The half-song Deadhead march 

Kuli Loach pays tribute to Grateful Dead with Shake Down Street anthems all night long

click to enlarge Official Deadheads Kuli Loach departs from their original line up for an evening of the Grateful Dead on Saturday, Feb. 23 at Dusty's.
  • Official Deadheads Kuli Loach departs from their original line up for an evening of the Grateful Dead on Saturday, Feb. 23 at Dusty's.

Who: Kuli Loach

When: Saturday, Feb. 23

Where: Dusty’s

Admission: Free

Of course the frontman of a Grateful Dead tribute band would remember his first Grateful Dead show.

It was a sunny afternoon on June 29, 1973 when Ron Dickson first set his ears and eyes on the Grateful Dead performing at Universal Studios in California.

But it wasn’t a moment that would forever change the course of his guitar strings. Instead he dismissed the experience as “interesting” – he couldn’t see what all the hype was about.

Eight months later, he tried again – his deadhead friends wouldn’t have it otherwise. And somewhere in the band’s fusion of rock, folk, bluegrass, blues, reggae, country and jazz, The Dead’s psychedelic long musical improvisation finally hit home, washing out all previous notions of what music should be with bands like The Beatles and the Rolling Stones dominating the airwaves.

“Their music was so different from anything else that was out there,” Dickson said. “It was unstructured. Brand new, but familiar. It was as if they were mining something I understood.”

That understanding never manifested itself wholly into Dickson’s new band, Kuli Loach. Sure the now 22-year-old band threw in the occasional Dead cover amongst originals, but it wasn’t until many years later when Jerry Garcia died in August of 1995 that Kuli Loach picked up The Dead torch. Audiences wouldn’t have it any other way.

Despite an all-original line up, Grateful Dead covers inched their way into sets as audiences requested more Fire on the Mountain and Friend of the Devil.

Dickson was apprehensive at first. He didn’t want to butcher the memory of the band he held to such acclaim by murdering songs he originally thought could only be played by the masters themselves. But with every show and rehearsal, The Dead’s electric, dirtier sound grew more confidently on the Kuli Loach stage.

“I think the musicians and audiences are after that same thing that the Dead put into motion, that music contains an infinite number of variations that aren't explored in conventional commercial radio and today's listeners are craving it, even if they don't realize it at first, “ he said.

Listen for Shake Downstreet, Help on The Way and Not Fade Away along with lesser-known Grateful Dead anthems. There is never any shortage of new Grateful Dead music repertoire to pioneer. However, these days Kuli Loach is looking back to their original beginnings. It’s been seven years since their last original album, Live at the Tractor.

“We are working on going back into the studio to produce some original work,” Dickson said. “We’ve got a batch of a dozen new (works being) recorded on the side.”

Of course Garcia can’t help but make his mark in Dickson’s original work.

“It’s there in the melodic sense,” Dickson said of the Grateful Dead’s influence on his music. “Jerry Garcia has a sense of melody which was always familiar to me ever since the first time I heard it. It’s what always appealed to me. His melody is like writing. The musical lines are sentences and paragraphs, and lend themselves to spoken-word cadence. That comes naturally to me. All of my songs fall into that.”

You can hear Garcia and sometimes even see him at a Kuli Loach show. The Grateful Dead were famous for opening a set with part one of a song then only bringing that song to a close with the second half four nights later.

Only instead of Sugar Magnolia, Kuli Loach played Scarlet Begonias in memory of a friend who recently passed. A candle lit in her vigil had the bar manager cutting off the band mid song due to fire code concerns. A month later, Kuli Loach returned, beginning their set with the last half of Scarlet Begonias.

“That is the kind of thing Deadheads appreciate,” he said. “I'd have to say that you know you're a Dead Head when you can't just overhear a Dead song in a campground or at the beach without seeking out the listener, introducing yourself and discovering that you were at the same show in back in '87, or you have a mutual friend who named his dog Sugaree, or the like. It's an extended community that continues to interact to bring old friends together and introduce new ones. It's hard to put into words without smiling and shrugging and saying, ‘It's a Dead thing, y'know?’”

Deadheads are always looking for recruits. Join Kuli Loach for an evening with the Grateful Dead on Saturday, Feb. 23 at Dusty’s in Creekside.

No cover charge.

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