For some 30 years, back-to-school was synonymous with a return from the Dead. Students came back to campus armed with new bootlegs, fresh tie-dies, and kind green bud. And in Colorado Springs, many students could count on both hands and a foot and a half the number of days until Block Break and a chance to rejoin the endless caravan for a few days on one coast or another.
Five years later, the trip is still on schedule, although the bursts are brief enough to seem like mere flashbacks. But make no mistake, life after Dead is no illusory pipe dream. There's a vibrant, active culture out there keeping the vibe alive and supplying giant ganja cookie salesmen with parking lots to peddle their wares for at least a month out of the year.
Further on down the road
The Further Festival hit the Rockies last week, ushering a full two months of red letter days for all things Dead. Even the peripheral temporary village of whirling peasant skirts and tribal drum beats was revived and healthier than ever, with bottles of microbrew being sold alongside hempware, tofu delight, and enough drug paraphernalia to keep the campuses smoking till Homecoming.
Bruce Hornsby calls it "another stroll down counter-culture memory lane." The "new" band, first gathered two years ago for the '98 Further Festival, is called The Other Ones. The line-up changes from tour to tour: two years ago Dead bassist Phil Lesh was playing in the band, and this year Billy Kreutzman returns, joining original Dead-mates Mickey Hart and Bob Weir, permanent part-timer Hornsby, and recent recruits Alphonso Johnson (Jazz is Dead, Santana, Bobby and the Midnites), Mark Karan (RatDog), and Steve Kimock (Keith and Donna Godchaux's Heart of Gold Band and Zero with songwriter Robert Hunter)
The concert was intensely adventurous, with more daring explorations into improvisational jams than the Dead often allowed themselves. Each musical incarnation of life after Dead has been more expansive and delightfully indulgent than the last. Perhaps the solo projects that otherwise occupy band members like Hornsby, Weir, and Hart -- fresh from drumming Al Gore to the podium at the Democratic National Convention -- make them readier than ever to blend seamlessly into the comfort of playing in the band.
The show opened with "Dark Star," launching the band and the crowd down a road with no turning back, setting the standard for long, unpredictable forays into the canon. Hart offered the night's only new tune, "Down the Road Again," an elegy to everyone from Joe Hill to John Lennon, from a hitchhiking Jack Kennedy to a Cheshire-grinning Garcia, "just the beard and glasses and a smile on empty space."
From there, the band wove its way through old blues like "Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl," fresh acoustic renditions of "Me and My Uncle," "Ripple," and "Uncle John's Band" and expansive treatments of "Spanish Lady" and "Terrapin."
"We had something pretty damn powerful -- and real nice -- put together the last time we were out," said Weir of the new tour. "Our aim is not to pick up where we left off but to exceed that. We know what we're doing, and we know where we've been, and it'll be fun to see where this all takes us."
One of the Dead's most enduring legacies has been to define the prefix acid -- when applied to various forms of music. With their early acid test performances, they introduced the world to acid-rock and spawned such welcome stepchildren as acid-grass and acid-jazz. A chance to see some of the best acid-jazz on stage awaits you tonight (September 7) as a who's who of Colorado jam band all-stars converge at the Boulder Theater, billing themselves as The Theory of Everything (T.O.E.).
The group is made up of veterans of the venerable Nederland Acid Jazz sessions, a weekly gathering of musicians for no-holds-barred improvisations in dark, smoky bars in the hippie haven in the mountains. T.O.E. features electric mandolinist Michael Kang and keyboard player Kyle Hollingsworth from String Cheese Incident, guitarist Ross Martin from the Tony Furtado Band, drummer Dave Watts from his own Dave Watts Motet, and bassist Tye North of Leftover Salmon. Tickets are $15.75 and are available by calling the Boulder Theater at 303/786-7030, or by logging onto www.bouldertheater.com.
The Thursday session in Boulder is merely a prelude to whet appetites for the first-ever Planet Salmon Festival in Lyons, Saturday and Sunday, September 9 and 10. The recent crop of Colorado-based jam bands have recharted the musical maps, and Planet Salmon threatens to drive home the new geographic of jamming with all the Salmon-centered confidence of a New Yorker map of the world.
The line-up for the two-day festival features local luminaries like Leftover Salmon, Runaway Truck Ramp, Pete Wernick, and Yonder Mountain String Band joined by welcome visitors John Bell of Widespread Panic, Maceo Parker, and the Rebirth Brass Band.
Do whatever you can to get into the campground Saturday night, since the party will just be starting when Salmon leaves the stage after a scheduled three and a half hour set guaranteed to feature plenty of sit-ins. Though it's the first in what will hopefully become an annual tradition, it is also the last chance to see Tye North as a member of Leftover Salmon, as he has announced that he will be leaving the band later this month.
