The list only grows as does the summer with Andersen’s Bluegrass Festival, Girdwood’s Forest Fair, Juneau and Fairbanks Folk Festivals, the Great Alaskan Music Fest, Trapper Creek Bluegrass Festival, and Ravenfest, amongst many others, all culminating into what has become the grand daddy of them all, Salmonfest. So next time you think, “Music Fest,” you might want to consider a summer in Alaska, for you will never be the same . . . and damn glad for it!
“I have seen where the wolf has slept by the silver stream.”
With the sorrowful passing of Robert Hunter, I sense the cool winds of fall sifting through the leaves of the Grateful Dead tree. As the leaves change colors and begin to drift back into the cosmos from which they came, it is ever so easy to become submersed within reflection.
“So swift and bright, strange figures in light, float in air.”
Trampling through Robert Hunter’s lyrics I recall the days when I first heard Saint Stephen, the words, “Lady finger, dipped in moonlight, writing ‘What for?’ across the morning sky,” called to me in some yet unidentified manner. What strange music was this? I thought at the time. Yet, I am wondering this ever more so today. I’m reminded of the first time I heard Wharf Rat live. Oh the sweet sound that song makes rolling in, the sweet words plunging me into the heart of existence. “I got no dime, but I got some time to hear his story.” Who writes stuff like this? This had innate meaning, some kind of peculiar, yet familiar profoundness—an added dimension that pried at my mind. We all felt it during our first foray into the parking lot, or through the pearly gates. Like just, Wow! These words, this music, this vibe, wasn’t just a band. We all had the same thought, because we each saw something, felt something. Something larger was happening here, something timeless, something cosmic. Yet what was it exactly?
“I don’t know, maybe it was the roses.”
Without Robert Hunter, there would not have been a “Grateful Dead”. Yet . . . without the Grateful Dead, there would not have been the words of Robert Hunter. Each was born out of the other, in a universe where Voice and Song are not separate.
“I have spent my life seeking all that’s still unsung. Bent my ear to hear the tune, and closed my eyes to see. When there were no strings to play, you played me.”
Over the coming months, we will each seek to understand Mr. Hunter’s part (in the band, in our lives, in achievements) as we mourn his passing, and rejoice in the gift he left our psyche,—a gift that was paramount to our perception of reality. A true grasp of Robert Hunter’s being and doings will forever swirl outside our comprehension. “Sunbells rain down in liquid profusion.” Yet when considering Robert Hunter, I am forced to take pause, stop the workings of my world for a moment in his honor. I sit with a cup of coffee, rain running down the glass of my windows, and quietly dig for him in memory and meaning. I remember singing his words with abandon around campfires or humming quietly alone in my car over miles of highway, Jerry whispering into my ear. Or just laying on the floor, taking the ride. “When you get confused, listen to the music play.” As I scrap to define what Robert Hunter's words have meant to me over the course of my life, in a million situations, the scope shatters any attempt at measurement, and I begin to see what all he’s done. Gratitude rolls over me like a wave and I cry. I see his reflection cast, ever so wonderfully, everywhere, and I am in awe.
“Tell me all that you know. I’ll show you snow and rain.”
Robert Hunter was more than a lyricist, obviously, even more than our heralded title of Deadhead Poet Laureate. He was a remarkable, mind-blowing metaphorical artist of the human condition. “The storyteller makes no choice, soon you will not hear his voice.” With one foot firmly planted in stardust, he chronicled the Grateful Dead experience. Snapping metaphorical pictures of the characters, defining the encounters in parable like manner, Robert cast the times and people upon the ancient backdrop of a cosmic setting. Stretching our minds out into metaphorical array, he opened us ever so slightly to a cosmic existence, and we knew what we had always known . . . all the glorious things we saw when we thought, Life is so much more than I ever imagined! We rejoiced! Our minds leapt free, frolicking in Hunter’s marvelous spatial understanding, dancing upon the notes and chords of the Grateful Dead and LSD.
Who is Uncle John? What is Franklin’s Tower? The answers to these questions, and the many others Hunter planted in our minds, are different in different times, spaces, and people, yet always a doorway to the profound. Robert Hunter didn’t merely write songs, he gave us Eyes! He gave us a place to laugh our past away, to “make it just one more day.”
“Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world . . . the song that the morning brings.”
Robert, we could not have been what we have become without you. Thank you. Or seen and known the world as you have shown it. Oh, how many ways you are responsible for me becoming all the things I love so much. “A leaf of all colors plays a golden string fiddle to a double-e waterfall over my back.” I’ve listened to your lyrics many times over (embarrassingly so) and lament that there will never be another first time, yet I find in contemplating your words now, in light of your passing, they once again offer new meaning.
“Like a crazy-quilt star gown through a dream night wind.”
When I look to Playing in the Band, Brokedown Palace, Stella Blue, or Terrapin Station, or think of how Robert brought such characters to life as Tennessee Jed, Cosmic Charlie, Jack Straw, and Sugar Magnolia (the list going on and on), the piercing insight and vastness of mind Hunter brings to the scenarios of daily living, so beautifully encased in simplicity and wide open to a phenomenal amount of connectivity, I can only marvel.
“It’s just a box of rain, or a ribbon for your hair.”
Robert brought depth of being to the music of the Grateful Dead, which in turn brought depth of being to each of us. His words offered coherency, meaning, the realization of that “special something” that brought us all together, across different upbringings, job titles, and monetary status, where we had no other identity than Deadhead, graspers of “the deep unreal”. The music, Jerry’s guitar, and the hallucinogens cast a cosmic stage, yes, yet we’d be remiss if we didn’t recognize it was Robert Hunter's words, his insight, his cosmic eyes, that carried us over the edge, where tears flow in beauty, and thoughts soar unknowingly . . . and understanding is had. How many times, at how many shows, during how many songs did my mind hear just a few lines and go off soaring through discovery, awakening, or into the eyes of infinity? How many times did his prose sum up a situation? Speak to the happenings? Offering us a multitude of opportunities in which to quote him. How is it that Brokedown Palace brings consolation during the death of a loved one, while at the same time bringing friends together at a wedding?
“Listen to the river sing sweet songs to rock my soul.”
Robert Hunter’s words constantly come to our minds, cross our lips as we navigate our daily lives, and in each case we can say, “There he is,” for, “Once in a while you get shown the light . . .” His lyrics will forever be that light shining on our world, one that shines day and night, illuminating a universe where we’re no longer human being, but instead, the cosmos being. To visit Robert we must only ask, “What would I be without the words and understanding of Robert Hunter dancing around my mind with the music therein?” I don’t need an answer to this question. I only need leave my mind open in askance as I watch the seeds of Robert and the Grateful Dead spread, and know that the thoughts and meaning of our combined experience has been recorded, that the gateway will remain open to all who listen.
“Would you hear my voice come through the music, would you hold it near as it were your own?”
Robert Hunter gave voice to our song, and in so doing, we came to form. And now, as the leaves of our Grateful tree become mulch, we will see black dirt live again as the Ripples are heard by new ears . . . And new sprouts of ancient being will carry our story on. For our tale has been forever carved into the mind of man, through thousands of interpreters, throughout time and space, by a man named Bob. For, “In the end there’s still that song, comes crying like the wind . . . And when you hear that song . . . it seems like all this life was just a dream.”
“Shall we go, you and I, while we can, through the transitive nightfall of diamonds.”
As another new year rolls in, I can’t say how excited I am to see the Grateful Dead family not only thriving but flourishing. We Deadheads can take pride in having become a borderless, boundless global community where a simple Steal-Your-Face sticker on your pack and a smile will find you a safe haven. And with thankfulness being one of the defining criteria of a Deadhead for the life-changing, enlightening experience the Dead brought to our lives, we have a healthy desire to express that gratitude. What is “it” we’re so thankful for? Well, the list could be long or profound, or simply musical, but whatever “it” is, it will be gathering at the Skull & Roses Music Festival in Ventura, California, April 2nd - 5th.
And as thankfulness and appreciation spring eternal, with my deepest sympathies and respect to Robert Hunter’s recent passing, I’m sure this shall be a very special Skull & Roses for us all.
A family reunion of odd sorts, Skull & Roses is a place where we Deadheads can appreciate the musicians and people we have become and attracted, be ourselves, and commune with our people in celebration of the Grateful Dead and the Deadhead community— something that holds a dear and special place in each of our hearts, for what would life have been without?
