GARCIA RETURNS TO BANJO:
SPLENDOR IN THE BLUEGRASS
Marin County's newest bluegrass band, Old and In the Way, was playing at the Lion's Share in San Anselmo, California, and smoothly moving into "The Hit Parade of Love" when Jerry Garcia gave it away: It was their first time out. He had gone into his banjo solo before he realized he wasn't plugged into an amplifier. He grinned and quickly took a long step up to the microphone so the folks in the back could hear. The goof was understandable, because Garcia, along with the rest of the Grateful Dead, had only the day before returned from a two-week tour of the Midwest.
Playing mandolin was Dave Grisman, an old sidekick from Garcia's Menlo Park days; guitarist Peter Rowan, who'd previously played with Bill Monroe; and all-around bassist John Kahn, plunking away on a vintage acoustic upright. The four picked and sang close harmony through more than a dozen fast-paced numbers, including Bill Monroe's "The Old Crossroads," "White House Blues," and "Panama Red," a Rowan tune.
"God, it's been eight years since I've played banjo," Garcia recalled later. "Playing music isn't hard or anything, but playing bluegrass is kind of a sweat, though. I'd forgot how physical it is. But it sure is fun."
Garcia, Grisman, and Rowan live within a few blocks of one another in Marin County. "We all used to be heavily into bluegrass, so we got together a little over a month ago, started playing and then decided, Shit, why don't we play a few bars and see what happens? And John Kahn is working out beautifully on bass, because a lot of bluegrass is really stiff, and with his R&B background he gives us a great boogie-woogie bottom. We're developing a rhythmic feel that's kind of groovy.
"We're thinking about finding a fiddle player and then doing some of the bluegrass festivals this summer. It's a whole different world from the rock & roll scene - really mellow and nice. People bring their families and kids and grandmas and dogs and lunch. And they're all aficionados who really get off behind the licks. That'd be a lot of fun."
Finding the time for the summer festivals may be a problem, however, in view of the new immense popularity of the Dead. During its Midwestern tour the group played major halls (seventy-five hundred seats and up), selling out most concerts (including Chicago for the first time) and coming surprisingly close to it in Salt Lake City.
The Dead may sell out handily in any of a score of cities but nowhere else quite like in New York. A few years back the group played six nights in Port Chester, New York, selling out all six performances within a day. One night a bomb threat was received, presumably from irate Dead fans without tickets. Three thousand filed out while police searched the hall, and six thousand filed back in after the all-clear. That same year, the Dead headlined Fillmore East for five nights, all the tickets for which were likewise snapped up within hours.
The Dead's two concerts last week at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island were sold out by word of mouth within two and a half hours after going on sale at Ticketron outlets. At one point six thousand tickets were sold within thirty-one minutes. Bill Graham then took out an ad in the Village Voice to announce the sellout and the addition of a third concert, bringing the total Dead audience to sixty thousand for the three dates.
Jerry Garcia laughed at the sellout news: "I don't know what to think about it. Basically, I try to keep my attention focused on whether I can play or not. It's like more unrealness, more Grateful Dead fever."
(by John Grissim, from Rolling Stone, April 26 1973)