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De(a)dication

This weekend, the Mauch Chunk Opera House in downtown Jim Thorpe features three bands with reputations for playing phenomenal concerts, that go long and late, and never fail to surprise.
 
Cabinet and East Bound Jesus take the stage this Friday, June 28. Then it’s Dead On Live on Saturday, 6/29 bringing us their flawless take on the music of the Grateful Dead. Both the Friday and Saturday shows are only $20. It’s a perfect way to enjoy summer.
 
The following is an interview with Marc Muller of Dead On Live, whose Jerry Garcia show is featured on Saturday, June 29. DOL is a group that plays note-for-note renditions of the amazing Dead catalog. And they’ll surprise you with stuff no one plays. Read on!
 

De(a)dication

A Q&A with Marc Muller of Dead On Live

By Geoff Gehman

Marc Muller is 52 going on 16 or 13. The multi-instrumental impresario gets to roll and rock back time every time he gigs with Dead On Live, an ensemble that plays fiercely faithful versions of records by the Grateful Dead, for which Muller has been eternally grateful for nearly 40 years. Up to 18 musicians, all cast by Muller, perform his transcriptions of the Dead’s every note and every mistake. It’s an act of faith that redefines high fidelity.

Muller launched DOL with a 2010 show devoted to the 1970 albums “Workingman’s Dead” and “American Beauty.” They were the Dead’s popular-music coming-out parties; they were also Muller’s coming-out parties with the Dead. Since then he’s shepherded concert duplications of later Dead LPs (the live “Europe ’72”) and solo records by Dead founders (the live “Jerry Garcia Band”). He calls the recreations “little eras, little chapters.”

Dead On Live at the Mauch Chunk Opera HouseOn June 29 the Mauch Chunk Opera House will become a Jerry Garcia shrine. Muller and his DOL mates will mix Dead classics co-written by Garcia (“Scarlet Begonias,” “Dire Wolf”) with non-Dead standards minted by some of Garcia’s musical heroes (Bob Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder They Come”). A much smaller, much looser group will feature violinist Gary Oleyar, who played in a band led by Vassar Clements, who fiddled with Garcia in Old and in the Way, a bluegrass juggernaut, and on the original recording of the Dead’s “Mississippi Half-Step.”
Q: You started Dead On Live after being invited to program anything you wanted for a 2010 concert at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, N.J. Why did you pick the Dead? What part of your soul did you need to feed?DOL expands Muller’s evolution as a sonic weaver. In college he earned pocket money by transcribing Steve Morse’s guitar parts for fellow students. Before forming DOL he performed “ridiculously accurate” recreations of Beatles LPs in a band with Glen Burtnik, a former Styx guitarist. For him, music is a grand tapestry and the Dead’s members are grand loomers.
During a recent phone conversation from his home in Neptune, N.J., Muller discussed the challenges of channeling the recorded Dead and dealing with Deadheads who think he’s deadening the Dead.

A: This project started by design and by accident. I thought it would be fun to pay tribute to the 40th anniversaries of “Workingman’s Dead” and “American Beauty.” They were released nine months apart, and I was given nine months to prepare the concert. There’s a nice symmetry there.
I started by transcribing “Friend of the Devil.” I thought: well, it’s edgy, okay, and it goes to a C chord. Then I noticed: What the hell is [bassist] Phil Lesh doing here? Most bassists, when you’re jamming with them, will do a descending line or an oom-pah. But Lesh is not just putting out G-to-C; he’s playing an odd syncopation, almost rootless. After I figured that out, I realized that without Phil’s part, you’re kind of just playing a song; without this bass line, why bother?
So I started to go deeper. I thought: well, I can figure out Bob Weir’s guitar part; why don’t I show my buddy how to play it? Before you knew it, I had three songs down. The first tune we rehearsed was “Uncle John’s Band.” The [original recorded] vocals are very irregular, which made them very difficult to reassemble and weave together. If you took 20 very knowledgeable Grateful Dead musicians and put them in a room and had them sing the melody to “Uncle John’s Band,” you’d get 20 different versions. I spent a lot of time following each [Dead] guy’s voice, singing each part measure by measure. When I figured out the vocals and dealt them out and we sang them together, it just blew us apart. That’s when I knew we had something special.
Talk about the circle coming around. It was like I opened up the closet, saw my favorite shoes from high school, tried them on, and said, “Man, they still feel great.”

