My Grateful Dead Rant

Why Won’t We Let the Grateful Dead Just Die?

I was browsing through the newly redesigned Kynd Music / 101 Report Blog and I noticed this little snippet of news that was too good to pass up on…

Keller Williams’ April 8th show at the Fillmore in Denver is set to include Jeff Austin of YMSB and Keith Moseley (SCI) interpreting Grateful Dead classics as bluegrass tunes. Dead Grass also promises the additions of other players as well…

This sounds pretty damn cool even though I’m sick with the idea that every single year all we do is “look back” at the Dead and honor them.

That starts to bug me, actually. I know they were the force that brought this whole scene together in the first place, it just seems that the longer we friggin’ sit here and play all Dead covers, the longer it’s going to take for the scene to move forward, move on, whatever…

Is there too much nostalgia in the jamband scene? Is there too much of “well, we don’t know what to play, so let’s just cover a Dead tune to make the crowd happy…?”

For as much as I can respect their music and enjoy listening to it, as well as respect their prior and continuous contributions to the scene, I also thought it was funny when this punk-rock guy I knew in high school created “I’m GRATEFUL he’s DEAD” stickers after Jerry’s death. He was blasting the scene and the wooks, not Jerry.

The Grateful Dead is neither Dead, nor Grateful that they’re legacy continues as wookie godfathers…DISCUSS…

Note: I’m just as guilty by even bringing this discussion here and there really is no right answer. I’m just not fully steeped in Dead history, etc. I’m just curious at to whether or not they are others that have this feeling sometimes. My Indie Music Rant will be next…

  • http://www.livemusicblog.com Justin

    Justin cowers and wonder if he just completely alienated every single one of his readers…he awaits response…

  • http://www.livemusicblog.com Justin

    Justin cowers and wonder if he just completely alienated every single one of his readers…he awaits response…

  • Don Quixote

    Well Justin, I must respectfully disagree. But then again the first time I ever heard a Grateful Dead song (that I knew who was playing) was 2 and a half years ago so the whole Grateful Dead and jamband thing is still new to me. My opinion may change in a few years after being much more immersed in the scene. I personally enjoy the fact, though, that even though I never got to see the G.D. play, I can kinda relive the experience. I can understand though how others who have been around the scene longer might share your sentiments. But think about it this way, today’s young jambands pay tribute the the band that helped mold the way how, why and when they play. In a way, very similar to the Grateful Dead who played many covers that payed tribute to the bands that they grew up with and that molded the way they played such as Chuck Berry, Hank Williams, Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash, etc. They also played many “traditional” and bluegrass songs as well. I’ll give you the fact that some Jerry or GD tributes are a little over the top, and a lot of this Jerry worshiping that you see at festivals is a little ridiculous, but I think that jambands playing a GD cover here and there is a very good thing and just thanks those who influenced them and paved the way for them musically.

  • Don Quixote

    Well Justin, I must respectfully disagree. But then again the first time I ever heard a Grateful Dead song (that I knew who was playing) was 2 and a half years ago so the whole Grateful Dead and jamband thing is still new to me. My opinion may change in a few years after being much more immersed in the scene. I personally enjoy the fact, though, that even though I never got to see the G.D. play, I can kinda relive the experience. I can understand though how others who have been around the scene longer might share your sentiments. But think about it this way, today’s young jambands pay tribute the the band that helped mold the way how, why and when they play. In a way, very similar to the Grateful Dead who played many covers that payed tribute to the bands that they grew up with and that molded the way they played such as Chuck Berry, Hank Williams, Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash, etc. They also played many “traditional” and bluegrass songs as well. I’ll give you the fact that some Jerry or GD tributes are a little over the top, and a lot of this Jerry worshiping that you see at festivals is a little ridiculous, but I think that jambands playing a GD cover here and there is a very good thing and just thanks those who influenced them and paved the way for them musically.

  • Don Quixote

    One final comment…

    Like I said above, I am new to the jamband scene, so I have really enjoyed seeing the Dead, Ratdog and Phil and Friends in concert. However, I think that if these guys want to keep touring, they should write some new music. It would help eliminate the whole “nostalgia” aspect of these shows and create some renewed interest in the band.

