Other Ones Tour Revives The Dead

Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.

While the chances of a full-fledged reunion (one that would include a return to the studio) are unclear at the moment for the surviving members of the Grateful Dead, percussionist Mickey Hart is hailing he and his bandmates' first tour together since 1995 as a success, both financially and spiritually.

"All my expectations were filled," he says of the three-week jaunt just wrapped by the Other Ones, the Dead spinoff now featuring all four surviving founders. "They were low in some respects and high in others. But I just wanted to go out there and have a great time and come back feeling good, and I feel great about it."

The 17-show jaunt, which included seven sellouts and grossed $9.8 million, was attended by more than 223,500 people representing at least five generations. At different stops, the band thrilled Deadheads by rolling out such rarely performed 1960s cuts as "The Rub" and "King Bee."

Hart, fellow percussionist Bill Kreutzmann, vocalist/guitarist Bob Weir, and bassist/vocalist Phil Lesh have toured on and off with each other in the seven years since vocalist/guitarist Jerry Garcia's death spelled the end of the road for the Dead. Weir and Hart launched the on-again/off-again Further Fest the summer after Garcia's death, on which they have been joined in the Other Ones (who take their name from the Dead song "The Other One") at different times over the years by Kreutzmann and Lesh. Yet, it wasn't until this past August -- at the two-day, multi-act Terrapin Station festival at Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wis. -- that all four reunited onstage.

Weir says that he and his former Dead bandmates are considering reuniting as the Other Ones -- a group that also features Jeff Chimenti (keyboardist in Weir's Ratdog) and two members of Lesh's band, Phil Lesh & Friends, keyboardist/vocalist Rob Barraco and guitarist Jimmy Herring -- for "three, four, five events, probably on long holiday weekends [in 2003]." That, he says, "will probably be enough. If we're gonna make the effort to go out and tour, I would expect what we have to do is spend some time together and come up with new material to make it aesthetically worth our while."

Weir says that the band hasn't ruled anything out, even though there are currently no plans to record at the moment. "I definitely want to do it," says Hart. "And if somebody doesn't want to, they better have a good reason. And, if they do, fine. But the world is on fire right now, and it seems like it's more important now than ever to add this kind of good energy to a world gone amuck."

Considering the number of years all four had been apart, and the fact that those years were sometimes filled with disagreements over financial issues -- as the Dead's merchandising is a relative rock'n'roll empire onto itself -- Hart also sees the Other Ones' trek as an example of "victory over adversity."

"We had our own family feud going," Hart says. "See, the music mediates everything in our lives, but once the music stopped, we didn't have that mediation process; we couldn't meet on the stage, look at each other, and renew our vows, as it were. And, so, the business side starting overtaking us. We didn't have agreement. There was, like, hard feelings between people. In the back of my mind, I wished we would [reunite]. But I didn't think there would be enough forgiveness and kindness that would rise to the surface."

Time, Hart says, proved an "amazing healer." He notes, "After Garcia died, there was a catharsis. He was the very center -- the center of our world was ripped away. We had to put our own lives back together before we could see each other in a correct light, with mutual respect. And, ya know, it takes time sometimes to find your center again. And that's what this is all about, really. We really love each, we always loved each other. But, ya know, 35 years was a long grind."

Rejuvenated both physically and spiritually after a recent liver transplant, Lesh told Billboard last summer that he felt it was time to bury the hatchet, and get back to the music. "We had been disagreeing on a lot of lower level stuff," he said. "And my feeling was that last year [2001] I started really feeling that we needed to reaffirm our relationship on the high level that it started at, and that level was intimately involved with making music, that relationship.

"When that's not happening," he continued, "and eveybody's just part of the board of directors that's just doing business, it makes it harder for individuals and passionately committed people like the Grateful Dead guys to work together. So Bobby and I started communicating, and Bobby sat in with my band, and then Ratdog and my band played together on the [2001] summer tour. And Bobby sat in with us again. And on New Year's [2001] I invited everybody -- all the surviving original members -- to join my band for our set. I guess that sort of broke the ice, and put it back on the level that it really needs to be at, the high level of making music."

The band got things started with three weeks of rehearsals (a week of vocals and two with a full band) in the Bay Area last summer. "From the first day in practice, it was just like picking up where we left off," says Weir. Lesh said it was "like putting on an old shoe."

It was immediately obvious that each had grown as musicians. Says Lesh, "Everybody was very conscious [of that]. Since we really couldn't recreate the Grateful Dead, we wanted to apply all the evolution that everybody has gone through in the last seven years and apply all the things we've learned through playing with others to playing together."