Dead On Live at the Mauch Chunk Opera HouseQ: Why note-for-note renditions of Dead records? Why not, say, authentic performances with vintage equipment?
A: I didn’t want just another jam band that does Dead songs. I didn’t want to be like Dark Star Orchestra, which likes playing in the style of the Dead. I really wanted to pay tribute to how I remember the Dead’s records sounded when I first heard them, when they first became part of my life. I still remember “Brown-Eyed Women” from “Europe ’72”; when I sing it, I remember the melody from that album. I think that many Dead fans share those original feelings from those original records. They remember “Uncle John’s Band” from the turntable; they remember “Mama Tried” from the turntable. When they hear that version they’ve been carrying around for so many years played live, in front of them, it knocks them for a loop—hopefully in a good way.

Q: I’m especially fascinated that you copy the Dead’s recorded mistakes, even the loss of a quarter beat in “Cumberland Blues.” Man, that’s not just fidelity, that’s high fidelity!
A: It’s the same thing in “St. Stephen,” which we’ll be doing in the next show, which will have ’60s stuff. On the record half of the [Dead] is playing in four, and the other half is playing in three, and they crescendo and crash in the same place.
So I told my musicians that you have to mute one side, and count it as one-two-three, one-two-three—a waltz—and you have to mute the other side and count it as one-two-three-four. It’s pretty funny, actually.
All that “Europe ’72” stuff is so well choreographed and symmetrical, so beautiful and majestic. It came together when [the Dead’s members] were all young and full of fire. You can’t believe they were playing as high as they could be [laughs].

Q: What do you tell Dead fans who think you’re deadening the Dead by not changing the tunes night to night, the way the Dead did in concert? I’m thinking of that Deadhead who posted you on http://www.jambands.com: “The magic is in the moment, not recreating a moment that no longer exists.”

Dead On Live at the Mauch Chunk Opera HouseA: It’s an odd conundrum. People want you to sound like the band, but they will bust on you for trying to sound like the band. What I’m saying is that there’s no way to play “Friend of the Devil” bad. What I’m doing is honoring the feeling of the original records, that when I perform “Europe ’72,” I feel like a 16-year-old again. I’m like an actor saying Shakespeare’s lines, or a musician playing a Mozart piece. When I’m playing that long solo at the end of “Tennessee Jed,” I feel as majestic as the song. I know I’m just acting and miming. But I’m there, inside the song.
I’ve gotten some incredible emails along the lines of: “My son couldn’t be there to watch the Dead in ’73, but last night he was in ’73 with me.” That’s the sort of stuff that makes you feel great, that makes all this hard work worthwhile.
Actually, the current show, the Garcia show, is much looser, much more open. I play Jerry’s pedal-steel part in “Dire Wolf” dead on, basically. But some of our best moments are when we improvise and have fun and just see what bubbles up.

Q: What do you think of changing the term from “tribute band” to “tributary”—a body of water fed by, inspired by, the source?
A: I don’t like “tribute band.” “Tributary” is a nice spin. It reminds me of something Jerry said: Making a studio record is like putting a ship in a bottle, and playing the record live is like taking the ship out of the bottle and putting it out to sea. We’re doing something that hasn’t been done since these records came out—on a bigger ship, in a bigger bottle.

Q: What do you appreciate about Garcia as a singer that you didn’t appreciate as much before DOL? I love his voice the way I love the voices of the Band’s trinity of Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Levon Helm. It’s earthy and ethereal, smiling and heart-breaking, a watercolor sunrise/sunset.
A: He’s not an accomplished singer, but, man, he’s an effective singer. I’m not an accomplished singer, either; I couldn’t do a Beatles show and sing Paul [McCartney]. But when I dial in my voice to recreate Jerry’s mournful, beautiful voice on “Stella Blue,” well, it just gives me chills.

Q: What do you appreciate about Garcia as a guitarist that you didn’t appreciate as much before DOL? He had such a malleable, magnetic sound: nicely weighted, effortlessly spacious, a sort of bar-room bluegrass.
A: I really appreciate his distinctive sound, the way you can hear just one note and you just know it’s him. If you put a $50 Sears guitar in Jerry’s hands and he played one note, you’d still know it’s him. To me, that’s beautiful; to me, that’s the ultimate success.
Actually, I could teach a pretty good class on Jerry’s development as a guitarist. You can hear when somebody told him about the modes; you can hear when he began playing the kind of pentatonics Dickey Betts plays in the Allman Brothers. Jerry’s solos from 1971-’72 are more melodic, more like he’s singing them. Then in ’73, ’74 he’s playing more scales; he’s getting scale-lier–if that’s a word. In fact, what I thought would be the toughest solos—in “Weather Report (Part 2)”—turned out to be fairly easy once I figured out they were just a scale run. It’s just something I’ve been practicing since I was a kid.