  • Don Quixote

    One final comment…

    Like I said above, I am new to the jamband scene, so I have really enjoyed seeing the Dead, Ratdog and Phil and Friends in concert. However, I think that if these guys want to keep touring, they should write some new music. It would help eliminate the whole “nostalgia” aspect of these shows and create some renewed interest in the band.

  • http://www.livemusicblog.com Justin

    Great point, Don.

    I can understand the use of covers as pure tribute, which many artists take advantage of in the live setting to show the audience who made them “who they are…”

    Excellent point…

    But, I’m sorry to say, you will NEVER come close to experience the Grateful Dead for what they were. You weren’t alive, and neither was I…

    It lives on in the tapes and in Colorado performances by Keller/Austin/Moseley, but for me, I see it as a huge detriment to the scene actually progressing forward musically and socially…

    The Grateful Dead need to be mentioned in every article regarding jambands ever published.

    I think we could do a great service to try and change that focus…

  • http://www.livemusicblog.com Justin

    Great point, Don.

    I can understand the use of covers as pure tribute, which many artists take advantage of in the live setting to show the audience who made them “who they are…”

    Excellent point…

    But, I’m sorry to say, you will NEVER come close to experience the Grateful Dead for what they were. You weren’t alive, and neither was I…

    It lives on in the tapes and in Colorado performances by Keller/Austin/Moseley, but for me, I see it as a huge detriment to the scene actually progressing forward musically and socially…

    The Grateful Dead need to be mentioned in every article regarding jambands ever published.

    I think we could do a great service to try and change that focus…

  • http://www.BurningOak.com BurningOak.com

    Oh man are you gonna get an earful as soon as I get out of class and have a chance to bitch and moan about this lol. Just kidding, I think I tend to disagree on a few points but I see where you get your argument from I think. I’ll see how this little forum plays out over the next few hours, I have a feeling I won’t be anywhere near the last person to comment.

  • http://www.BurningOak.com BurningOak.com

    Oh man are you gonna get an earful as soon as I get out of class and have a chance to bitch and moan about this lol. Just kidding, I think I tend to disagree on a few points but I see where you get your argument from I think. I’ll see how this little forum plays out over the next few hours, I have a feeling I won’t be anywhere near the last person to comment.

  • Don Quixote

    Summer of 2003. Living in Glacier National Park in Montana, a buddy played me Scarlet Begonias > Fire on the Mountain. That was my first GD experience and I’ve been hooked since.

    I don’t doubt that I’ll never experience what a ’72 GD show was like, but I gotta take what I can get. I really enjoyed Phil Lesh’s book, gave me some perspective on the band from the early years that I couldn’t get from the music.

    I’ll agree though about the constant comparisons of todays bands and certain songs to the GD. It does hold the scene back and prevents bands from emerging and taking center stage. Besides maybe Widespread, who could sell out Madison Square Garden or one of the big amphiteaters (don’t say Dave Matthews Band)? Part of it is that Deadheads are stubborn. Like you mention, comparing everything to Jerry and the boys won’t get us anywhere.

    There’s a time and a place for nostagia, and I can appreciate it as it helps me learn about something that I am just starting to understand and something that I never got to experience first hand.

    Also, playing a GD cover can also be more than paying tribute. It can be about interpreting the song differently. I mean the Keller show that’s coming up is going to show us some never before heard interpretations and will add to the scene much more than any nostalgic detraction. Bob Dylan once said that Jerry was able to interpret Dylan songs better than he was able to himself. Perhaps there is someone out there who will be better able to interpret some Grateful Dead songs.

  • Don Quixote

    Summer of 2003. Living in Glacier National Park in Montana, a buddy played me Scarlet Begonias > Fire on the Mountain. That was my first GD experience and I’ve been hooked since.

    I don’t doubt that I’ll never experience what a ’72 GD show was like, but I gotta take what I can get. I really enjoyed Phil Lesh’s book, gave me some perspective on the band from the early years that I couldn’t get from the music.

    I’ll agree though about the constant comparisons of todays bands and certain songs to the GD. It does hold the scene back and prevents bands from emerging and taking center stage. Besides maybe Widespread, who could sell out Madison Square Garden or one of the big amphiteaters (don’t say Dave Matthews Band)? Part of it is that Deadheads are stubborn. Like you mention, comparing everything to Jerry and the boys won’t get us anywhere.

    There’s a time and a place for nostagia, and I can appreciate it as it helps me learn about something that I am just starting to understand and something that I never got to experience first hand.