This year’s festival brings together a multitude of bands and musicians who have jumped on the bus over the years, each happily taking up the mantle, declaring, “St. Stephen will remain.” The list spans the years nicely, included among many others, Kreutzmann with Billy & the Kids, Oteil & Friends, Melvin Seals and JGB, David Nelson, Keller Williams, Ghost Light, Jackie Greene, and Jeff Chimenti with Steve Kimock and George Porter Jr. in Voodoo Dead. A gathering to behold!
And when the Dead, in all its forms, invites someone into the fold, people take notice, for we know they are worthy of our attention. And lately, it’s been George Porter Jr., a tie-dye clad, all smiles, funk, R & B bass player from New Orleans. Starting out in the ’60s with a simple placard, “Have bass, will travel,” George Porter Jr. was already a Deadhead at heart and has gone on to become one of America’s finest bass players. From a young age, George’s willingness to learn, listen, and play with any and all led him to more mature and talented players, each leaving their imprint ingrained. His humble philosophy of being “who you need me to be,” when it comes to playing, led Porter through a plethora of experiences, top-level musicians and times too many to even imagine, ultimately shaping whom one day would become the recipient of both the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and “the nod” from the Grateful Dead.
While predominantly recognized from his work with The Meters and his funk sound of the seventies, George’s current bands, The Porter Trio and Runnin’ Pardners, as well as his work with Bill Kreutzmann, Bob Weir, Dead & Company, and Voodoo Dead represents some of his hottest shows and finest playing to date. He’s got some truly smokin’ stuff out there people! And a lot of it.
With Skull & Roses just around the corner, Grateful Web caught up with George to talk all things Dead and then some.
GW: Hello, George. Great to get a chance to talk with you.
George: Yes, my pleasure.
GW: I’m sure you’re aware that the Skull & Roses festival is a celebration of the Grateful Dead and the Dead community. I was wondering what your impressions were when you were first introduced to the Dead family. I know with most Deadheads it was a rather significant event.
George: I’ve always been much aware of the Dead community. I mean, I probably knew some deadheads, as some of the hippies I knew were probably Deadheads. I guess I don’t know exactly how you’d put it. [Laughter] But I mean, I remember wearing bell-bottoms and tank tops and stuff like that back in the middle seventies, early eighties. I wore hippie clothes, but at that point in time didn’t really know what the Grateful Dead was. I had heard of the band before, but not knowing any of the members or even hearing any of the gigs. Then I guess in the eighties, when the Neville Brothers— they started playing dates with them after The Meters had broken up— I got to hear more about the Grateful Dead because of the Neville Brothers involvement with them.
I think my original exposure was my very first time meeting Bill. I was playing a gig Saturday evening at a little club in New Orleans called Les Bon Temps and Bill came in to play. Well, Bill was just hangin’ out actually and one of the guys that was with him told the drummer that Bill wanted to sit in. I think the drummer then was Kenny Blevins. He was told that Bill Kreutzmann was in the building and he’s the drummer for the Grateful Dead, and he wanted to sit in on a New Orleans’ kind of song. So I think . . . that happened and “Iko Iko” was the song that got called. But the way Bill played it was not the way John Mooney conceived it to be. Then, you know, he was a little embarrassing because he kind of stopped the song and gave Bill some grief about it, you know, “Where you learn how to play?” [Laughter] And I remember Bill leaving the stage, like, “Ah, man . . .” And I thought, “Who’s this guy?” [Laughter] While I didn’t feel worried, I was sitting there going, “Hmm, my God, John was out the box.”
It wasn’t until Steve Kimock brought me into Mickey Hart’s band that I learned any of the music. At the time, I had to learn some Dead songs as well as some new songs that Robert Hunter had written for Mickey’s solo project. But like I said, that was a short-lived outfit. I think that Mickey only did that particular band on one little short tour, I mean, probably like three or four weeks, something like that. And then, two years later it was the 7 Walkers project.
