I am assured by a knowledgeable friend that the Grateful Dead was not the most successful touring act of all time, as I had suggested, and that the honor actually belongs to the still-active Jimmy Buffett – to which I say poo. Maybe Buffett’s faithful, the Parrotheads, just buy more…parrot heads, and the merch inflates the gross.
The Dead certainly must be among the five top-grossing live acts of all time. And inside the gate, they enjoyed a license, a performing freedom, that is unique among bands working the arena circuit. At that level of venue, the pressure to deliver a consistent entertainment product is intense and the stakeholders are many. This is why big -time acts often play to prerecorded tracks, hide additional keyboard players under the stage, emphasize spectacle (which is repeatable) and minimize or eliminate spontaneity (which is not). Even regular old rock bands who play it all themselves are probably playing it safe on the biggest stages.
Now consider the Dead, who seldom hit the Garden or the stadium with a setlist, much less choreography and in-ear click tracks. On any night, wearing shorts, they could play any of about 300 songs that their audience would be overjoyed to hear. The more obscure the song, the better. They never had to play “Truckin’” or “Casey Jones” if they weren’t feeling it. If they wanted to pull out “Mountains of the Moon,” all 50,000 friends in attendance would feel that they were touched by a moonbeam that night, and the tapers would back up their story for posterity.
Listen sometime to Pete Townshend grousing about how FM radio reduced his entire catalogue to about 12 songs that everyone needs to hear every time out, and you’ll appreciate the latitude that the Deadheads afforded their heroes – and continue to afford bands in the jam tradition, including the countless Dead tribute and cover bands at every level of the game. These bands get the gigs, get their crowd and then get to play whatever they please. It’s an enviable legacy of freedom that the Dead left to their people, whatever you might think of the music. I happen to like it.
For years and years, Alex Mazur’s New Paltz-based institution the Deadbeats have been Deadcentric but by no means Dead-exclusive. They range freely within and frequently outside of the classic rock canon. Mazur’s more recent project MAAZE featured his originals in a Deadish vein. But over the course of his long career, the keyboardist/vocalist Mazur has probably played most of the Grateful Dead’s repertoire at one time or another.
Now Mazur has dreamed up Gratefully Yours, a jam-scene star-studded outfit band featuring members of Max Creek, Cats Under the Stars and Trey Anastasio’s band. Gratefully Yours plays the music of the Dead with a novel twist that is deeply consistent with the Dead’s unique band/audience relationship. Gratefully Yours accepts setlist submissions from fans at their website, which also supports forumlike discussion and voting on sets. And then, though “There are no hard-and-fast rules,” the band will perform the winner’s dream set.
Again, experts estimate that, counting covers, the Dead played somewhere around 500 different songs over the course of their 30-year career. That will keep a tribute band on its toes.
Gratefully Yours, Saturday September 28, 8 p.m., $10, the Chance, 6 Crannell Street, Poughkeepsie; https://gratefullyyours.net.