By Anna VanHorn
Chances are, the majority of people reading this are already familiar with Jerry Garcia, the Grateful Dead and the musical legacy that has influenced countless individuals. For those who’ve been in the dark, hold on, your life is about to change …
Although Jerry’s influence is immeasurable, I can count six of Fayetteville’s most gifted musicians who call the man an inspiration. On Friday, the seventh annual Jerry Garcia Birthday Bash is going to take place at George’s Majestic Lounge, featuring an all-star lineup of local talent. Dave Gesualdo, Jody Cohen, Michael “Stingray” Garrett, Taylor Smith, Isayah Warford and Drew Packard will pay tribute to the man and the music that has generated an undying love from scores of fans.
Jerry Garcia served as lead guitarist, singer and songwriter for the Grateful Dead during their entire three-decade career. Getting their start in San Francisco in 1965, the band was known for melding virtually all the musical genres into a unique mix that was like none heard before. A huge impact on the ’60s counterculture, Grateful Dead shows taught people to trust their neighbors, share what you have with those in need and to respect each other. Fans, known as Deadheads, embraced the band as family and their message as a way of life.
As the band’s patriarch, Jerry was an integral part of the legacy of love and iconic music for which the Grateful Dead has become so highly revered. Rolling Stone magazine ranked the band 57th on “The Greatest Artists of All Time” list, and Jerry, alone, at No. 13 on the “100 Best Guitarists of All Time.” In addition to the spiritual nature of the music and the time, the band had unparalleled musical chops that lead to their intricate and intriguing catalog.
When asked why this local group of musicians has decided to celebrate Jerry’s birthday with a tribute concert, organist and keyboard player, Taylor Smith, said, “Jerry Garcia was a gentle soul and an amazing musician. Even after his passing, he continues to provide inspiration and profound contributions to the music world.” Bassist and guitar player, Dave Gesualdo, goes on to say “He is a huge influence on what I wanted to do with music. It’s a treat for me to be able to make any attempt whatsoever at preserving that music.”
The group of local music heavy-hitters will start the show around 10 p.m., and perform two full sets of Jerry Garcia’s music. Gesualdo says that in addition to Grateful Dead tunes, fans can expect to hear some of the material that Jerry covered as well as traditional songs, adding that for the first time they will also be adding a Bob Weir (also from the Grateful Dead) song or two to the repertoire. Guitarist Isayah Warford said this year every single member of the group will take on the lead singing duties for at least one song.
Jerry Garcia was no stranger to collaboration or “super-groups” and the coming together of these musicians with varied backgrounds is just another small way these guys are paying tribute to Garcia’s legacy. “Things come together really easily when you’re playing with people that are good,” Warford said about the group.
In addition, this is an event that Fayetteville audiences have embraced. This is the seventh year this rotating lineup of musicians has come together for a bash celebrating the iconic musician. Each year, the event held in the front room of George’s, has been well attended by 200 to 300 people partying with Jerry in mind.
Jerry would have celebrated his 70th birthday on Aug. 1. The wake of his 1995 death shook more than just diehard Deadheads, it affected music as a whole.
A charismatic performer, tender soul and brilliant musician may have left our world, but it’s clear his memory lives on.
Warford said “We’re paying tribute to Jerry Garcia, not trying to cover the songs in the exact same way that they did. We’re trying to capture the energy, that feel.” That dedication to the essence and depth of Jerry’s music is one of the reasons this Fayetteville celebration is so special. Jerry was a passionate man and this is truly a labor of love for the musicians involved. For a man who helped shape the “era of love” that surrounded the ’60s and the Grateful Dead, this is truly a fitting memorial.
And … it’s a party! An area in which, of course, Jerry was also quite well-versed and would have supported wholeheartedly. Already established fans of the Annual Jerry Garcia Birthday Bash can tell you it is an animated shindig, filled with energy, passion and excitement. Those who have yet to attend the bash are in for a real treat. “If you’re into the Grateful Dead, you don’t want to miss this show,” Warford said. “We’re going to steal your face right off your head.” Gesualdo said.