But let me answer your question about the size of the community. No, I didn’t really even start figuring that out until probably nine or ten years ago when working with Bill and Mickey and then being asked to perform. I started getting calls from other bands that performed Dead songs to play in those bands. I believe it kind of started coming together from my version of “Sugaree.” [Chuckles]
GW: And that’s how you became a Deadhead?
George: Well, it had to do with income. [Chuckles] You know, I’m a bass player for hire. So the old saying is, “He who pay, I will play.” [Laughter]
GW: Did your style of bass play fit in well with Bob, and Mickey, and Bill, and Dead & Company?
George: I brought a totally different feeling to the songs. Originally when I first played with Mickey Hart’s band, I went out on that little short tour with him. I didn’t think I would ever hear from them again because I was not the type of bass player that Mickey was looking for—although Steve Kimock kind of put my name in the hat, and still does. I was more of a pocket player than a melodic player, and so I didn’t think that fit well. But then, a few years later when I got to play in the 7 Walkers with Bill and Papa Mali, Bill loved the pocket. I mean, Bill was more interested in being in that pocket and he was very happy with where I was at. We play really well together.
Then Bob Weir sat in on a gig I played at Christmas Jam with Eric Krasno, Bradford Marsalis, John Medeski, and Terrence Higgins. Bobby liked what he was hearing from where I was at and asked me to sit in with his solo project at the Saenger Theater in New Orleans. So when Dead & Company asked me to come sit in with them on that show in New Orleans, it was kind of a natural fit.
GW: Yeah, I really enjoyed that. I’ve watched it a few times. Smokestack Lightning was a great pick.
George: I like to think I’m the kind of bass player that can play the gig. If the gig requires a certain thing, I can leave me at home and be what the gig calls for. I’ve become a little bit more of a melodic player than I was originally, but I’m still more a pocket player.
GW: When I looked back on your life, I couldn’t fully fathom how many times and stories you have. How has such an accumulation of experience influenced your music? Can you even articulate that?
George: No. I think it goes to say, like I was saying earlier, when you hire me to play your gig, I have been able to leave a great deal of me at home and be what you need me to be to perform. I’m pretty good at being that bass player that’s needed for that particular project. I just think I do that very well. I’m that bass player, I can be whatever you need me to be.
GW: You leave yourself home for them and give them what they need. What if we were to spin that around and rather than what you offer them, talk about the impression their music leaves on you?
George: If it’s musical, I’m cool with it. I’m not just going to go play a bunch of crazy stuff. I think there’s very little just absolutely crazy stuff out there. I think I get to play music with good musicians and good players, and so I don’t feel like I’m selling out to do something. I mean, if I hear the music and the music is horrifying, then I turn the gig down. [Laughter] I have done that.
GW: And now you’re about to head out to Ventura, California and hang out with a bunch of hippies.
George: Well, I mean, I’ve been hanging out with a bunch of hippies since probably the last ten or 12 years now. I believe that I have found a nice spot in the Dead community. A lot of the Dead guys introduced the Deadhead community to a great deal of New Orleans music. So people hearing me play with those guys has been somewhat natural.
GW: That it is. The Deadhead crowd is a huge community to introduce your music to, with hundreds of bands playing their music. The Dead have had quite an effect on America and the American music scene.
George: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
GW: When you go to these music festivals do you guys play backstage together at all?
George: Not usually, unless we are rehearsing. I don’t hang out much as since I got sober I kind of got boring. [Laughter] So at all these music festivals, there’s lots and lots of pot smoking and stuff around, so I kind of like go and do what I have to do, and I’ll kind of get out of the way, you know? [Chuckles] Just because I’m doing a concentrated effort to protect my sobriety.
Sometimes at big festivals, things just happen. I think it was the Lockn' Festival last year that Foundation of Funk played— that was Zigaboo, Tony Hall, Ivan Neville, Ian Neville— and at first we heard that Bill was coming out to sit in with us . . . and then the next thing we heard was that Mickey was coming, and Bob Weir was coming, and John Mayer showed up too.[Chuckling] It was almost the whole Dead & Company band, they all showed up. We all ended up on stage playing together for about four songs, about the last twenty minutes of our set. It was fun!
GW: And that’s just one of the special stories that make up your career. I can’t imagine you don’t have a million stories like that from fifty-plus years of playing.
