What’s Become of the Bus
Get your Dead fix with Furthur
by Blake Phillips
After Jerry Garcia died in 1995, the remaining members of the Grateful Dead officially decided to break up. Over the years, there have been a few reunions of the surviving members involving a variety of additional musicians. In 1998, former Grateful Dead band mates Bob Weir, Phil Lesh and Mickey Hart formed a band called The Other Ones, which later became The Dead; they went on hiatus in 2004. The latest Weir and Lesh collection of musicians, Furthur, formed in 2009. The band’s name comes from Ken Kesey’s prankster-filled bus of the ’60s. The bus’ name placard, designed by artist Roy Sebern, gave inspiration to carry on whenever the bus broke down. The bus died shortly after a trip to Woodstock in 1969. It currently rests on the late Ken Kesey’s farm in Pleasant Hill.
The ties between Kesey and the Grateful Dead go back beyond the beginning — before Jerry Garcia picked up that old dictionary in search of a new name for their band, turned to Phil Lesh and said, “Hey man, how about The Grateful Dead?” Before they were The Grateful Dead, they were The Warlocks, and they played at many of Kesey’s parties during the mid-’60s. Their first performance as The Grateful Dead was on December 4, 1965, at one of Kesey’s Acid Tests. From there, The Grateful Dead — with an eclectic style that fused elements of rock, folk, bluegrass, reggae, country, jazz, psychedelic and space rock — took that long, strange trip into rock and roll history.
In addition to Weir and Lesh, Furthur has a strong lineup: keyboardist Jeff Chimenti of Weir’s band RatDog; guitarist/vocalist John Kadlecik of the Grateful Dead tribute band Dark Star Orchestra; drummer Joe Russo, who first played with Lesh in 2006; and backing vocalists Sunshine Becker and Jeff Pehrson. The Grateful Dead’s music remains the same, but the Deadhead has changed quite a bit over the years.
I spoke with a longtime Deadhead, Joe O’Hara, also known as Old Joe. For you Widespread Panic fans, yes, he’s that “Old Joe.” O’Hara has been going to concerts since the mid-’60s when he was about 6 years old (thanks to his older cousins), and he’s seen the Grateful Dead countless times since the early ’70s. Regarding the Deadhead scene, he told me, “Before ‘Touch of Grey’ came out [in 1987], it was a very kind, peaceful scene. We were family; we helped each other out. I would make big pots of stew or chili and feed others and sell some of it. I’d sell beer and tie-dye too.”
O’Hara continued, “After ‘Touch of Grey,’ — which, believe it or not, was their biggest hit with that MTV video — all of a sudden, the scene filled with a bunch of wanna-bes. We, as a family, would try to help those that looked like they needed help. Did they appreciate it? No, it would be, ‘Thanks, what’s next?’ They didn’t get it. It lost a lot of its appeal. It was that way until Jerry died.”
O’Hara assured me, “Now it’s come back to calmer people at the shows just enjoying the music.”
Furthur. 7 pm Thursday, Sept. 16, and Friday, Sept. 17. Cuthbert Amphitheatre • $53.50 adv., $58.50 door.