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.

I 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 www.deadendslive.com