George: Oh yeah, there’s quite a few times that things surprise me, but I don’t believe anything that surprising has ever happened before. Not in my lifetime. That was an absolute first.
GW: I bet that woke up the little boy in you, huh?
George: Yeah. [Laughter] When I started seeing the guys bringing guitar amps, then more guitar amps were coming out to the stage, old percussion rigs was coming out, and so before you know it, we were like a nine-piece-something band.
GW: You spoke of trying to protect your sobriety. How do you keep your energy up for all this touring and traveling? Are you drinking a bunch of Red Bull? Or are you eating your vegetables?
George: I kind of go to bed at night, I sleep. I was drinking Red Bull for a while, but then I had to stop doing that because my stomach wasn’t liking it very much. I couldn’t take the acid and all that sugar. It pretty much turned out unhealthy. So I stopped drinking the Red Bulls, and I just started getting rest and eating vegetables, and just trying to think healthier.
GW: Yeah, it seems the modern-day buzz as we get older is more like a smoothie instead of a beer. I think I get a better buzz from a smoothie these days. I don’t have the bounce back with beer that I used to.
George: Yeah, I don’t see too many smoothies around on gigs too much. But yeah, I guess a good smoothie drink would be nice too.
GW: Get all your fruit and vitamins. We never thought to try health when we were younger. What a novel concept.
George: [Laughter] Right, right, right.
GW: Melvin’s going to be playing at Skull & Roses this year with the Jerry Garcia Band. You’ve been playing with him some as well. I was curious as to how you met Melvin.
George: I don’t remember exactly how or when was the first time I met him— it’s been probably at least 20 years or more in San Francisco— I don’t really remember how and when that happened but I think I met Melvin when he was asked to sit in with my Runnin’ Pardners band at the Boom Boom Room a long time back.
GW: You guys do go back a couple of decades anyway?
George: Oh yeah, absolutely, absolutely. And then Melvin always tells me that he’s a big fan of The Meters and the New Orleans thing every time I see him. He’s always speaking highly of the guys in the band. You know, Zig and Leo were both living out there in California for a long time, so he got to see them more than he got to see me.
GW: You definitely have a big Meters’ following. There’s a bunch of top-notch people that speak very highly of the band. How was it playing in The Meters when you first started out in New Orleans? You were a bar band, weren’t you?
George: Oh yeah, absolutely. That’s where we started out playing in nightclubs, in a club called the Night Cap. Then we moved from there to the French Quarter and played on Bourbon Street for a good year and a half the first time, and then maybe five or six months the second time. After they released the “Cissy Strut” and “Sophisticated Cissy”, we went out on the road, and then came home and went back in the studio. While we were back home, we went back on Bourbon Street and played at a club called Ivanhoe. I think the fact that we had almost three years of playing as a unit before we ever became The Meters had a lot to do with the reason why Allen Toussaint kind of sought us out to become his in-house studio band.
GW: How is it that you guys ended up getting the moniker of being the Fathers of Funk? Was it something as simple as being musicians at the time the wah-wah pedal came out?
George: I don’t know how that came about. All of us individually were individual musicians. And I think we all kind of listened to different music.
So I believe the wah-wah pedal got introduced to Leo through somebody else. I’m not sure who. I remember one time I used to use a wah-wah pedal on my bass until I discovered a thing called Neutron which gave me the same effect as a wah-wah pedal would give me but it was an envelope filter. So I moved away from the wah-wah pedal and started using this envelope filter, which I still use at my gigs. Not the Neutron, but I still use an envelope filter made by EBS.
GW: Was the funk sound something that was around you guys at the time? Or were you somebody who was really pioneering a sound that everybody would go see and say, “Wow! That’s something different,” or hear you and go like . . . “What!?”
George: I can’t answer that question. We were labeled funk. It was a sound that just came out of four musicians with different backgrounds coming together. I remember when I wasn’t playing with those guys, I was going and listening to jazz and jazz musicians. And the jazz players that I listened to were, um . . . well, they weren’t strictly jazz, they were R & B. They were, um, I don’t know how you put that. Well, let’s put it this way, when I was fifteen years old, sixteen and seventeen, I was playing with different bands or beginnings of bands and to be in the action, to even work in the sixties in New Orleans, you had to know how to play everything. You had to know how to swing, you had to know how to play a shuffle, you had to know how to play the blues. So, you know, it was important that you were well rounded as a musician. So I always may have accredited myself as a well-rounded musician. I can play anything. Once I put my mind to learning how to play it, I’ll play it. And then, I have my motto, “He who pay, I will play.”
