What is it about Upstate New York Winter’s that make great music artists bring their multi-colored California concepts here to heat things up? Forty-one years ago today, Jerry Garcia Band came to be an act for the Lake Ontario sound at Laker Hall on SUNY Oswego campus February 17, 1980.
A then 37-year old Garcia had his second touring band outside the Grateful Dead since collaborating with Howard Wales on hooteroll?. His four piece ensemble consisted of John Kahn on Bass, David Ozzie Ahlers on Keyboards, and Johnny De Fonseca on drums. The band set up atop the cold brick Route 104 venue on the hill, overlooking Lake Ontario, for three hours of music played to around 2,000 people.
They certainly let Jerry’s influences play out in the performance with covers of Allen Toussaint, Marvin Gaye, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Jimmy Cliff, J.J Cale, The Beatles, and his own material with the Grateful Dead. Like a typical New York Winter, Syracuse Deadhead Vinny Randazzo remembers the drive to the Oswego show as “covered in snow and sound.”
The group immediately stretches out for fifteen minutes to start the show on Toussaint’s “I’ll Take A Melody” to let you know “I understand why the old fisherman, sails along, someday he’ll be gone.” Perhaps it was a quick nod to the windy docks of the Great Lake that sat next to all. There’s some devil out there that’s for sure, which launched them into “Friend of the Devil,” a friend Jerry normally plays with. Just three days after Valentine’s Day and three songs into the performance, love for the faithful is shown on “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You).” The band then casts a line out to the crowd at shore, for a muddy version of “Catfish John.”
The Grateful Dead anthem “Deal” comes up next, with Jerry reminding you of tours past: “ If I told you all that went down, it would burn off both of your ears!” There is a 4th Street in Oswego, and Jerry covers the waterside corner during his take on Dylan’s “Positively 4th St” singing, ” You see me on the street, you always act surprised, you say “How are you?,” “Good Luck” But you don’t mean it.”
They close the set with a rockabilly tribute to Elvis for “That’s Alright Mama.” Yea, that first set was more than alright for all in attendance… “any way you do.”
After the set break, Elvis had not left the building. The quartet kicked off with the King’s version of “Money Honey,” that got everyone in GA hound-dogging back on the floor. During the set break the crowd certainly felt like they had been “Sitting Here in Limbo,” which is what the band dropped next. David Ozzie Ahlers brings you to Jimmy Cliff’s islands with a two part keyboard solo. Jerry reflects on an American working day for the the next track “Later in the evening when the sun is sinking low, all day I’ve Been waiting for the Whistle to Blow” on “Let It Rock.” Garcia lights up his delta licks on this Chuck Berry classic.
Up next is one of the greatest live improvisational segue ways in rock and roll history. On the famous tape you might recognize the “After Midnight —> Eleanor Rigby Jam—>After Midnight” jam that was only played in the beginning of that decade. This is one of Senor Garcia’s sweetest unplanned moments to be captured.
Jerry takes another stab at Dylan’s seasonal lyrics “Now the wintertime is coming, the windows are filled with frost, I went to tell everybody but I could not get across, well, I wanna be your lover baby, I don’t want to be your Boss” for “It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” Jerry’s Tiger guitar Quartet immediately melt the ice with the last song for “The Harder They Come.” “The Harder they Fall, One and All” to bring back the island vibe beats to close out the evening.
Jerry Garcia Band 1980 winter tour rolled through New York State from Oswego to The Palace Theater in Albany, The Landmark Theater in Syracuse, The Calderone Theater in Hempstead and SUNY Stonybrook. They came back to Laker Hall under new personnel one last time on December 11, 1983 with Melvin Seals. Jerry Garcia kept a solo band outside of The Grateful Dead for the next 15 years with Melvin Seals How Sweet It Is: Melvin Seals at The Westcott Theater who carries the JGB touring torch to this day.
In a 1981 interview someone asked Jerry Garcia “What are the virtues playing with your own band compared to the Grateful Dead?” Garcia responded “Its a real resonate consonance experience, its like harmonious, every bodies musical taste is similar to my own, ya know?, and our concept of what music should be, were an accord, so my band is playing the kind of music that I think of the way music is constructed , in terms of the roles and the instruments, The Grateful Dead is interesting because everyone has a different concept of what music is about, which creates a lot of friction and tension to it”
Jerry Garcia Band, February 17 1980, Laker Hall, Oswego, NY
Set 2: Money Honey, Sitting Here In Limbo, Let It Rock, After Midnight > Eleanor Rigby Jam > After Midnight, It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry, The Harder They Come
Listen to the Whole Show from 1980 Here: