Dead Ends Live celebrates the jam band culture of the Grateful Dead

Tom Murray
Edmonton Journal March 15, 2023

On the two-day, two-venue bill is John Kadlecik from the post-Dead band Further and the Dead-obsessed McGowan Family Band.

John Kadlecik has gone as far as Japan and Italy to expound the musical gospel of the Grateful Dead. The guitarist and vocalist will will add Edmonton to the list after flying in as a special guest for the second annual Dead Ends Live festival, alternating between McDougall United Church and the Chateau Lacombe ballroom this weekend. For fans of the now-defunct jam band, Kadlecik has major cred. He took on the Jerry Garcia role in post-Dead band Furthur with original Dead members Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, and formed the long-running tribute ensemble Dark Star Orchestra.


“What attracted me to that scene was the fact that those early bands in the Bay area like the Grateful Dead had ideas about what you could do with music in a band besides just writing pop songs,” Kadlecik says. “They had the notion that you could change the world with music.”


At Dead Ends, Kadlecik will be putting that theory into practice with similarly-minded individuals such as The Terrapin String Quartet, Chris and Sally Jones, as well as Joe Craven and David Gans, and the McGowan Family Band. Throughout the two-day festival the music will move from bluegrass to reggae and fiddle music to New Orleans jazz, with plenty of unexpected musical stop offs in between. The Dead connection is made more explicit through returning artists Joe Craven and David Gans. Multi-instrumentalist Craven was an integral part of the Dave Grisman Quintet, also recording and playing with Jerry Garcia, while guitarist Gans has been the host of the Grateful Dead Radio Hour for close to three decades.


There will, of course, be plenty of jamming, and explorations into the extensive roots of the beloved band. It’s all very much in accord with the point of view of the Dead, who morphed constantly through their 30-year existence.


Mark McGowan of The McGowan Family Band says he and his bandmates align with the philosophy of the Dead as well.


“We kind of take the same approach, where you have a structured beginning and end, but with lots of room for improvisation,” the drummer says. “There’s no set ending. Sometimes you go into another song without taking a pause, sometimes you look around at the other guys and someone will play a lick that can kind of go into another song. So you give them a little nod and you move in that direction.”

After 24 years Mark and his brothers Paul and Sean, all of whom switch instruments on the regular, are adept at the telepathy that makes this high-wire live performance work. With the lineup rounded out by multi-instrumentalist Sean Brewer, bassist Ryan Holmes and keyboardist Jason Kodie, they’ve been a constant at small festivals around the province. As proud standard bearers for the near genre-less music that flows from the Grateful Dead, the McGowans often find themselves at a loss for how to describe themselves musically to interested observers.


“We’re like, ‘OK, let me let me list off seven to 10 genres here,” Mark chuckles. “That’s what we enjoy. We don’t want to be pigeonholed into one thing, and there’s a flavour for everyone.”


Aside from genre collisions, Kadlecik notes that the improvisational aspect is harder than it might look on the outside.


“Being able to make it up doesn’t just mean you do whatever you want,” he says. “You have to learn the rules within the boundaries within which you make it up. It’s actually a lot more work than just memorizing a passage in a song, it’s memorizing a whole set of boundaries that you can work with, and then making it up on the fly within those boundaries.”

Chris & Sally Jones, Dead Ends Live Edmonton March 18, 2023

Fervor Coulee – roots music opinion
Music reviews and thoughts@Fervor Coulee

A rare opportunity to see and hear members of the bluegrass family playing an intimate duo gig this evening.


DeadEnds Live, a two-day fest of Grateful Dead-related music in downtown Edmonton, made its second appearance this weekend, and all reports from those in attendance were that it was incredible.

I managed to convince myself to make the journey into the city to catch Chris and Sally Jones play a too-brief set of songs from both their repertoires as well as several ‘brother’ duets. Most memorable were Sally’s heartfelt tribute to her father, “The Farmer,” Chris’ renderings of “Whither You Roam” and “Riding the Chief,” and their presentation of songs from the McReynolds and Louvins. Chris also took the lead on a rendition of “Dark Hollow” performed in a manner I’ve never before experienced; I’m not sure how to describe it but to crib from his introduction that it is “a medley of one song.” Quite remarkable. Chris is an incredible guitar player, and he took many lead breaks that were stunning in their clarity. Speaking with a musician after the show, he agreed with my assertion that Jones’ skill in ‘working the mic’ is phenomenal. This was aptly demonstrated on the closing rendition of “Rueben’s Train.”

I was told that there is a planned European tour upcoming featuring Sally, her sister Sandra, and Sandra’s husband Ron Block, along with Chris so that would be something to catch if they are in your neighbourhood. Sally’s presence on the bluegrass music scene these past many years has been minimal, so perhaps this signals a return to regular performance. She also has a new live album available, collecting performances from various European appearances; unfortunately, it doesn’t appear available on iTunes, so I missed my chance. Will keep eyes peeled in the future for that.

I had planned on staying for more music, but the opportunity to catch-up with a number of bluegrass pals was too appealing, and by the time that had wound up- it felt like bed time…and now I find myself wide awake.

Kudos to Peter North, his team of organizers and volunteers, and all the artists and sponsors who came together to present Dead Ends Live, and we hope we can attend more shows the next time around.

