12 Hot Covers: Jambands Still Pay Tribute to The Dead (and Jerry)

by Peter Wendel
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Twiddle2016PressPhoto1

Vermont-based Twiddle began touring extensively in 2005

Even the young guns pay tribute to the world’s greatest jamband – the mother of them all – The Grateful (god damn) Dead.

Despite the fact that the iconic band’s magical frontman Jerry Garcia died some 20 years ago, a new generation of jambands (for lack of a better term) – including the likes of The Werks and Twiddle – is covering The Dead’s material. Hell, jambands that have been around for decades, like The String Cheese Incident, Ween and Yonder Mountain String Band, still cover Jerry and the boys. It’s what jambands do.

TheWerksBand SongMango.com

The Werks [photo: Brian Hockensmith]

Covering a Dead tune, and doing it well, is a rite of passage for young artists trying to break into the jamband scene. If you’re writing a play, you need to know Shakespeare. If you’re making your living jamming, you damn well better know The Dead.

In that explorative, psychedelic spirit, here are some of the best Dead covers from some of the hottest bands on the summer-festival circuit. Enjoy the music, folks. Festival season is right around the corner.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This list does not include performances from Dead cover bands, like Dark Star Orchestra or Joe Russo’s Almost Dead (JRAD). 

ALTHEA
The Werks

Officially formed in 2007, The Werks fall loosely into the splintered subgenre “psychedelic dance rock” – high-energy, exploratory blends of rock, psychedelia, funk and jamtronica. According to The Werks’ Wikipedia page: “In early June 2011, the band rose to prominence when it hit the number 2 top searched artists on the leading online Jam Magazine, jambase.com, behind the band Phish and again in early 2012 when they hit number 1.” The Werks will be making summer stops including the Inaugural Untz Festival (CA), the Peach Festival (PA) and Camp Barefoot X (WV).

Chris Houser (guitar, vocals)
Dino Dimitrouleas (bass, vocals)
Dan Shaw (keys)
Rob Chafin (drums)

CASEY JONES
Twiddle

Vermont-based Twiddle began to tour extensively in 2005. Now they are one of the most sought-after bands on the festival circuit. The quartet, with roots that run back to VT’s Castleton State University, is known for fresh, masterful jams that apply a reggae-funk backbone to more traditional lines of bluegrass, rock and jazz. Twiddle will be out on tour this summer, hitting events including the Harmony Revival (MN), Summer Camp Music Festival (IL), the Friendly Gathering (VT) and Lockn’ (VA).

Mihali Savoulidis (lead guitar, vocals)
Ryan Dempsey (keys, vocals)
Zdenek Gubb (bass, vocals)
Brook Jordan (drums, vocals)

EYES OF THE WORLD
Kung Fu (& Twiddle)

When you think of Kung Fu’s sound, imagine 1970′s funk-fusion meets the modern dance party. That’s the quick and dirty on Kung Fu. The all-star quintet – which has built a fiercely loyal following since 2012 – blurs the line between intense electro-fusion and blistering dance arrangements. The band’s tagline is “Live Electro-Fusion Throwdown” – a musical experience that draws on influences like early Headhunters and Weather Report and mixes them with elements of contemporary EDM.

Tim Palmieri (guitar, vocals)
Robert Somerville (tenor sax, vocals)
Beau Sasser (keys, vocals)
Chris DeAngelis (bass, vocals)
Adrian Tramontano (drums, percussion)

FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN
Ween

Gene and Dean Ween are back! Although the band has been around since the mid-’80s, they broke up in 2012 in order to let Gene (real name Aaron Freeman) focus on addiction issues. They are reuniting this summer on the festival tour with stops including Bonnaroo and Lockn’. Ween – formed in New Hope, PA – embraces an eclectic live catalog that draws on just about every musical genre under the sun, including funk, soul, country, gospel, R&B, prog, metal and punk. Did I forget anything? For the band’s first 10 years, Ween performed as a duo (Gene and Dean) backed by taped loops (to mimic other instrumentation) before morphing into a four-piece ensemble and then ultimately into a quintet.

Dean Ween (guitar, vocals)
Gene Ween (guitar, vocals)
Dave Dreiwitz (bass)
Glenn McClelland (keys)
Claude Coleman Jr. (drums)

FRIEND OF THE DEVIL
Grace Potter & The Nocturnals

Bob Weir sits in on this one. In the footage (above), Grace says what many artists are thinking: “I figured since they’re so many Dead fans here, we might as well do a Dead song, right?” So true. If you’ve traveled the festival circuit, you know Grace Potter & The Nocturnals. They don’t miss many chances to hit events like Bonnaroo and Lockn’, and this summer is no exception. Reportedly, Grace – who sings like an angel (and looks like one, too) – performs as many as 200 shows a year.