GW: And hence, that’s how you played with just about everybody.
George: [Laughter] I like that.
GW: How do you get that well rounded by sixteen years old?
George: I was playing with musicians that were ten, fifteen years older than I was. I listened. I listened. I mean, it was almost probably . . . seventy-five, eighty percent of the songs that I learned in the sixties, I learned at the gig. You know what I’m saying?
We had radios in the house. My dad listened to a lot of jazz. My mom listened to R & B. She was into R & B and blues. Things like that. We listened to a lot of New Orleans and local music back then. We had radio stations in New Orleans, even the white radio stations in New Orleans played a lot of the black R & B musicians and music. So the radio stations in New Orleans weren’t so isolated. Yes, they played rock and roll music, yeah, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis Fats Domino, and local guys like Earl King, Irma Thomas, Raymond Lewis, stuff like that. They would play all those guys.
GW: That kind of background, ear, and improv seems to have set you up perfectly for the Grateful Dead.
George: It set me up perfectly for, “Have bass, will travel.” [Laughter]
GW: And you’ve done a lot of travel.
George: I have a great feeling for music, all kinds. I mean, the only gig I haven’t gotten at this point is a country and western gig. I told Ashley Judd, Wynonna’s little baby sister, to let her know that I’m available.
GW: [Laughter] Need to play that card still, huh? I’d like to hear that.
George: Huh, what do you mean? [Laughter] I’ll give it a shot.
GW: Hear that Wynonna! So, who will you be playing with at this year’s Skull & Roses?
George: Voodoo Dead. That’s with Steve Kimock, I believe his son John Morgan Kimock, Jeff Chimenti, and I’m not sure who the other guitar player is. There’s usually a second guitar player that does most of the lead singing. Yeah, Voodoo is Greene, Jackie Greene has been that band. Last year we played with Al Schnier.
GW: So you’re going to be winging it once again, huh.
George: Oh yeah. [Chuckles] Though not really. We will have time to rehearse.
GW: When you’re playing with the Runnin’ Pardners or the Porter Trio . . . or even the Funky Meters . . . have you thought of sneaking a Dead tune into the middle of your crowd?
George: Oh, I do, not necessarily in the Runnin’ Pardners but in my Porter Trio, which is two of the members of the Runnin’ Pardners, the keyboardist and the drummer . . . and myself. We do “They Love Each Other.” We do, “Eyes of the World.” We do, “Sugaree.” Everybody always accredited “Lovelight” to the Dead, but I have been playing it forever as it’s a Bobby Bland song from the ’60s.
GW: With the recent passing of Robert Hunter, this year’s Skull & Roses festival is going to be rather special. Do you have any thoughts on Hunter as a lyricist?
George: I thought, when I happened to learn some of these songs, I said, “Holy shit! They got a lot of words here.” [Laughter] But I thought all of them were all great stories. Some of them I didn’t quite understand. I even asked Bill, “What’s ‘Sugaree’ all about?” I asked him about it, and he say, “I don’t know.” [Chuckles] Nobody in the band was able to tell me what the song “Sugaree” is about.
GW: I thought it was about a girl who gets busted, and she can shake it all she wants, but don’t tell on me, man. But now you have me wondering.
George: [Laughter] The one thing I do know, it was about a girl or maybe a drug dealer.
GW: Ah, that’s funny. You know, you look at things like “Eyes of the World” with these great lines, like, “Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world, you’re the song that the morning brings.” This is the thing Deadheads attach to. It’s this philosophy Robert Hunter introduced that brought cohesion to the Grateful Dead’s playing— so Jerry Garcia’s guitar could take us somewhere— because we had a lyrical concept in our head to release us to a larger understanding of things.