    Also, playing a GD cover can also be more than paying tribute. It can be about interpreting the song differently. I mean the Keller show that’s coming up is going to show us some never before heard interpretations and will add to the scene much more than any nostalgic detraction. Bob Dylan once said that Jerry was able to interpret Dylan songs better than he was able to himself. Perhaps there is someone out there who will be better able to interpret some Grateful Dead songs.

  • Don Quixote

    Sorry that my comments are a little long by the way…

  • Don Quixote

    Sorry that my comments are a little long by the way…

  • http://www.kyndmusic.com KyndMusic

    Hey Justin, I think you made some interesting points but I disagree overall. Now I am biased, I have to admit, being a huge Deadhead since the 80’s, but here’s where I think you’re off:

    IMHO, the joy of the Dead and the scene that came after them is the expansive number of musical traditions represented through cover songs and, as Don said above, the interpretation thereof. A lot of what The Dead did, in covering old time artists for example, turned me on to those artists. So I don’t see it as a useless nostalgia trip, but rather continuing and growing a great tradition, whether you cover The Dead, Keller, The Stanley Brothers or Marvin Gaye.

    That being said, Jerry Lives!!!! :-)

  • http://www.kyndmusic.com KyndMusic

    Hey Justin, I think you made some interesting points but I disagree overall. Now I am biased, I have to admit, being a huge Deadhead since the 80’s, but here’s where I think you’re off:

    IMHO, the joy of the Dead and the scene that came after them is the expansive number of musical traditions represented through cover songs and, as Don said above, the interpretation thereof. A lot of what The Dead did, in covering old time artists for example, turned me on to those artists. So I don’t see it as a useless nostalgia trip, but rather continuing and growing a great tradition, whether you cover The Dead, Keller, The Stanley Brothers or Marvin Gaye.

    That being said, Jerry Lives!!!! :-)

  • Leith DuVall

    Some very good points made.I first saw GD in’84 as a 14yo. I miss Jerry but as far as Jerry Tributes,Yeah he’s been dead over 10 yrs now.
    Ever heard of R.I.P.?
    Personally I love Phil’s continued quest to change up GD music and line-ups to explore it. I would love to see younger bands cover some more obscure GD songs.

  • Leith DuVall

    Some very good points made.I first saw GD in’84 as a 14yo. I miss Jerry but as far as Jerry Tributes,Yeah he’s been dead over 10 yrs now.
    Ever heard of R.I.P.?
    Personally I love Phil’s continued quest to change up GD music and line-ups to explore it. I would love to see younger bands cover some more obscure GD songs.

  • Andrew

    I think it’s a bigger problem in the jamband scene that the Dead are still the “reigning” kings of the scene, though Phish held the crown for a long time during their run.

    I’m curious if this is because the Dead (as well as Phish) created/developed a unique backstory and history, whereas other bands fail to do this and are relegated to being derivative?

    So long as other bands are derivative and aren’t looking to separate themselves from the Dead then I don’t think they can truly take the torch and run with it… advancing the genre. After all, a facsimile isn’t ever going to compare to the original when the original is still available (be it through Phil and Friends, RatDog, bootlegs, etc).

    Maybe the smartest thing Phish did was distance themselves from the Dead when they first started to gain a foothold in the market. They let their own mythology grow and didn’t ape it from the Dead like some others seem to be doing today.

    Just some ideas that came to me reading the responses… keep the input coming, it’s an interesting topic…

  • Andrew

    I think it’s a bigger problem in the jamband scene that the Dead are still the “reigning” kings of the scene, though Phish held the crown for a long time during their run.

    I’m curious if this is because the Dead (as well as Phish) created/developed a unique backstory and history, whereas other bands fail to do this and are relegated to being derivative?

    So long as other bands are derivative and aren’t looking to separate themselves from the Dead then I don’t think they can truly take the torch and run with it… advancing the genre. After all, a facsimile isn’t ever going to compare to the original when the original is still available (be it through Phil and Friends, RatDog, bootlegs, etc).

    Maybe the smartest thing Phish did was distance themselves from the Dead when they first started to gain a foothold in the market. They let their own mythology grow and didn’t ape it from the Dead like some others seem to be doing today.

    Just some ideas that came to me reading the responses… keep the input coming, it’s an interesting topic…