Grace Potter (multi-instrumentalist, vocals)
Benny Yurco (guitar, bass, vocals)
Scott Tournet (multi-instrumentalist, vocals)
Michael Libramento (multi-instrumentalist, vocals)
Matt Burr (drums)

LONESOME AND A LONG WAY FROM HOME
John K. Band (DC Mystery Cats)

It’s impossible to talk about Dead covers without mentioning John Kadlecik – the hugely talented guitarist and vocalist who could almost pass for Garcia if the lights were down low enough. John’s involvement with Dead-related projects goes way back. In 1997, he was a founding member and lead guitarist for Dark Star Orchestra – one of the highest-quality Dead tribute bands ever. From 2009 to 2014, Kadlecik performed with original Dead members Bobby Weir and Phil Lesh in the splinter group, Furthur. The D.C.-based John K Band, which debuted in 2010, performs his original songs as well as material by The Dead, The Jerry Garcia Band, Phish and others. John will be performing with the Golden Gate Wingmen at the Peach Festival (PA) this summer.

John Kadlecik (guitar, vocals)
Larry Joseloff (bass)
Paul Grepps (keys)
Jessica Lake (vocals)
Mary Lankford (vocals)
Trevor Specht (sax)
Nathan Graham (drums)

THE MUSIC NEVER STOPPED
Twiddle 

Todd Stoops and Chris Houser (The Werks) sit in with Twiddle for this sizzling performance. When these guys get down in the groove (and they do), things get awfully hot.

Mihali Savoulidis (lead guitar, vocals)
Ryan Dempsey (keys, vocals)
Zdenek Gubb (bass, vocals)
Brook Jordan (drums, vocals)

RIDE MIGHTY HIGH
Keller Williams
(with John Kadlecik)

Keller Williams needs no introduction. The Virginia native is a welcome fixture on the jamband circuit – incorporating gospel and bluegrass into his interpretations of The Dead’s material (as well material from The Jerry Garcia Band). Keller be out touring with bells on again this summer.

SHAKEDOWN STREET
Lettuce

These guys are funky as hell – and their performances are as high energy as they can get without burning the venues to the ground. The band formed while all of its members were attending the Berklee College of Music in 1992. The band brings together the influences of funk legends like Tower Of Power; Earth, Wind And Fire; and Herbie Hancock. Lettuce is slated to play at Lockn’ this summer.

Eric Krasno (guitar)
Adam “Shmeeans” Smirnoff (guitar)
Neal Evans (keys)
Erick “E.D.” Coomes (bass)
Ryan Zoidis (saxophone)
Eric “Benny” Bloom (trumpet)
Adam Deitch (drums, percussion)

SHAKEDOWN STREET
Yonder Mountain String Band

The Yonder Mountain String Band has logged the miles on the festival tour since its formation in 1998. The Colorado quintet is known for bringing a bluegrass-and-country core to the improv jamband format.

Dave Johnston (banjo, vocals)
Ben Kaufmann (bass, vocals)
Adam Aijala (guitar, vocals)
Jacob Joliff (mandolin, vocals)
Allie Kral (fiddle, vocals)

STELLA BLUE
Ween

They get deep into the spirit of this classic Hunter-Garcia ballad. Jerry would approve.

Dean Ween (guitar, vocals)
Gene Ween (guitar, vocals)
Dave Dreiwitz (bass)
Glenn McClelland (keys)
Claude Coleman Jr. (drums)

TERRAPIN STATION
The String Cheese Incident

The Colorado-based String Cheese Incident has been around since 1993, blending a bluegrass base with rock, reggae, prog, country, funk, jazz, electronica and even calypso. The band will be making the rounds this summer on the festival circuit, including stops at the Electric Forest Fest (MI), the Merryland Music Fest (MD) and the Peach Festival (PA) in August.

Michael Kang (guitar, mandolin, violin)
Bill Nershi (guitar)
Keith Moseley (bass)
Kyle Hollingsworth (keys)
Michael Travis (drums, percussion)

Peter Wendel is a journalist and PR consultant. He's attended hundreds of concerts and festivals, including the Peach, Mountain Jam, the All Good and Lockn'. He's ridden legendary Grateful Dead runs from Ventura County Fairgrounds to Irvine Meadows (CA) from the Nassau Coliseum (NY) to the Boston Garden (MA). Peter is a former U.S. Marine who – after running into trouble with every last one of his commanding officers – received an honorable discharge and a direct order never to return. Born in California and raised in New Jersey, Peter lived in Boston and Joshua Tree (CA) before settling in the nation's capital. Find him on tour at PWendel@SongMango.com.

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