George: I’m a big fan. I really like, “Eyes of the World.” And I’ve been liking, “They Love Each Other” too. That’s a beautiful song. I’m thinking sort of Voodoo Dead playing— I’m thinking about learning, “Black Muddy River.” I’ve played that a few times with other people singing it, and I’m not that crazy about the way they sang it, so I’ve been thinking about putting my try in, seeing if I can wrap my vocals around that one.
GW: I’d love to hear that, as I’m sure many others would. I wish you success there. I know a few years after Jerry passed away, the Persuasions put out a Grateful Dead album, “Might as Well,” all A cappella, and I believe they did, “Black Muddy River” on that. Great album. Worth listening to.
I could tap you all day for stories, George, because I know you have a million of ‘em. And I have to say, it’s been a great honor getting a chance to chat with you. I’m definitely a fan. Which, I guess, brings me to Art Neville. With his recent passing, as more and more people fall away, I was wondering if you had anything to share about him and your relationship.
George: Well, I woke up this morning knowing that today was his birthday. He would have been 83 years old today. I think he’s eleven years older than me. The day after Christmas I’ll turn 72. I was just wanting to call him and wish him a happy birthday, but the phone where he’s at don’t ring. That was kind of that lost feeling. I kind of woke up with that lost feeling that he’s not around anymore.
There’s so many of my good— so many of the guys that I kind of accredited as being part of my growing up in the music industry, there’s only maybe one or two of them still alive. Yeah, there’s probably one or two of them, maybe three. One of them I see every now and then. Two of them I haven’t seen in twenty years. I know they’re around because I see their names on Facebook. But mostly the guys who I’ve been playing with, oh, for the last 20-some-odd years, 20-plus years, with the Runnin’ Pardners, has kind of been the center of my world, you know?
The young players that have come into my life over the last few years, maybe the last ten years, the youngest player, Terrence Houston, is the new drummer for Runnin’ Pardners. By new, I mean he has been with me for 10 years. [Laughter] He is also the lead drummer for the Porter Jr. Trio, and he was the last drummer for the Funky Meters, taking over when Russell Batiste retired from the band. Chris Atkins is the newest member with two years in as the guitar player, taking over when Brint Anderson retired from the Runnin’ Pardners after playing in the band for 27 years. The young players that’s coming into my life are bringing back some of the music I’ve forgotten about. [Chuckles] This is a great story. Chris just came on, and we played a gig somewhere in Georgia. After that gig, the Trio was going out to finish touring— we had a few dates past that so Chris rode back to the airport with my girlfriend— and he mentioned to her, he said, “You know, Porter should start playing some more of these songs. These are some great old tunes, man. I would like to get him to play these songs.” So it wasn’t three months later that I asked him— you know we were in the band the Runnin’ Pardners— I said, “Chris, why don’t you write the setlist for the night.” He said, “Really!?” I said, “Yeah, man, why don’t you write the setlist for tonight.” So he wrote the setlist out, and— oh my God— we only knew three of the songs on the setlist. [Laughter] I was like, “Oh, ho ho ho ho ho. Oh my God. Wow, Chris.”
GW: You weren’t already on stage were you?
George: No, no, no, no, we were still in the van. We hadn’t gotten to the gig yet.
GW: Oh, good! I could see you guys standing there on stage, going, “Okay boys, we’re winging it tonight.”
GW: Just a few months ago, my wife’s grandfather, who’s 94, was telling me stories about being a kid and growing up in New Orleans in the thirties and forties. It’s a city with a fascinating history, with a deep heart in music. Have you seen that the music overall these fifty, sixty years has grown in good directions in New Orleans? Or has it started to deteriorate at all?
George: It has grown. It has taken on somewhat of a different picture from when I was a kid. I don’t know how you’d say, it’s, um, it’s modulating. The young players that’s coming into the music, they’re changing it to fit them, you know, cuz every one of those kind of bands— there ain’t too many bands in New Orleans that only want to be like the old band, like The Meters or somebody. They got a lot of young bit players in New Orleans that want to be their own Meters, you know? They want to be the next band to come out of New Orleans and be big. So, with that being said, I think that the music is taking on a new face. And the pockets are changing somewhat too, as well. It’s still good. There’s still some good players down here. And this city has always been great for drummers. I mean, we turn out drummers like crazy down here. There's always great, wonderful drummers coming out of New Orleans. That has not changed at all.