Q: What do you appreciate about Garcia as a songwriter that you didn’t appreciate as much before you began really digging into his tunes? One of my favorite songs of his is “China Cat Sunflower”; to me it sounds like a sunflower blossoming.
A: His ability for melody. I love the melody of “China Cat,” although I don’t know what the hell they’re talking about in the lyrics. My favorite [Dead] song to play, though, is “Jack Straw,” which is like the ultimate Jerry and Bob [Weir] number. Put on headphones and listen to what Bob is playing on guitar in the middle and what Jerry is playing on guitar over there and what [keyboardist] Keith Godchaux is playing over there—a New Orleans honkytonk mixture. That is the biggest teamwork song for Jerry and Bob; they’re writing and performing so together. That’s just a beautiful tapestry. That’s the bible

Q: Have you had any memorable encounters with Dead alumni?
A: A few years back I sat in with Steve Kimock [former guitarist in such Dead spinoffs as The Other Ones] and Donna Jean Godchaux [former Dead vocalist]. There I was, standing next to her singing “Eyes of the World” and “Scarlet Begonias,” which she sang at the first concert I attended [in 1973]. I told her about [Dead On Live] and she seemed interested, and maybe confused: “Wow, that sounds hard: I could never do that.”
At our last gig at the Stone Pony [the fabled club in Asbury Park, N.J.] our emcee was Sam Cutler, who was the Dead’s manager during the whole period I’m doing, from 1970 to 1975. That’s when he was the man; that’s when he was sailing the ship. He was sitting backstage with us, telling stories off the cuff, and we were listening in amazement. He said the Watkins Glen concert [“Summer Jam,” a 1973 gig with the Dead, the Allman Brothers Band and the Band for nearly 600,000 at a racetrack in upstate New York] was held at Watkins Glen because [Band keyboardist] Richard Manuel was always sick and didn’t want to travel [from his home in upstate New York]. So Sam, who was running the show, brought the festival to Richard Manuel.

Q: How far can you take Dead On Live? Are you planning to venture into ’80s material like “Touch of Gray”?
A: Actually, we’ll play “Touch of Gray” during our Halloween concert at the Count Basie Theatre. The first set will have “Slipknot,” “Help on the Way,” “Franklin’s Tower.” We’ll be covering the first double-drumming period, when Mickey Hart joined the band. The second set will be a nonstop dance party: “Estimated Prophet,” “If I Had My Way,” “Shakedown Street,” “Touch of Gray,” every Bobby [Weir] rock ‘n’ roller, every Garcia uptempo [tune]. We’re calling it the Halloween double-drummer dance party.
You know, it’s a tough ship I’m sailing. I’m never going to be a millionaire doing this. I would like to leave our Northeast quadrant and take our show to San Francisco and Colorado—the garden–and see what they think. But it’s a big, expensive package and I don’t know how to do it.
I spend hours trying to get things done; sometimes it seems like working against gravity itself. But when it works, it’s really big fun. I’ll keep doing it as long as people come. [Pauses and laughs] Maybe. As long as it doesn’t kill me in the end.

Marc Muller: The Scoop

He attended his first Grateful Dead concert, and his first concert, in September 1973 at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., a favorite Dead venue. He was chaperoned by an older brother who owned a VW Bug and who turned him onto the Beatles.

His first truly influential musician was guitarist Jeff Beck, whom he first heard live in 1979 at the Palladium in Manhattan, sitting in a sixth-row center seat with a scalped ticket. “I was this little teen-age Deadhead with his Dead T-shirt and hole-y jeans. When Beck played “Space Boogie,” I just stood there and my jaw dropped and I went ‘Oooohhhh!’ After that, I found my way to all the classics: Miles Davis, Jaco Pastorius, Clifford Brown.”

His Dead On Live cast includes drummer Joe Chirco, who performs in a band led by Donna Jean Godchaux, an ex-Dead singer.
In 1995-2004 he played steel guitars in Shania Twain’s group.

His latest solo record, “Topsky,” contains “Southern-fried” jazz instrumentals featuring Victor Wooten, the hyper-imaginative bassist. The title is a word that Muller heard endlessly during rehearsals with Twain’s band. “Play it again, guys,” said Mutt Lange, then Twain’s producer-husband. “From the top—topsky.”

