Can’t Go Back Home

We didn’t mean to. Try to go home that is.

What we were going to do was go see the Grateful Dead cover band Dark Star Orchestra.

While it’s true we’d never heard them before, we had heard they were an enjoyable group and of course we were familiar with their music.

So we got to the Stiefel Theater in Salina, KS. It’s a wonderful art deco theater holding less than 1300 people, with a nice balcony.

We had seats in the 3rd row of the balcony, dead center.

Now I will admit to having had a bit of skepticism earlier in the day about seeing a dead cover band. All the ones we’ve seen had had some of the remaining members. But hey, none of them had Jerry, so it should be fun.

But then.

They announced that the  band’s rhythm guitar player had to leave for a family emergency. In his absence, DSO decided to do something I didn’t know they did, and that’s perform the show as a Jerry Garcia Band cover band.

I suddenly had a bad feeling. We were in a Warfield Theater type setting (where we saw at least 50 shows in the last 7-8 years of Jerry’s life), in our usual balcony spot.

And then they started. Note for note perfectly, absolutely like John, Jerry, the girls and everything. Yes, they had two backup singers.

They were good. Uncanny valley good.

Heartbreaking good.

We left after 3 songs.

It’s one thing to listen to dead songs, where Jerry had a major, but not singular role. We’ve seen dead cover bands without him.

But, it was impossible to listen to not Jerry play a JGB show. Those shows were so special. So, so so special. The sound of the theater, the atmosphere, and of course the music.

If you’re not familiar with JGB, that’s the band where Jerry was just Jerry. Vamping away with no pressure (crowds of 2-3000 vs 20-50,000), really digging into solos and … oh my. He would sometimes drop it down so low you could hear a pin drop. Folks were in the moment like I’ve rarely experienced.

Talk about train wheels runnin’ through the back of my memory!

When Jerry wailed, vocally and with his guitar, he poured his heart and soul and entire being into the music.

The first time we saw the dead, post-Jerry, I wondered how it would be, how much I would imagine his playing when the replacement was soloing.

Turns out, it never was a big problem. They only occasionally played his parts note for note, and it just worked.

But tonight my heart simply couldn’t take watching, what was to me, a simulacrum of reality. And I mean that with all love and respect for DSO. They touched a nerve, and they are great. But not for me.

Here’s a picture of Jerry, with the Grateful Dead, as I didn’t take any of him with his own band.

Jerry Garcia, 1980
Jerry Garcia, 1980