GW: Upcoming musicians often wonder how people get discovered. Was it random luck that brought The Meters about? Because the next thing you know, you’re touring with the Stones.
George: Well, we got to tour with the Stones through Ron Woods. When Ron joined the band that particular year, 1975, the Stones released that they were going to do a US tour. Ron Woods said, “Man, we ought to get The Meters to play some of these dates with us.” And Keith was open for that. So it kind of happened. We didn’t get to open the whole tour. I think we only did sixteen of those dates that they had in the US.
GW: So just the fact that Ron Woods had heard of you brought you in, huh? Well, and obviously you were that good.
George: Europe was very aware of The Meters. We played in Europe in the late sixties, very early seventies. We took a New Orleans contingency from New Orleans to play in London, and I want to say Switzerland, at Montreux Jazz Festival. The tour that we were on had The Meters, Professor Longhair, Dr. John, . . I don’t remember if Allen Toussaint was on that . . . maybe he wasn’t. It was supposed to be Snooks Eaglin too, but the morning that we were leaving, at the airport, Snook’s wife decided that she didn’t want him to go. And Snooks didn’t make the tour. We went over there and were well received. So they knew about us over there in Europe.
The night we played in London, after the end of our concert, all the New Orleans and British bands, we had a meet and greet with all those guys. Everyone from Rod Stewart, who at that time was in the band Faces. Ron Wood was actually the bass player in Faces at that time. Then there was Paul McCartney and Linda there. There were some great photographs of Paul, Linda and myself from that particular tour. But then, I lost all those photographs in hurricane Katrina.
GW: Oh, that’s too bad.
George: But it was great! We also met all the Stones that night. We met Procol Harum. We met all of the British Invasion. They all came. We met every last one of those bands.
GW: What a night that must have been.
George: That was actually cool. The meet and greet, all things possible. [Laughter]
GW: Was that tour quite the party or were you guys serious back then or both? That seems like a lot of people on the fun train.
George: It was both. I believe the promoter that brought us over there was hoping that it could be something that he could do on a regular basis. But I can’t go into any kind of details about why it didn’t happen again. It could have been as easy as saying everybody just wanted their own band, you know? That’s probably what it is. The Meters were like the house band. We played behind everybody. So I think Dr. John wanted to go back with his own band. Professor Longhair wanted to go back with his own band.
In Switzerland, when we played Montreux, it wasn’t a great night musically for Professor Longhair because they had an open acoustic piano on stage mic-ed and there was too much of the electrical instruments going through the piano . . . so they had trouble. The Meters ended up, well, we kind of got booed off the stage because the people couldn’t hear the piano playing and there was lots of feedback. They got upset about something we just had really no control over, making that acoustic thing happen correctly. If he had just closed the top, the lid of the piano, instead of making it look pretty, then it probably could have worked out a lot better.
GW: So you’ve been booed more than once.
George: [Laughter] Yeah.
GW: Ah, that’s just great. Just great. How did your show go last night?
George: Last night? Oh, last night was wonderful. It was a good night. Great turnout. And the Saints had won their football game. And when the Saints win their football game, the Maple Leaf goes crazy.
GW: That was an amazing performance. Breeze missed just one pass. The Saints have come a long way. I remember watching the Saints with a bag over my head when they were the ‘Aints.
George: [Laughter] Yeah.
GW: Did you end up losing your house in Hurricane Katrina?
George: No, we didn’t lose our home. It got drowned. The first floor of the house got four and a half feet of water. My mom’s house had nine feet of water in it. But one of the beautiful things about my mom’s house— her house was over a hundred years old and the house is built with cedar— so when they opened up the walls, that house was flexing its muscles, saying, “Give me some more. [Laughter] I want more of this stuff.” Because of the cedar, there’s no black mold.
Speaking of the maple Leaf, I’m gonna have to run because I gotta go get my gear out of there. Last night it was storming down here. I didn’t take my gear out of there last night.
GW: You bet, George. Thank you for being so generous with your time and sharing your stories. I look forward to seeing you at Skull & Roses and any other performance of yours I’m fortunate enough to catch.
George: Thank you. Bye now, and have a wonderful day.
“The bus came by and I got on, that’s when it all began.”