Jerry Garcia would have been 74 years old today. In the most perfect of worlds, he’d still be alive and I’d be holding an invitation to his birthday party. Instead I’m paying homage, raising a pint in his honor and thinking back to some of the best Jerry moments outside the Grateful Dead.
Jerry and David Grisman formed this band in 1973 with Peter Rowan, John Kahn, and Vassar Clements. The short-lived super group turned many young people onto bluegrass, myself included. Their version of “White Dove” holds some of my favorite Jerry vocals.
I think it’s safe to say this was his most important and active side project. There were 790 known performances full of blues, folk, country, jazz, rhythm and blues, reggae, and American roots music. The band’s shows at the Flynn Theater in Burlington on 12/6/83 rank near the top for me.
It was April 21, 1982. Jerry joined with John Kahn for one of their first shows as an acoustic duo and I was fortunate enough to be there. If I close my eyes and let my ears wander, I can still hear the encore. Listen along with this version of the song from 1986.
People always think of Johnny Cash when it comes to live music in a prison, but Jerry and John gave the Man in Black a run for his money with their performance at this maximum security prison back in May of 1982.
Three months after his diabetic coma in 1986, Jerry stepped out of his limo for a show at The Stone. I was there early, waiting to see him. He walked from his car to the side gate, looked around, and asked, “Who invited all you people down here anyways?” We made eye contact for only a second, but what a second it was.
Check out the full setlist.
For a two-week run on Broadway in 1987, the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band played a set before the Jerry Garcia Band took the stage. Yes – you read that right. Jerry opened for Jerry.
The Bluegrass buddies lost touch after their “Old & In the Way” days. Thankfully they reunited in 1990 and, as musicians do, they got back to playing, recording, and performing.
For this side project, Garcia paired up with long-time friend and keyboardist, Merl Saunders. They played over 250 shows together, and their “Live at the Keystone” sets have become must-haves for any Deadhead. Myself included.
There’s so much to love about Jerry the musician, but I can’t begin to tell you how cool it was to learn about Jerry the person. I knew he was a film buff and filmmaker, but until I saw him on AMC in 1995, I had no idea that Abbott and Costello changed his life.
Jerry touched our hearts and minds with his music. If you were lucky enough, he touched your belly with his cooking. What I wouldn’t give to sit down with Jerry and scoop some Cherry Garcia on top of his Bundt Wedges.
Happy birthday, Jerry.
You may be gone, but you continue to be the inspiration that moves me brightly.
- Jay King (@benandjerrys)