Geoff Gehman is a former arts writer for The Morning Call in Allentown. He attended two Grateful Dead concerts at the old Spectrum in Philadelphia, the last one in March 1995, nearly five months before Garcia died. He can be reached at geoffgehman@verizon.net

Stretching 26 miles from downtown Jim Thorpe to White Haven, Pennsylvania, is an ancient rail bed that affords much opportunity for cyclists of all levels. Consisting of only a small portion of the D&L Trail, the Lehigh Gorge Rail Trail or “The Gorge” as I like to call it is a prime destination and a key element of the Jim Thorpe cycling community.

Bicycling Jim Thorpe PA Being a local to Jim Thorpe and an endurance mountain bike racer, my connection to The Gorge is very spiritual yet undeniably simplistic. The Gorge serves as a critical link to get me from Point A to Point B on an extensive, all day road ride and as the last spin back to town with a quick dip in the river after a 40+ mile trail ride. The Gorge also serves me as a place to recover from a long race, or to pack a picnic basket for a gentle cruise to my favorite swimming hole.

The Gorge has all the essential amenities for a great day on two wheels. With no residential development, The Gorge is a true piece of Pennsylvania wilderness and an amazing place to view wildlife. Plus with the lack of automobile access, the fresh air is unbeatable!

Don’t just take my word for it. Explore The Gorge and unleash its wonder on your next cycling adventure!

Folk Music for Mutts
A Q&A with Ben Taylor

By Geoff Gehman

Ben Taylor is one stand-up singer-songwriter. He raises money for a local-food collective. He considers concerts a form of spiritual nourishment. He added a verse to a song to suit a stranger who said the song helped him recover from a heroin addiction.

Taylor stood up fiercely for fellow musician and friend John Forte, campaigning for eight years until Forte was released early from imprisonment for possessing and intending to distribute cocaine. Taylor lobbied with his mother, Carly Simon, whose activism includes the 1979 “No Nukes” benefit she performed with James Taylor, her then-husband and father of Ben, who was then two years old.

Ben Taylor at the Mauch Chunk Opera HouseOn July 6 the Mauch Chunk Opera House will host Taylor’s conscientious, cosmic show. Joined by the dynamic bassist Benjamin Thomas, who often plays his instrument upside down, he’ll play tracks from his latest record, “Listening” (Sun Pedal Records, 2012), a cyclorama of subjects and styles. He’ll apply a pleasingly centered, resonant voice and a pleasingly sharp, shaggy personality to what he’s called “folk music for mutts.”

During a phone conversation from his home on Martha’s Vineyard, Taylor discussed everything from his mom’s musical poker lesson to a ditty he wrote to silence spectators who think screaming “Free Bird!” is screamingly funny.

Q: What was the first song you couldn’t forget, that wormed its way into your soul? A: There are a lot of Beatles songs that I love, that I would choose if I were alone on a desert island. But if I had to pick a song that I couldn’t get out of my head, even if I tried, it would be “The Flintstones” theme. It’s got a killer melody. I dare you to go to bed tonight and not dream about it.

Ben Taylor at the Mauch Chunk Opera HouseQ: Did you have any breakthroughs while recording “Listening”? Did writing the song “Listening” help you listen better? A: Writing that song didn’t really help much with my listening, although as a result of making the record I think I became a better listener. I don’t know if I’ve become a better musician, or if I’ve grown fonder of silence. I know I’ve gotten a lot better about not monopolizing conversations. You know, I feel every song, every accomplishment, is a breakthrough. I feel like life is a breakthrough.

Q: What did you learn about your feelings for America while writing “America,” where you cast the country as a woman? Anything about your patriotism that was clarified or amplified? A: My feelings about my country are pretty concrete. I have a romantic, holistic picture of the way I fit into it. What was difficult was fitting my complicated perspective into a complex subject.