Dead Ends Live channels Grateful Dead's
jam-band spirit with inaugural festival

Roger Levesque
Edmonton Journal March 16, 2022

Long live the Dead, the Grateful Dead, that is.

You may hear and feel such sentiments at Edmonton’s newest music fest, Dead Ends Live, which cranks up this weekend at two neighbouring downtown venues. It’s inspired by that late, great beyond-genre band which pioneered a deeper side of rock, blues, jazz, roots and global sounds in San Francisco and afar from the mid-1960s for three decades, or thereafter in varied solo projects from members like Jerry Garcia and Mickey Hart.

“It’s central to this whole thing,” notes founder Peter North. “This is a more than capable bunch of musicians on stage, a lot of great soloists and musical minds and forward thinkers too. Nobody is going to be intimidated and you’ve got to love that. Everyone is excited about working together.”

Apart from working as a promoter (most recently of Salmon Arms’ Roots & Blues Fest), music journalist (formerly with the Edmonton Journal and Edmonton Sun), and broadcaster, North hosted Dead Ends And Detours on CKUA Radio for 17 years. Now he’s curating that concept, “music inspired by the Grateful Dead and the spirit of the jam band community,” live on stage.

Start with two venues, five events, four bands and a dozen solo stars from our own backyard and across the continent, from Harry Manx, Joe Craven, Mark Hummel and Kat Danser to The McDades, Front Porch Roots Revue, and much of Tacoy Ryde. Mbira Renaissance and the Farhad Khosravi-Daniel Stadnicki duo add global grooves. Singer Maddie Storvold helps emcee.

Along with advance studio rehearsals North asked certain artists to create their own take on the GD repertoire. He has a broad interest in the wider threads of the group’s influence.

“Finding the right local players who would be pivotal for this kind of show was at the core,” North says, “It’s not just about Grateful Dead songs but about that spirit. As a listener, the Dead or members of the band took me to a lot of new musical signposts and sounds and I wanted to make this a community festival.”

McDades versus McDeads

Hot on the heels of their excellent third album The Empress, The McDades play an official release concert Friday. Then, following an opening set Saturday night set from the West Coast’s east-west fusion genius Harry Manx, they become The McDeads, drifing further than their already broad territory on a bill with visiting Americans David Gans and Joe Craven, among others.


A recent chat with brothers Solon and Jeremiah McDade (who co-lead the quintet with their sister Shannon Johnson) revealed a continuing evolution beyond their folk roots.

 want the band to be able to bend and be malleable with our approach and the influences we take,” Solon explains. “We love jazz and improvising and the energy that comes from soloist improvising within the band. Those moments are often the highlights of the songs. Our roots in Celtic music are now a stepping stone to experimenting with other music genres and cultures.”

Expect surprises and fresh, acoustic inventions. For instance, Solon explains they’re doing Me And My Uncle, a Mamas & Papas tune the GD covered regularly, a tune he knows from his childhood. The tune can “dictate how we perform it,” as Solon puts it.

Jeremiah McDade recalls he was aware of the GD growing up, and even more familiar with offshoots like Jerry Garcia’s largely acoustic collaborations with dawg music’s David Grisman.

“We’re doing four or five of the Grateful Dead tunes that really resonated with us,” adds Jeremiah, “putting our own spin on them and backing up other people. It’s an opportunity to delve deeper.”

Joe Craven's Curiosity

It’s hard not to enjoy Joe Craven, one of those rare multi-instrumenalist singers who seems to do it all (he’s packing a mandolin, fiddle and percussion.
As a past collaborator with David Grisman and Jerry Garcia he’s a natural for Dead Ends Live, but as a player and educator, his most valuable commodity could be creative curiosity“I love diversity, and the inter-connectedness of all music is a fascinating thing for me,” Craven explains. “It’s sort of the family tree model of music and that helps me move laterally across the board, going from Hendrix to Earl Scruggs, to Tito Puente to Thelonious Monk. I believe in the leave-no-genre-behind policy.”

Soloing next to Stephane Grappelli or David Lindley or heading up his own bands, Craven can reinvent a folk classic in the style of jazz or rock or hip hop. Convincingly.

His organic development started with discovering Jimi Hendrix at 13. Craven explains, “I asked my dad for a guitar and an amp the size of mom’s refrigerator.”

After garage-banding through high school, he discovered acoustic roots music, bluegrass and Americana. Giving up guitar for mandolin, he wound up joining David Grisman’s band.

Based in California since the early 1980s, he calls himself “musically illiterate for music on the page” but the self-taught virtuoso has a great ear, razor-sharp intuition, and an avid sense of humour that gets him frequent emcee duties.

Craven recalls discovering the GD on record in the basement of his Atlanta high school pal, REM’s Peter Buck. Years later he was in Grisman’s band when they opened for the GD.

“In the beginning, I wasn’t getting it,” Craven recalls. “So much of it was about the communal experience of being in this tribe at the shows. But eventually, I came to really appreciate the songwriting partnership of Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter. Later on, I was blessed to work with the Garcia-Grisman project and get to know Jerry better.”

Craven respects the songs along with the GD’s jam-band legend and his love for improvising, insisting, “I’ve always loved re-inventing music.”

Find the full lineup and festival details at