Tickets are $30/day or $50 for a 2-day pass and are available from Planet Bluegrass at www.bluegrass.com or by calling 800/624-2422.
Outside of the immediate Dead family, the heir to long-strange-tripping is the Phish phenomenon. The band premiered their new concert documentary, Bittersweet Motel, at the Boulder Theater last weekend, but the closest thing you'll be able to see to a Phish concert film in Colorado this fall is a Phish concert.
Bittersweet Motel, playing in limited release one art house at a time (sorry, Springs fans) follows the band on tour in the summer and fall of 1997. The odyssey starts at "The Great Went," a three-day Phish-fest that drew nearly 70,000 fans way, way the hell up in northern Maine near the Nova Scotia border in a town called Limestone. As a cultural phenomenon with relatively little exposure outside their dedicated following, Phish was ripe for a film like this, and the chance to see backstage footage, interviews, the working out of new material, and the playing of all or part of 23 songs makes this a treat for Phish-heads.
While the Dead's legacy is kept alive through several concert CDs released each year in the Dick's Picks series, Phish has turned to the internet. The band's first MP3 release, sold as an entire concert or track-by-track at 99 cents per song, is their 1990 Halloween concert at Colorado College. Lead guitarist and vocalist Trey Anastasio even tells a story on the web site (www.phish.com) of buying a Buick Apollo for $70 here in town before the show and trying to drive it to the next gig, making it halfway to Madison before it died.
Tickets for the Fiddler's Green concert on September 27 are $29.70, available from Ticketmaster at 520-9090 or on-line at www.ticketmaster.com.
Phillmore and Phriends
Back on stage for a final push in October, one of the highlights of the concert season is sure to be founding Dead bassist Phil Lesh's return to Colorado with the Phil and Friends line-up. After touring with Dylan this summer with Friends including Little Feat's Paul Barrere and Bill Payne and blues guitarist Robben Ford, Lesh's fall friends will include Rob Barraco on keyboards, Warren Haynes on guitar, Jimmy Herring (of the Allman Brothers and Jazz is Dead) on guitar, and John Molo on drums.
Lesh, who celebrated his 60th birthday on stage this year, has returned to the road with a renewed vigor after a life-saving liver transplant in 1998. Creative differences have kept him from resuming his role in The Other Ones, but Colorado fans can enjoy two concerts at The Fillmore in Denver, October 24 and 25. Tickets are $32, available from Ticketmaster.
The season of the Dead comes to a close on Halloween with a special performance by the notable cover band Dark Star Orchestra, who specialize in recreating specific Dead shows with a song-by-song reenactment. They'll be jamming at the Boulder Theater, bringing some luster back to one of the great Halloween towns of yesteryear.
Stolen Roses: Songs of the Grateful DeadIf you can't wait a month, a week, or a day for these events, there's a gem of a new release in stores now. Stolen Roses (Arista) is not a traditional tribute album, despite the 15 different Dead songs recorded by bands ranging from Bob Dylan and Widespread Panic to Patti Smith and the Stanford Marching Band. Rather, the album is a collection of previously recorded Dead songs the artists included on their own albums from the early '70s up through 1999. The songs represent the artists playing on their own turf and terms, rather than as the often reluctant recruits invited to participate in a tribute.
Among the discoveries offered on Stolen Roses is the album's second track, a musical theater cast recording of "High Time" from the play Cumberland Blues, based on the music of Garcia and Hunter. The song is recast as a duet between former high school sweethearts meeting years later and looking for a second chance.
Patti Smith's recording of "Black Peter" is one of the album's most honest and haunting interpretations. She and her band spontaneously slipped into the song after hearing the news of Garcia's death while in the studio to record their '95 album Gone Again.
The David Grisman Quintet and Sex Mob turn in stellar instrumental performances of "Dark Star" and "Ripple," respectively. Grisman has rarely sounded better than on this intricate extension of the Grateful Dawg sound he briefly established with Garcia. Steven Bernstein's tender slide trumpet on "Ripple" is a testimony to the Dead's support, spearheaded by Lesh, of music funding in the San Francisco city schools, where Bernstein was a student.
The Bobs and The Persuasions offer upbeat a cappella versions of "The Golden Road" and "Black Muddy River," capturing the inner voice of the songwriters that rarely escaped so cleanly in performance, and Michelle Kinney and Ellen Christi's vocals on "Unbroken Chain" are soaring and soulful.
There is even room for humor, with the inclusion of Leftover Salmon's underground classic "Pasta on the Mountain," their musical tribute to all the pot growers they've known in the mountains of Colorado. The closing track is an uplifting, humorous and nearly oxymoronic performance of the delicate "Uncle John's Band" as performed by the thundering legions of the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band, a fitting coda on an expansive testimony to the band's ability to reach further yet.