Celebrating Jerry Garcia

Save the date: August 1, 2019
Third annual Jerry Garcia birthday tribute
Club Passim, Cambridge, Mass.

In honor of Jerry Garcia’s 75th birthday—August 1, 2017—I teamed up with a stellar group of artists to celebrate his music at the legendary Club Passim. Joining me and my duo partner Wendy Ramsay were Celia Woodsmith (Della Mae), Greg Klyma, Ryan Fitzsimmons, and Spotted Tiger (Laurence Scudder and Erik White, of Brothers McCann)—all playing their acoustic interpretations of Dead songs written by Garcia, as well as covers he made his own in the Jerry Garcia Band, the duo with David Grisman, and other projects.

The 2017 Jerry Garcia 75th birthday tribute at Club Passim, with (left to right) Ryan Fitzsimmons, Greg Klyma, Wendy Ramsay, Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers, Erik White, Celia Woodsmith, Laurence Scudder, and (behind Laurence) Chris Hersch. Photo by Dan Tappan.

We also heard the voice of Garcia himself in the show, through clips from my interview archive where he reminisced about the Dead’s jug-band roots and about the recording of American Beauty.

We had such a blast that we did it again at Passim on Garcia’s birthday in 2018, joined this time by Hayley Jane. I tipped my hat to the recently passed John Perry Barlow, sharing an interview clip where Bob Weir talked about writing “The Music Never Stopped” over the phone with Barlow. And we had a super special guest: Garcia’s iconic Wolf guitar, built by Doug Irwin in 1973 and played by Garcia over the next 20 years.

Hayley Jane sings “Crazy Fingers” with Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers playing Jerry Garcia’s Wolf guitar, Club Passim, 8/1/18. Photo by Dan Tappan.

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.

In 2019, the tradition continues with a birthday show at Club Passim. More details and more dates TBA.

A key aspect of these 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 tribute shows, we celebrate that legacy by letting the songs evolve through each performers’ interpretations.

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 teaching those arrangements, 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 Jerry’s Wolf guitar.

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.

Happy birthday, Jerry.