Q: What do your young half-brothers think about “Oh Brother,” your reminder to them that keeping their cool may be cooler than trying to be cool? A: Nothing to really speak of. I don’t know if they’ve even heard it. They’re still at the age where they’re pre-awkward. They haven’t matured to a place where they might understand my message. Either that, or they’re too jaded: “Oh, a song is not as cool as a video game–what’s next?” Q: I’m always curious why musicians pick their band mates. Why do you like performing with Benjamin Thomas? What does he do for you and what do you do for him? A: Benjamin is the most powerfully sensitive bassist/slash/alien/slash/astronaut I know. I wrote the song “Dirty” about him because he’s so profoundly, sinisterly filthy. I’m just speaking musically. Otherwise, his sound is clean, his character is impeccable, he’s a good husband, and his hygiene is halfway decent for a musician. The reason I select musicians is kind of complicated. Number one, they have to be family. They have to fit in; they have to understand my songs and the way I want them to be played. Just because somebody is a bad-ass bass player doesn’t mean they’re going to know what my sound should sound like. I require a great deal of care in my music; I can be incredibly powerful if I use the full dynamic range of my subtlety.

Ben Taylor at the Mauch Chunk Opera House

Q: I like the fact that you’re comfortable talking about your famous parents with strangers like me, and that you’re comfortable asking strangers about their parents. Who are your mentors besides your parents? Would one be your friend John Forte? Do you dig his message that he learned to love the world more while he was in prison, shut off from the world? A: I’m not sure about the word “mentor.” I get very confused about words; they’re squirrelly. I definitely look up to John; he’s definitely a teacher. He has an amazing spiritual conviction beyond his incredible vocabulary. When he assembles his hosts of spirits and focuses himself, he’s the most believable, charming etc. person-salesman I know. He has a real cosmic authority to the way that he communicates. I like to try to take a leaf from John’s book. Although I’ve heard that eloquence is a form of bullying, and John can be accused of bullying. It’s like jazz musicians: They have such huge vocabularies that they can’t help but play too many notes. Except for Steely Dan. They have a way of orchestrating chaos in a most seamless way. I learned music completely from ear and when I started playing guitar and I was trying to figure out Steely Dan songs I would think: Damn, these songs seem so simple and I’ve got six strings with a whole fingerboard of frets and I still can’t find that damned note! It was like trying to play guitar while standing on my head.

Ben Taylor at the Mauch Chunk Opera HouseQ: You and your mom played major roles in getting Forte released from prison. What was your most important role? A: Just to continue to care. It required heart more than anything else. Which is something I have a convenient surplus of when it comes to John. Everybody brings some spirit to the table. Sometimes it’s unconscious or ignorant or ungrateful, but it’s still spirit. That’s why I say that in my concerts I will be entertaining and I will tell stories and it will be a spiritual experience. The angelic hosts will be shuffling up there in the wings, making tiny vibrations.

Q: I love talking about the afterlife of songs, how they zig when you expect them to zag after you release them to the universe. What song of yours has had the most surprising impact? A: Do you mean the way that songs write themselves, or the way that people react to them and essentially rewrite them? I can definitely say that it’s an incredible gift to have your life’s work validated by a total stranger. Now, saying that out loud sounds like a fairly self-centered perspective, but, hey, that’s what you get. There’s a song on my first album, “A Good Day to Be Alive,” that really just has an intro and a chorus. Along the way a stranger told me that when he stopped doing heroin, when he was in rehab, he listened to [“A Good Day”] every day and it helped him find his optimism. Since then I’ve written a verse for him about his experience with god and life and love. That song has changed more than any one I’ve written. It needed the input of a stranger to tell me how to finish it. My father said a very smart thing: You can’t really hear a song until you play it live. What he means is that you’re too damned close to a song to hear what it really sounds like. The first time you actually hear it is when you get onstage and play it for people you don’t know, who have paid money because they like your music and the way you perform. You hear it vicariously, through their ears, and that changes your perception, your experience. That’s why it’s important to road test songs before you record them. If you don’t, you may find you’re stuck with a recording you don’t like. It won’t be as easy to change the melody three months later.

Ben Taylor at the Mauch Chunk Opera HouseQ: Your dad’s wisdom makes me wonder: What’s the best piece of musical advice you received from your mother? A: We were playing poker when I was young and she was trying to explain the game to me and she said: “You have to have jacks or better to open.” That came to mean that if the first line of a song isn’t good, the rest of the song won’t be good–if you don’t have a good first line, get new cards. It may be hereditary, but I believe the same thing: If the first line of a song is bad, it just ruins the rest of it. My mom also said write what you know, which may be the best single piece of advice I’ve gotten about music. Don’t invent things in your imagination that you can’t feel. It doesn’t mean everything has to be autobiographical, but everything has to be honest. People can tell you’re being dishonest when you start making shit up.

Q: What did your parents teach you about singing harmony? A: I can’t remember hearing them sing harmony when I was growing up. By the time I heard them sing harmony with other people, my own harmonic sensibilities were already too well established to be influenced by them. Although my sense of melody is definitely heavily influenced by both of them.

