My band Ice Petal Flowers is a local Grateful Dead tribute band that has been hitting the club scene in Manhattan and Brooklyn, NY for about 8 months. When we got the nod of acceptance to a Jerry Garcia birthday festival at the Oneonta Theater in Oneonta, NY (about 3 1/2 hours north of NYC) we were thrilled to be a part of both a festival playing in a real THEATER.
The drive up to Oneonta was fun. It was a beautiful and perfect sunny summer day for such a trip. In my car I had our bass player Chris, our drummer Adrian and his girlfriend Heidi so there was plenty of joviality and singing on the way up to make for a pleasant drive.
Once we got through all the speed traps and small towns north of the city our first stop was at Adrian’s Grandmother’s house to say hi to his Grandma and to meet up with the rest of the band there. Stu our rhythm guitarist and Kevin our keyboardist were already there and Grandma provided a bite to eat and a tour of her beautiful landmark home which was to be our quarters overnight after the show. Grandmas are awesome. Thanks for the generous hospitality Grandma!
After a quick lunch we headed over to the theater. We were so excited, as this was the biggest venue any of us have ever had the chance to play in. Within a few minutes we were at the famed Oneonta Theater. The marquee read in celestial letters “Jerry Jam Celebration – Bands and BBQ” This was the big time for us.
We loaded our gear onto the stage as other bands were doing the same. Soon we were informed that we would even have a dressing room backstage. Wow, “I could get used to this” I thought. The parking lot which was being used as a Shakedown Street hippie bazaar was starting to shape up with tie dyes and the like and an audience of long hairs was beginning to filter into the premises.
There was a nice bluesy sound check happening with members of various bands and a sweet camaraderie was quickly forming between all the bands (5 Grateful Dead tribute bands in total!) I got to meet one of the festival sponsors Tom Lieber. Tom is a master guitar builder who had worked on Jerry Garcia’s guitars back in the day with Doug Irwin, the builder of Jerry’s beloved Tiger guitar and others. Tom knew Jerry back then.
Like a total fanboy I had to ask Tom what was Jerry like? Tom replied that Jerry was really just a regular person like you or me. Later on I would try one of Tom’s hand made guitars, it practically played itself. Lieber guitars are truly fine instruments made by a dedicated craftsman. It was an honor to meet such a respected and skilled artisan.
By now the theater was bristling with local Deadheads and hippies. The first band, Roses Grove, took the stage and they played classic Dead tunes with their own twist – 2 lead guitars. I really enjoyed their take on the Dead, it as very refreshing. After about an hour I was notified that Ice Petal Flowers needed to get backstage as we were about to go on. Our big moment was only moments away. Before you could say “Casey Jones” we were on the stage of a real theater with real monitors, stage lights, and a drum riser.
The band was locked and loaded and POW, we launched into our set with verve and confidence. We were rockin’ with plenty of great jams and vocal harmonies on songs like Brown Eyed Women, Franklins Tower, Dark Star, St. Stephen, and Not Fade Away. Everyone in the theater was dancing and having fun.
I remember turning my back to the audience momentarily to focus on Adrian our drummer to share a rock ‘n roll moment, then I ripped out a bunch of joyful golden guitar notes to fill the air between us. That’s when I felt that feeling of “this is what it’s really like and I love it”. It felt both glorious and perfectly normal. I was still a regular guy just like the fat man.
And then just like that with the last chords Morning Dew still ringing and the screams from the crowd reverberating we were done with our set. Other bands followed and their music blissfully echoed on into the night but I was done, spent from putting it all into our set.
I hung around in the parking lot for a while and had some incredible barbecue (yummy pulled pork and corn) while enjoying the warm summer breezes. I thought “Yes, it happened” and called my wife who was at home with our young son and told her all about it. Here I was in the kind of place that I dreamed of since I was 10 years old and it was every bit as good as I imagined it could be. In a short while the band was back on Grandma’s porch enjoying beers and cheers feeling like conquering heroes.
By 12:30 am that night I was asleep in one of the many guest rooms in Grandma’s house and by Monday I was back at my day job, a regular guy again.
David Fuller lead guitar and vocals Ice Petal Flowers, NYC
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