Don’t miss the Back Porch Revue in concert Sunday, May 26, at 6 p.m.
Highlighting Grateful Dead favorites, the spring performance will include On the Road Again, Jack-a-Roe, Peggy-O, Russian Lullaby, The Moonshiner, Uncle John’s Band and more!
Harper’s Back Porch Revue – When the Grateful Dead Looked Back
May 26, 2019 – 6:00 PM, Harper College Performing Arts Center
Tickets may be purchased through the Harper Box Office: online or call 847.925.6100.
“We’re back again to do a little of the old-time hill music that we stole from the [New Lost City] Ramblers, and they stole from old records, and the musicians that were on the old records stole ‘em from their fathers, and things like that. So it’s all part of the oral tradition, and that’s your lesson in folklore for tonight.” Jerry Garcia, 1962
Read below for insights about the Grateful Dead in an interview with Dr. Scott Cashman:
Continuing Education: What did the Grateful Dead achieve both musically and culturally that was so significant?
Scott Cashman: The Dead, like many other rock bands, have now passed their 50th year of existence as a band but even that landmark event sort of minimizes their impact. When you put the music of the Dead proper together with their pre-history and their side projects you can take an exhaustive look at the entirety of American music and even get a fairly good look at rhythms from around the world through Mickey Hart.
Jerry Garcia was a bluegrass banjo player, a true historian of American music and even played some avant garde jazz with Ornette Coleman. Rock, bluegrass, blues, country music, jazz were all in his repertoire. Phil Lesh was in his college jazz band. Pig Pen was firmly rooted in the blues. Bob Weir knows the blues and even did an album of cowboy songs a couple of years ago.
So one of the things that I the Back Porch Revue is doing is to take a look at the concept of “songsters” and apply that to the Grateful Dead as a way of looking at what they contributed to our culture. To that extent, we are sampling the songs that they adopted and while we are not trying to sound like them, we are using their perspective to frame our presentation in this concert.
CE: Why is their music so memorable and what makes it resonate 50 years later?
SC: That’s a great question but before you even think about the music, consider the Deadheads. Has any group ever had this kind of following? So many have committed big portions of their lives to following the Dead around. They developed their own microculture in terms of philosophy toward life, code of ethics, style of dress, and even the hundreds of bands that have spun off from the Grateful Dead music. So, this was a case where the audience was clearly defined and could be considered students of the music. Then, the music has all of American history in it. No matter which cultural groups you may identify with, you can find something to relate to. Finally, because of the constant focus on improvisation in both the actual playing and the arrangements, you want to see if they are going to pull off a great performance or if there is going to be a crack. I remember listening to a recording of Jerry Garcia and John Kahn playing Peggy-O. Jerry was not in particularly good voice and during one line, his voice has a noticeable crack in it. I’m nodding my head and my son Aidan says, “that’s it.” It’s not that his voice cracked it’s that he was out there creating no matter what. And as an audience, we are out there listening, no matter what.
CE: Has the Grateful Dead influenced your music? How?
SC: Well I have certainly looked at their body of work to add some of the songs to my own band’s repertoire. I play Friend of the Devil, Monkey and the Engineer, Deep Elum Blues, I’ve Been All Around This World from their acoustic sets. But, more importantly, I think that they gave me permission to jump the boundaries of genre to what I consider an appropriate set. I can have Leadbelly, Robert Johnson, Guy Clark, a punk tune and a traditional fiddle tune on my first CD and understand the cohesion among all the styles of traditional American musics.
CE: Did you get to see them perform live?
SC: My first year in college I got my first real immersion into their music when they came to UMass Amherst for our spring concert (1983). It was a big deal and impacted all my music experience from then on. I saw them again the following year and a few years later in Syracuse, New York when I was managing a night club for Syracuse University. In fact, the night of the concert I booked Tom Constanten, who had played with keyboards for the in the late 1960s and into 1970, for two shows in a club I was managing. We started about an hour after the Dead ended their show and went in the early hours of the next morning. I’ve also see some post-Jerry configurations like Rat Dog, The Dead, Phil Lesh and Friends.
CE: Could you share a clip (YouTube links) of one of your favorite Grateful Dead performances?
SC: The acoustic shows have been so influential to me. I’d suggest people take a look at Deep Elum Blues: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qx1LqnIJLj8 .
Here is one of The Monkey and the Engineer that is also good: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GmYfjlr0GFA
Scott Cashman and Bekr Ali lead Harper’s Back Porch Revue.
Scott also leads Dr. Scott’s Moonshine Band and he’s a member of the Irish band Another Pint. Both bands are Whiplash Records recording artists.