Q: You’re busy releasing multiple versions of your songs and covers of other people’s tunes. Is there anything else you’re dying to do, within reason, within the next few years? A: I’ve taught myself to edit video over the past year, so I’m going to make more videos of my songs. I’ve never been happy about the videos other people have made for me. I’m going to try to buy more time from the cosmos. Maybe I’ll drink shit loads of coffee and stay up all night.

Q: How would you like to improve as a musician? For example, are you practicing your uncle Livingston’s advice to make eye contact with people in the back row? A: I’m aspiring to be a proficient piano player. As for my uncle’s advice, well, we follow different paths when it comes to making eye contact. Hopefully, I’m so lost in my music that I don’t even know I’m there.

Q: Have you had any recent breakthroughs about making music, some discovery that eluded you for many moons? A: The absurd reality that we manage to be living on this tiny blue ball—that’s a breakthrough. Even when I’m on my couch, pretending to the world that I’m not playing a video game because it’s embarrassing—that’s a breakthrough

Q: So, Ben, are you interested in solving the greatest musical mystery of the 20th century: What rogue, or rogues, inspired your mom to write “You’re So Vain”? A: That’s an interesting question. I’m not allowed to say who the song is about. I am allowed to say the thing that inspired her to write it is a great bit of phrasing. She heard a song in some form in the life she was living, and she came up with the line “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you.” That’s the most subtly funny, most amazingly powerful thing anyone has said in my family. Of all the things anybody has said in my family, that’s the one thing I wish I had said. She plucked that out of the ether, out of the ethos.

Q: Have you plucked any of your songs out of the ether or ethos? A: I get drunken idiots in my concerts who scream “Free Bird!”; across the country there’s a standard group of people who think that’s actually funny. So I decided I would be prepared. I wrote a song called “You’ve Got to Set a Good Bird Free.” That’s something I heard myself telling my friends when they talked about controlling relationships. It’s just a new take on the old parable. So if you want to hear “You’ve Got to Set a Good Bird Free,” I have to hear a drunken idiot screaming “Free Bird!” And get ready for an opportunity for comedy.

Ben Taylor: The Scoop

He and his sister Sally harmonized on their mother Carly Simon’s recording of their father James Taylor’s “You Can Close Your Eyes,” which is one of Ben’s favorite songs by his dad.

He wrote “Turn on the Lights” to coax his unborn, overdue nephew to leave his sister’s womb.

He co-wrote “Digest” about his friend and fellow musician John Forte’s life and lessons during prison (“I’ve been forced to digest this wasteful emptiness”).

He supports a Martha’s Vineyard organization that supports locally grown food, an extension of his former desire to be a farmer.

A veteran martial-arts performer, he promotes the kung-fu adage that to master something you need to see it once, practice it once, and teach it once.

Geoff Gehman is a former arts writer for The Morning Call in Allentown. His favorite songs by James Taylor include “Hey Mister, That’s Me Up on the Jukebox” and “Captain Jim’s Drunken Dream”; his Carly Simon favorites range from “Loving You Is the Right Thing to Do” to “You Know What to Do.” He can be reached at geoffgehman@verizon.net.

The Allman Brothers Band, the Grateful Dead, and The Band performed at a huge concert 40 years ago in Watkins Glen, NY in 1973. Your intrepid blogger shares memories of that remarkable event.

I was 16 back then, and I had already been to lots of shows. It seems like I remember them all, but events like Watkins Glen in particular would always color the way I experience live music as I’ve made my way through life.

Watkins Glen Concert 1973

Three friends and I had decided to go there, maybe four hours from where we lived in Brewster, NY, to see three of the biggest bands of the day – The Allman Brothers, The Grateful Dead, and The Band. It was the summer of 1973, yet news of the event had spread virally, by word of mouth, long before there were such things as viral events. Just like today, word spread fast then, but about less things.

We left early the day before the concert in order to avoid the crowd that would be on the road the next day. However, by the time we were within twenty miles of Watkins Glen, we were surprised to encounter already immense traffic. This was a problem, not only because we thought we had left well in advance, but because the engine of our Peugeot was air-cooled and the constant stop-and-go caused the engine to overheat.

Watkins Glen 1973

Eventually, we just pulled the car over and bid it adieu for a couple of days, and walked the last few miles to the show, joining tens of thousands of other people along the way. The situation was certainly unexpected, but what choice was there?

