The Music Never Stopped: The Capital Region Celebrates the Life of Jerry Garcia

Legendary Grateful Dead singer/guitarist Jerry Garcia touched many lives in his brief 53 years on Earth. Regarded as one of the most influential musical figures of all time, even 28 years after his passing, Garcia’s legacy and words continue to inspire and resonate with a whole new generation. An artist in every sense of the word, his creativity, curiosity, kindness, vulnerability, sense of humor and his unique ability to collaborate with almost anyone make him one of the most revered players of any era.  Relatable to millions and a limitless source of inspiration for countless Grateful Dead-inspired tribute acts, while Jerry’s journey may be one of the greatest stories ever told, you could easily argue that even though he’s gone, the music never stopped.  

the music never stopped grateful dead jerry garcia
Jerry Garcia’s Birthday Bash: NYS Dead Coalition featuring Organ Fairchild and Vinnie Amico of moe. performing at Lark Hall on 8/1/23.

Born Jerome John Garcia on August 1, 1942, in 1965 he would become one of the founding members of The Grateful Dead and from there, go on to become one of the most recognizable figures of the last century. One of the most recorded musicians in history, he’s also said to have played in over 25 side projects while releasing more than 30 studio albums.  Since his passing on August 9, 1995, Deadheads around the world have respectfully anointed the “days between” his birth and death as a time to honor Garcia’s life and legacy.  Fortunate to be living in a place both rich in local talent and Grateful Dead history, this year I wanted to try something a little different to convey my appreciation. With multiple venues across the area holding special Jerry-themed celebrations during the first 9 days of August, I charged up my camera, cleared out my memory cards and set off to hit as many of them as I could.  If I told you all that went down, it would burn off both of your ears, but as best as I can remember, here’s how the Capital Region celebrated the Days Between in 2023.     

Moe. drummer Vinnie Amico sat in with NYS Dead Coalition at Lark Hall on 81/2023.

Kicking off the weeklong celebration was New York’s own Organ Fairchild.  Stopping by Albany’s Lark Hall on August 1st as part of “Jerry’s Birthday Bash,” the Buffalo-based band would pull double duty on the night.  First playing a set that mixed originals songs in with Grateful Dead covers like “Picasso Moon,” “Cream Puff War,” and “He’s Gone,” Organ Fairchild would return later in the night with a few friends for an extra special NYS Dead Coalition set. Featuring Vinnie Amico of moe. on drums along with Tom Mahoney and Ron Permoda from the Utica-based Dead band Into The Now, the memorable performance featured stellar renditions of uptempo rockers like “Let The Good Times Roll,” “After Midnight,” “Cumberland Blues,” and “New Speedway Boogie,” while the back half the set was far more tender and introspective with our first “Bird Song” of the week, along with “Peggy-O,” “They Love Each Other” and a lengthy dose of “Love Light” that even Jerry Garcia himself would have been moved by. 

Rockin’ on the River: It was all ‘Sunshine Daydreamin’ with Neon Avenue on 8/2/2023.

The next stop on our “Days Between the Capital Region” tour took us down by the riverside of Troy, where it was all ‘sunshine daydreaming’ with Neon Avenue. Headlining perhaps their biggest show yet as part of the Collar City’s annual Rockin’ On the River’ concert series, the energetic Clifton Park band more than rose to the occasion, delivering a phenomenal set of improvised jams on some of the Grateful Dead’s most beloved material. 

Wharf Rats: Neon Avenue’s thoughtful setlist had fans dancing in the Collar City streets until sundown on 8/2/2023.

The picture-perfect weather brought out a huge crowd and songs like “Shakedown Street,” “Sugaree,” and “Scarlet Begonias” > “Fire on the Mountain” had both fans new and old on their feet and dancing all the way to sundown.  Also mixing in hits like “Touch of Grey,” “Truckin,” and “Casey Jones,” for good measure, it was Neon Avenue’s thoughtful placement of songs like “Wharf Rat, “Sugar Magnolia” and “Magnificent Sanctuary Band” that yielded the most sentimental moments.  Playing off their surroundings to great effect, perhaps the biggest cheers of the night came during the set closing “U.S. Blues.” Troy is said to be the original home of Uncle Sam after all.

View Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia shows from across the years in New York State with our interactive map below!

Our third stop of “Jerry Week” took us back to Lark Hall for another milestone performance, this time for legendary Hudson Valley rockers The Deadbeats who were celebrating their 30th anniversary. After playing around the area nearly every week for the last three decades, the highly respected group of local musicians have amassed a devoted following and they came out in full force on this Friday night in August. Blasting off with “Bertha,” the energy was there from the start and never let up.  Working their way through a nice combination of “Beat it on Down the Line” and “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” other highlights of the first set included our only “Candyman” of the week, as well as “Dire Wolf,” and another smokin’ rendition of “Cumberland Blues” before “Scarlet Begonias” > Fire on the Mountain” took us to halftime.

The Deadbeats celebrated Jerry and a milestone of their own at Lark Hall on 8/4/2023.

