Jerry Garcia Birthday Tribute 2019
Leslie Mendelson (8/1)
host Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers with Wendy Ramsay
David Surette and Steve Roy (8/1)
Ryan Fitzsimmons with Laurence Scudder (8/1, 8/2) and Jim Larkin (8/2)
In honor of Jerry Garcia’s 77th birthday on August 1, 2019, a stellar group of songwriters and acoustic instrumentalists comes together to celebrate his spirit and legacy—as a guitarist, as a songwriter, and as an interpreter of American roots music.
Leslie Mendelson is an acclaimed singer-songwriter based in Brooklyn whose debut, Swan Feathers, was nominated for a Grammy. Her 2017 release Love and Murder features a duet with the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir, and her newest single, "A Human Touch" (from the movie 5B), is a duet with Jackson Browne. She has opened for Roger Daltrey on two U.S. tours, and in May 2019 opened for the Who at Madison Square Garden.
Jefferson Hamer is a songwriter, guitarist, and traditional musician based in Brooklyn. He performs with Eamon O’Leary in the Murphy Beds, featuring harmony vocals backed by intricate guitar and bouzouki, and plays electric guitar with the roots-rock ensemble Session Americana. Hamer’s 2013 Child Ballads album with Anaïs Mitchell earned a BBC2 Folk Award and was named one of NPR’s top-ten folk releases of the year.
Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers is a grand prize winner of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest and founding editor of Acoustic Guitar magazine. He interviewed both Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir—and sometimes shares clips from those conversations as part of the tribute concerts—and is the author of a video series teaching his acoustic arrangements of classic Grateful Dead songs. Joining him is multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Wendy Ramsay, his partner in the duo Pepper and Sassafras.
David Surette and Steve Roy, two stalwarts of the New England folk/bluegrass/roots music scene, team up as a duo to explore the music of the Grateful Dead on acoustic guitar and mandolin. Surette has performed with his wife, singer Susie Burke, for more than 30 years. Roy has toured internationally with acts such as Laurie Lewis and Tom Rozum, John Reischman and the Taterbugs, Molly Tuttle, Joe K. Walsh, Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen, and Joy Kills Sorrow.
Ryan Fitzsimmons, Laurence Scudder, and Jim Larkin are fixtures of the Boston roots-rock scene and frequent collaborators. Fitzsimmons has steadily built a reputation as one of the Northeast's most compelling songwriters. In the words of Red Line Roots, he is “a brutal force of nature on acoustic guitar…. He plays with a fire and fierceness that cannot be tamed, or faked for that matter.” Violist/singer/songwriter Laurence Scudder and bassist/drummer Jim Larkin perform with Spotted Tiger, Danielle M and the Glory Junkies, and many other Boston-area bands.
A note from JPR
The music of the Grateful Dead is part of my DNA as a guitarist and songwriter.
I began playing the band's songs as a teenager...learned to improvise while space jamming with my brother...caught a bunch of Dead and Jerry Garcia Band shows in the '80s and early '90s...and discovered a long list of great artists and traditional tunes through their covers.
I was fortunate enough to interview Jerry along with David Grisman in 1993 (as featured in the book Rock Troubadours; the photo in the poster above was taken that day by Jay Blakesberg), and then Bob Weir 15 years later.
I recorded an EP of solo acoustic arrangements of Dead songs, created a Homespun video series on Grateful Dead for acoustic guitar, and have led workshops around the country showing guitarists how to play songs like "New Speedway Boogie," "Friend of the Devil," and "Althea."
In 2016, the Boston Globe did a feature on my Grateful Dead guitar workshops, and I gave a lesson on camera to one of the paper's veteran correspondents, as documented in this video (read the accompanying article here).
And then came this amazing moment: an opportunity to play the iconic Wolf guitar, built by Doug Irwin in 1973 and played by Garcia over the next 20 years.
At the 2018 Garcia birthday tribute at Club Passim, Wolf's current owner, Brian Halligan, generously brought the guitar to the show, and we all took turns with this beautiful instrument, which is incredibly heavy both in its its physical weight and its significance. Garcia's cigarette burn on the headstock is still visible. I played Wolf backing up Hayley Jane on "Crazy Fingers" and jammed on "Eyes of the World" and "Truckin'," and I still shake my head at the memory.
I am at heart a songwriter, but I simply love the music that Jerry and the Dead gave us. And I know lots of fellow songwriters who feel the same way.
A key aspect of these tribute shows is that they are not note-for-note re-creations of the Dead's recordings or specific performances; plenty of Dead tribute bands do that, and do it very well, but to me that approach runs counter to the spirit of the music. The Dead were, after all, dedicated to reinventing the songs night after night and pushing into new territory. So in these shows, we celebrate that legacy by letting the songs evolve through each performers' interpretations.
Happy birthday, Jerry.