By late afternoon, we finally made our way into the concert grounds, and pitched a tent as a base of operations. Then we easily moved up to maybe thirty yards from the stage to enjoy a soundcheck that turned out to be the real first night of the show.

The Allman Brothers began with a two-hour check, then The Band came on for another two. It was obvious there were so many people already there that the concert organizers had decided to give everyone an extra day if the musicians were willing, which they were.

Watkins Glen Concert in 1973

Now it felt like a festival, not just a long concert. It had required a lot of effort to get there, but something great was happening, something almost spiritual. The heat of the day had disappeared, and in the dim, clear light of evening you saw people everywhere, but you could get around with no problem, and settle down anywhere.

For me, it had become a gorgeous good time. Four hours into our unexpected free night, The Grateful Dead jammed for four hours more, until midnight. I remember Jerry Garcia, 31 years old and hair still black, thoughtfully surveying the unexpected ocean of people before him, numbering around 150,000 souls, most either sitting or lying down, in one of the mellowest, most peaceful summer evenings imaginable.

The actual concert began the next day. It dawned clear, but you could tell – it was going to get mid-summer hot. I woke up to feet all around me, as overnight it had gotten a whole lot more dense with people. But I was determined not to give up our hard-won spot near the stage.

The Dead started things off around noon, then four hours later The Band took the stage. Shortly into their set it began to rain like mad.

watkins98I recall Garth Hudson performing The Genetic Method during the storm, but everyone else onstage had taken cover. An hour or two later when the driving rain mercifully stopped, I beheld a sea of sopping-wet humanity, and I myself was caked past my knees in mud.

But still, it was summer, everybody kept it together, and I recall looking around and noticing it didn’t look like anyone had left. Soon as the rain let up, The Band came back out and resumed things where they had left off, and everyone forgot about the conditions and went back to listening to the bands they had come to see.

Watkins Gen 1973

Personally, I was there to see the Allman Brothers. Their set the night before had merely whetted my appetite for more. I sorely regretted not having seen the original band with Duane Allman (my all-time favorite guitarist, then and now) and Berry Oakley in concert (both died in motorcycle crashes), and at this point wasn’t going anywhere until I saw and heard the band that they had become.

It was the Brothers and Sisters Allman Brothers, and they did not disappoint. They took the stage led by a 26-year-old Gregg Allman, with Dickey Betts, the elder statesman at 30, up front, and Chuck Leavell on the piano on stage right. Butch Trucks, Jaimoe, and Lamar Williams put down an impeccable backbeat for the band, which performed with an almost regal confidence and authority.

Halfway through their three-hour set, I could no longer ignore how loudly nature called, so I walked back to the facilities, which I don’t recall being bad considering the size and density of this crowd. For me, it was certainly the most memorable porta-john visit ever: the fabled Watkins Glen sound system, set up with the help of Bill Graham, was doing its job beautifully, as the strains of Les Brers in A Minor mingled with my own sweet relief.

I found my way back near the stage and by then it was just my friend Nancy and I, as my other two friends had moved back to the tent. Unfortunately, when we walked back to the original campsite, they were gone. I can’t say I was terribly surprised. Conditions had taken their toll on a lot of folks by then.

Watkins Glen 1973So we began the long midnight trek into town as, in the distance, the Allman Brothers and The Grateful Dead had come together to perform Mountain Jam. It was well after midnight, and I was essentially asleep on my feet, having only semi-slept the night before, completely out in the open, under the stars.

Once back in town the sun began to rise, and we went into a diner, somehow getting a seat. A nice-enough guy was hitting rather persistently on Nancy, so we thought what the heck, let’s see if perhaps there’s a ride here. His car was a few miles out of town, and so, like everyone else, we rode most of the way on the hoods of other cars.

Once at his car, we did indeed manage a ride – all the way home. This was something of a feat, because there were about 200,000 other hitchhikers. I should still be there, out on the side of the road, thumb extended, trying to get home.

Watkins Glen Concert in 1973It was a gentle relief to finally make it back and clean off the mud with a blessed hot shower, instead of enduring a pounding rainstorm. My dad had put the front-page picture from the NY Daily News (where my mother was a reporter) on the refrigerator. It was an image of the crowd shot from the stage, and he had circled what he thought was me in red ink. I leaned in for a closer look, and indeed, there we were.