But, in the end, Weir notes, not all that much has changed: "Our manner of presenting what we have is the same as we've always done; ya know, we just kick things around, ya know, pass the lead back and forth."

The Alpine Valley shows had an "incredible feeling of rightness" to them, says longtime Dead spokesperson and recent biographer of the band, Dennis McNally. "I mean, these guys have no business not playing music -- that's what they're here for."

Although, as McNally notes, the band is significantly different, as Herring adds a much more straight-forward guitar approach than the back-road style practiced by Garcia, the fans were of course accepting. "They were most supportive," says Weir. "It seemed like we couldn't try something without them supporting us."

When the band announced the Alpine Valley shows last year, local organizers feared the built-up desire to see all four Dead founders reunited would flood the area with more Deadheads than the venue and area could support. The tour was conceived to take the pressure off those shows. But, despite any concessions, Weir assures fans that the band wanted to do the jaunt anyway.

Hart says the trek "felt easy, and great. It was blissful in a way." Why? "We're not as f***ed up as we used to be," he adds with a cackle. "We're not as stoned. We don't take massive, heroic amounts of drugs every night! That certainly helps. But, we're just better at our instruments. It was the most consistent we've ever played, I think, in our whole lives. Ya know, we're better now than we used to be as musicians. And I think we're more secure in who we are as individuals."

The tour had its challenges, too, Weir says, noting that coming after a break of so many years, these shows required a little more preparation time. "I'm not gonna try and tell you that we were overrehearsing, but what we were doing out there is rehearsing during soundcheck an hour or two, and then right before the show again. And, in the breaks, there was a lot of scrambling to get the material together."

After 35 years of playing together, there was a certain amount of adjustments the Dead guys had to make to gel with Herring, Chimenti, and Barraco: "It's kind of like a new band, kind of, when working the interplay up," says Hart, "because we have three new guys out there who have no idea about the chemistry that the four of us have. So they have to sort of feel their way, and we have to sort of bring them along gently, and interact with them. And start the conversation again with three new guys. These guys fit really well, and, ya know, you don't want to throw them into the belly of the beast without being kind and considerate."

If the Other Ones do indeed go forward with a handful of shows this year, or a full-fledged reunion, Weir says he'd like to see the band play with "a little more delicacy. We need to turn the hell down, we've been playing too loud onstage."

Since reuniting in August, the band's performances have been a bit more raucous and raw than some fans may be used to. For his part, Weir says that's good, but in smaller doses. He says, "I was just listening to Grateful Dead Records' latest [as yet unreleased] 'Dick's Picks' and I was sort of taken aback at how sensitively the Grateful Dead was playing in 1992, and we have a ways to go to recapture that, I think. But that's the kind of thing that takes a while to develop, and we also have to decide to do it."

When Hart, Kreutzmann, Weir, and Lesh reunited this past summer, Hart says, the plan was to "do the tour, play [a New Year's show in Oakland, Calif.], and then see how we all collectively felt." Everyone, Hart says, was being rather cautious about a reunion, largely because the Dead had in the years before Garcia's death became such a machine for its members that playing was becoming more and more of a job, and less fun.

"It became like a rut, like a habit," Hart says. "You just kept going to Madison Square Garden, and then the Spectrum, and then Giants Stadium, and no place was too big. It was hard to get excited about playing three days at Giants Stadium anymore. I mean, that was just a routine. We were just punching the clock. Ya know, we were bringing a lot to the table -- and I have to say that we were delivering -- but it was harder to get up after 30 years."

He adds, "I think we didn't want this to turn into a Grateful Dead rut, where we have to tour." On this past tour, Hart says, "I think we actually began to appreciate each other more. It's like a love that's ripped away, and then you really appreciate it more. You took it for granted at first. For the first 35 years, we just happened to be the Grateful Dead. But, when it's gone, something was missing, and then, when you get it back, you realize how powerful and potent of an energy that was."

Looking forward, Hart, who has been working on new material with longtime Dead songwriter Robert Hunter, says that he can't find any reason why this tour wouldn't result in a return to the studio: "We're all healthy. We all loved playing with each other, we all had a great time. We did what we said we were gonna do. It was successful financially, it was successful spiritually. So, I don't see any reason why we wouldn't get back together and write new material."

"We have no management," he continues, "nobody's there to tell us what to do, or not to do. We don't have any record company saying we gotta have product. So this is the best possible position to be in as an artist, to be able to do what you know and love for the absolute total right reasons, for the love of the music -- because it brings joy to the world, and it's a responsibility I think we have to do this stuff."

Excerpted and expanded from the Dec. 28, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.

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