Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Grateful Dread (Grateful Dead Reggae Cover Band)

From Martha Vineyards Gazette:

Sugar Magnolia Reggae Revival: Grateful Dread Rocks Offshore

The songs Sugar Magnolia, Casey Jones and Tennessee Jed, played reggae style, waft onto Kennebec avenue in Oak Bluffs from the Offshore Ale Company every Tuesday night. Inside eight-year-olds, 29-year-olds and 42-year-olds dance in that bouncing, waving rhythm unique to reggae dancing. It all begins at 10 p.m. when the Grateful Dread rocks the room.
What started 16 years ago as a summer gig at the Atlantic Connection in Oak Bluffs has resurfaced this year in a new home. The Grateful Dread includes Mike Benjamin, Judd Fuller, Tommy Major, Wes Nagy and Jon Zeeman - all well-known Island artists who have performed in various combinations over the past 20 years.
"Sixteen years ago it was cool, but it is so much cooler now," Mr. Majors said after a recent concert. He sat at the end of the table, his hands moving constantly as he talked about the group's roots. Band members were still hyped up after an hour and a half of nonstop music. "Now it feels really good, really right. The people who come feel great about it," he said.

For the five musicians these Tuesday nights are an opportunity to connect with old roots amid an intimate setting on the Island, reggae-style. The Offshore, a relaxed micro-brewery where patrons are invited to scoop jars of peanuts from a bin and take them to tables to crush, eat and sweep shells onto the floor, is a perfect setting. The music reverberates through the walls and the floor. Some patrons get so close to the microphones that their voices are picked up by the sound system.
The concerts are open to all ages, and the songs of the Grateful Dread span all generations. Children don't know the words, but they understand the music. Adults request their favorite tunes and sing the words under their breath while drinking the freshly brewed beer.
Mr. Benjamin, Mr. Fuller and Mr. Zeeman fill the room with their strong voices. All have other projects and front their own bands, but in this combination no one takes the lead. Drummer Mr. Majors plays with Entrain, now based in Boston, and Mr. Nagy jumps from project to project with his keyboard.

Band members met in New York but Grateful Dread really started because all five had two things in common: Martha's Vineyard and music.
"We were trying to figure out what we could do to stay on the Island and keep playing," Mr. Majors said. The name came first. Grateful Dead fans for years, the group wanted to play those tunes, but not in the same way. So they decided on reggae, a style they were familiar with and liked.
They move through their conversation like they move through their music - complimenting each other, filling in the spaces, making the sound whole and the story complete.
"We all love reggae," said Mr. Benjamin, who while performing several nights a week across the Island is also working on a new album. "A lot of the recordings we listen to are similar. We all love that stuff."

"Yeah, we all have an affection for the Grateful Dead and reggae music," Mr. Fuller broke in. "We were all versed in that style. And then . . . ."
"And Glenn was organizing music for Atlantic Connection at the time, so he asked us to come play," Mr. Majors said. "He's really the reason we're doing this again. He asked us to come back."
"I've always gathered that Dead heads as a group like live music," Mr. Benjamin said. "We love to play live music. You get into the music. You can't pigeonhole Dead fans. They get so into the different kinds of music."
Mr. Fuller laughed. "The style is really tolerant and people respond," he said.
The band has an eclectic following, from year-round residents and Offshore regulars to day-trippers.
What draws the band back every Tuesday?
"It's the quality of life," Mr. Fuller said.
"It's the people," Mr. Zeeman said.
"I travel all over the place and there is no place I'd rather be," Mr. Majors said.
"This is fun," Mr. Benjamin added. "There is no pressure."

Outside on the patio patrons danced as the music drifted through the open door.
"I didn't mean to come here," said Traci Rawlins, a 25-year-old who is working on the Island this summer. "My friends and I, you know were just trying to find a cool place. This band makes it feel like Saturday night, which is great."
Ms. Rawlins and her friends smoked cigarettes and occasionally danced. None claimed to be a Grateful Dead fan or to have much knowledge about reggae music, but they said they keep coming back because the sound is good.
"It's all about the atmosphere," said Tyler Lindsay, 37. "We're here because we can talk, we can listen to great music. These guys are talented, but I looked for their other gigs the other day. They're everywhere, but only together tonight."

He tapped his finger against the bar to the beat, and said he is himself a drummer who admires Mr. Majors' musicianship. A few weeks ago he asked the bartender about the drummer and bought an Entrain album the next day.

The group will continue to play through the end of August at the Offshore. The set list varies. Some nights they put together something, but other nights they wing it. And they are always up for suggestions.
"We continually add new tunes and try to balance ourselves," Mr. Fuller said. "We only play songs the Grateful Dead has played or songs they have covered. And we always do it with our own style too."


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