The Grateful Dead was certainly more than a great band; it was also the nucleus for a community of travelers who explored the outer limits of music and lifestyle. But when Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia passed away in 1995, it seemed that the trip might be over.
But, thankfully, that is not the case. Furthur is keeping the music of the Grateful Dead alive thanks to original Dead band members Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, and a lineup of supporting musicians that includes lead guitarist John Kadlecik (pronounced Kad-le-sik), a source of amazing Garcia-inspired guitar explorations.
Before joining Furthur, Kadlecik played in the Dark Star Orchestra, which was notable — and quite popular — for covering full Grateful Dead setlists from throughout that band’s history. Before that, Kadlecik was a member of various bands, including Uncle John’s Band, Wingnut and Hairball Willie, the latter of which I can personally attest to having put on a great show in Ames, Iowa, in the early 1990s.
Furthur will be returning to the Santa Barbara Bowl on Sunday, with tickets available by clicking here. The following is from a phone interview with Kadlecik about the upcoming show. Click here for the full interview.
Jeff Moehlis: I have a good idea already, but what can we look forward to at the upcoming Furthur show in Santa Barbara?
John Kadlecik: Well, I think there will definitely be some Grateful Dead songs [laughs]. There will also be, maybe, some of the new original material by Bob and Phil that we play. And a sampling of both Bob and Phil’s explorations post-Grateful Dead, some of the repertoire that they got into. Plus maybe some Ryan Adams [covers]. And, you know, some pretty adventurous jamming. I think we’re past breaking in the new pair of shoes, and now we’re just taking off full sprint.
JM: How and when does the setlist get decided for a given show?
JK: You know, Bob and Phil basically take turns taking setlists. And they often enlist the help of their closest managers. We get the setlist the morning of the show. No idea what we’re going to play until the day of any given show, typically.
JM: How many songs are you responsible for knowing?
JK: The total playlist, I think, is pushing 300 songs. I couldn’t give you an exact statistic.
JM: But there’s a lot to choose from [laughs].
JK: Yeah [laughs]. And they really seem to like to do tours where there’s minimal repeats across the whole tour. There are usually just a handful of songs that we’ll do three or four times in the tour. Most of them get played once [laughs], if they do get played. There’s maybe a hundred that we don’t even play on a given tour.
JM: Why do you think that the music of the Grateful Dead continues to resonate with generation after generation?
JK: You know, it’s timeless to begin with, and I think that’s by design — or at least relatively timeless. There are some songs that clearly reference 19th and 20th century technologies, but most of the emotional content is stuff that can be traced in literature as far back as we can trace it, as far back as there’s written language.
And there’s good melodies. I consider it to be part of the folk tradition, and what I consider a defining characteristic of the folk tradition is the non-commercial, keeping-it-real aspect of the subject matter. Not worrying about whether singing a dark song is going to hurt album sales [laughs]. To me, that was the key essence of the folk music movement, speaking to the real human condition, whether it’s a happy or sad story. To sing about death to help people come to terms with it. And, as I said, to not worry about whether it’s going to hurt album sales. I don’t know. It’s hard to nail that down.
JM: How would you describe your relationship with the fans? Do you recognize the same faces night to night?
JK: Well, sometimes. Nights vary in how much attention I can pay to who’s in the audience [laughs]. I mean, I usually try and make that a key part of my performance, to be able to make eye contact with some people in the house. I consider it part of the way the energy and information exchanges.
But some nights are more chaotic than others, and require more attention just to keep it together. There’s not so much time to notice…
Sometimes I’ve given the river rafting metaphor. We, as a band, are the river rafter guide, and the audience is the people who signed up to be in the boat. They expect us to shake them around a little bit, maybe get them splashed on, but hopefully not dump them in the water. And definitely not have anyone’s head get dashed upon the rocks. So in the process of doing that, sometimes we can pay attention to the beautiful rainbow and the birds up on the cliffs, and sometimes it just takes every bit of concentration just to keep everybody from falling out of the boat [laughs].
— Noozhawk contributing writer Jeff Moehlis is a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.