Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Garcia Birthday Band

The Oregonian has an article on the Garcia Birthday Band:

sound check
The Oregonian

A DEAD-ISH WAY TO PLAY -- Inspiration sure burns longer than incense. Just ask two of the members of Portland's Garcia Birthday Band if they can recall their first Grateful Dead shows.

The responses come faster than a lightning bolt through a skull.

"Red Rocks, 1982," says guitarist Jon Sokol, who went on to attend hundreds more Dead shows during the '80s.

"Hanover, Michigan, April 1989," says bassist Scott Gillan, speaking recently with the tie-dye-T-shirted Sokol at the Barley Mill Pub in Southeast Portland. "It took going to one show, and that was pretty much it," says Gillan, who would notch 44 more Dead shows through the '90s.

"But I really wasn't playing many Grateful Dead songs until after the Dead wasn't a band anymore," adds Sokol. "Why see us when you can see them? Now that you can't see them, I feel OK with sort of carrying on the genre, that same inspiration."

Many folks in fact have been clamoring to see the Garcia Birthday Band, who got their start playing as a loose collective at the annual bash held on Jerry's birthday (Aug. 1) at McMenamins Edgefield. GBB took firm shape in 2000, settling into the current six members. On Thursday, they launch a new free monthly show at the White Eagle Hotel in Northeast Portland.

Pretty good for a group that doesn't consider itself a cover band per se. GBB plays loose interpretations of Garcia's canon, vs., say, Chicago's Dark Star Orchestra, which strives for note-for-note accuracy.

"I think that's what makes us unique," says Sokol. "I'm not trying to sound like Jerry when I play! Scott's not trying to sound like Phil Lesh when he plays, but we all know the music and we end up sounding Dead-ish, I think, because we're out there jamming, and just trying to have fun."

Garcia died 11 years ago, but the Dead lives on. The Grammys, for instance, just recognized the band with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

And the motivations that kept Sokol and Gillan following the Dead back in the day seem to be driving their own musical collaboration.

"What I always liked about Jerry is that it seemed like he didn't seem to care," says Sokol. "He'd play the lead wrong, or miss a break or drop out of key, and it didn't seem to bother him, because somewhere along the way, even if just for a minute or two, he'd hit this space where it was just magic. And those notes would cut right through my soul."

And if GBB happens to miss a note in their rendition of "Althea" or "Truckin' "?

"We have a phrase we use in this band. We say it after a sloppy version of something, or if I forget the vocals," says Sokol: " 'It's just so very Jerry.' "

Lee Williams is a Portland freelance writer;

Check out Garcia Birthday Band videos here


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