Then I went to sleep unconsciously for 18 hours, the longest I’d ever, and have ever, slept. Summer was still in full swing, so the next morning I took the family car for a couple of days, without permission, and thus began yet another opportunity for my parents to deal with their circa-1973 teenage son.

Thanks Mom and Dad for letting me go in the first place, and for not asking too many questions when I made it back home. It was a great time that I’ll never forget.

Jim Thorpe, PA hosts its Eighth Annual Merchants and Neighbors Sidewalk Sale. If you are looking for a great bargain, finding some fun stuff or hidden treasure, than come to Jim Thorpe’s Historic  Downtown District Saturday July 12th and 13th, 2014. Noon to 5 PM, rain or shine – come and make a day of it. Jim Thorpe Sidewalk Sale

We suggest that shoppers and visitors park behind the Train Station Visitors Center and stroll the tree-lined shaded streets that are steeped in history and local color. Walk from the Train Station, past Hazard Square and Susquehanna Street, and head up Broadway  to the Old Jail on West Broadway. Also, include Race Street and Opera House Square. During your fun walk, as far as your eyes can see, you will discover over fifty sidewalk sales tables or sites.

Sponsored by the Jim Thorpe Tourism Agency, this two-day sale extravaganza is a bargain shopper’s and a junk-aholic’s paradise with over fifty merchants and neighbors filling their front sidewalks, driveways, porches and side alleys with cool stuff, household items, stuff from their attics, garages, and basements including antiques and collectibles, toys, baked goodies, clothes and small appliances.

There are  tons of treasures not to be missed! You name it, it is for sale. Early Holiday shoppers and bargain hunters are welcomed.

Beside the neighborhood sales, our merchants will have special inventory reductions just for this sale too. Over 50 sales sites await you. Come for the day, stay for the weekend. All of our eateries, galleries, shops and accommodations are open too.

Event is sponsored by Amazing Jim Thorpe. Contact June Gaudreau for information at jegaudreau@aol.com or 484-707-6424 (cell).

We hear it’s going to get a bit hot this weekend.

It sounds like it might be time to hit the road to Jim Thorpe, PA. Things will be very cool inside at Jim Thorpe’s Mauch Chunk Opera House on Sunday night.

Over the past ten years the Opera House hasn’t presented many Sunday performances, but June 2nd this year, with the predicted warm weather, can be seen as an unofficial start to summer – especially with the great California jam band, Tea Leaf Green in town.

Tea Leaf Green at the Mauch Chunk Opera House in Jim Thorpe PA

When their musical odyssey began in the late nineties, TLG could be found on the road, as it usually is, opening for greats like Dave Matthews, Bruce Hornsby, and Government Mule. Many new albums have arrived on the scene as they explore a seemingly endless and diverse creative surge that takes them on many directions, including of course, their famous ability to absolutely mix it up on long, extended jams.

The Spring Standards at the Mauch Chunk Opera HouseNew York City’s The Spring Standards open the night. Their ethereal sound has something of a split-personality: the band’s sets on Mountain Stage demonstrate an acoustic folk-pop side, which stands in stark contrast to their carefully-crafted power-pop proclivities.

So Sunday, June 2 is something of an East-meets-West kind of evening, and sure to be especially memorable. And by the way, that $18 ticket price includes all fees.

Talk about a great summertime night out! And you’ll get home in plenty of time for work the next day.

Or skip work on Monday and make it a long weekend  ;-)   Plenty of places to stay! Way less expensive but nothing cheap about your choices!

Click here for tickets or just come to the door at 7:30 PM when the show begins.

Country Cruise

The opportunity for adventure is upon us! With bluebird days and mild spring time temperatures, the time is right to explore uncharted territories or that new section of pavement to the unknown.

In this article I am trying something new for the readers and the folks who just are looking for a nice road bike ride while spending time in the Jim Thorpe area. Most cyclists nowadays use a GPS unit to keep track of their ride data, and or download rides to their GPS unit when traveling into a new area where the roads are unknown.

Jim Thorpe PA bike rideBelow is a link to a very nice, 25 mile road bike ride that starts and ends in Jim Thorpe.

The ride takes cyclists on a warm-up towards the Mauch Chunk Lake to a short punchy climb into the Mahoning Valley. Riders will then hit some rolling terrain through the Valley towards the grueling climb up the South side of Flagstaff Mountain.

After summiting, riders will descend back into Jim Thorpe.

Enjoy the ride and remember to keep your path bright!

Ride link:  http://connect.garmin.com/activity/292662692

Submitted by Treadhead 5/8

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