Returning for a lengthy second set that included an impressive ride through “Help on the Way” > “Slipknot” > “Franklin’s Tower,” The Deadbeats also managed to throw in a few Jerry Garcia Band surprises too, like “Rubin and Cherise,” “Midnight Moonlight” and “Ride Mighty High.” “Truckin” and “Not Fade Away” had the whole room moving and grooving, but really, anyone who was there will tell you the second set was all about the funked-out version of “Throwing Stones” that essentially stole the show and helped make the band’s 30th anniversary party so memorable. Kudos to all members of The Deadbeats, past and present, for helping keep Jerry’s spirit alive in Albany all these years.

The Deadbeats Mike Johnson has been ‘playing in the band’ for an astonishing 30 years.

The next show we had the privilege of attending was a special stripped down acoustic performance by 3 members of The Wheel. Taking place on the 28th anniversary of the day Jerry Garcia passed, the intimate cocktail hour gathering, also at Lark Hall, was easily the most unique and sentimental performance of the week-long celebration.  Consisting of Bryan Gautie on guitar and banjo, Andy Morse on guitar and mandolin and Woodstock’s Misty Mountain Ramblers’ keyboardist Kenny Schneidman, all three members jelled together nicely and would take turns singing and cracking jokes between songs.  Opening up with “Dark Hollow” and our only “Deep Elum Blues” of the Days Between, other highlights of the set included gorgeous renditions of “Friend of the Devil, “Black Peter,” “Catfish John,” and “Must Have Been the Roses.”

Ripple Effect: The Wheel Trio unplugged for a sentimental cocktail hour set at Lark Hall on 8/9/23.

With no rhythm devils or soaring electric guitar solos during the set, the real beauty was being able to fully concentrate on the actual songwriting and Robert Hunter’s timeless lyrics. Perhaps the trio’s biggest strength, however, was the combination of their voices together.  Using three-part harmony to great effect, there were moments during the set that simply gave you the chills, particularly on “Bird Song” and the set closing “Ripple,” which you can watch below.

Watch fan shot footage of The Wheel Trio performing “Ripple” at Lark Hall on 8/9/23.

Afterwards the buzz was all about “the other” Grateful Dead-inspired show that was also happening in the area that night. Full of heart and still daylight outside, those who couldn’t get enough Jerry packed up the party and trucked on over to the Cohoes Music Hall where two sets of Bearly Dead was just getting underway.          

Bearly Dead’s Dynamic Debut: The Boston-based band buzzed with high energy during their Cohoes Music Hall performance on 8/9/23.

Walking into to the historic (and allegedly haunted) Cohoes Music Hall is always a vibe, but I admit I wasn’t very familiar with Bearly Dead beforehand.  Kicking off their show with our first “Here Comes Sunshine” of the week, right away you could tell these guys “really cook” and I could feel a sense of ease come over me as I knew after all this poking around, I ended up in exactly the right place. Working their way through fiery renditions of “Passenger,” “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo,” and the crowd favorite “Ramble on Rose,” it was clear that Bearly Dead were diligent students at Grateful University and they had done their homework. Bringing a fresh and energetic approach to these ageless tunes, the band first came of age in Somerville, MA in 2015 and would go on to do a 5-year Wednesday Night Residency at Thunder Road before the venue closed in the midst of the pandemic.  Now taking their show on the road and touring nationally, Bearly Dead brought their A-game to Cohoes on August 9th. Immediately making a good first impression with first set staples like “Black-Throated Wind,” and “Tennessee Jed,” by the time the band linked together a monstrous “Terrapin Station” > “China Cat Sunflower” -> “I Know You Rider” jam sandwich to close the opening frame, no one needed further convincing that these guys are the good shit.    

Sharing the Weight: Bearly Dead paid tribute to both Jerry Garcia and Robbie Robertson on 8/9/23

On the same day the world learned that legendary singer/songwriter Robbie Robertson of The Band had passed away, the second set began with a touching moment of acknowledgement to one of their other musical heroes. Introducing the first song by saying, “I think Jerry wanted a buddy to jam with today,” Bearly Dead then broke into a heartfelt rendition of “The Weight.” Stragglers still smoking outside must have been kicking themselves as they quickly rushed in to fill the noticeably empty floor, so in an effort to help them out a little, I quickly pulled out my phone and hit the record button. That footage can be seen in the clip below.

Watch fan shot footage of Bearly Dead covering “The Weight” during their Cohoes Music Hall debut on 8/9/23.

One of the most striking things that helps separate this band from others like it is that every member can really sing and with convincing passion.  Perhaps Jerry’s most well-known solo song came next with “Cats Under the Stars,” before “Rhapsody in Blue,” and “Easy Wind” flowed beautifully into the iconic Grateful Dead anthem “Dark Star.” Seamlessly working in “Miss You” teases by The Rolling Stones, “Dark Star” would continue to burn straight into a poignant take on “He’s Gone,” and even further into “Uncle John’s Band,” before reeling in the 40 plus minute frame of uninterrupted music with the gorgeous bluesy b-side “Death Don’t Have No Mercy.” Picking up the pace once again, the dance party resumed one final time with a proper and appropriate “The Music Never Stopped” before segueing into one of the most powerful versions of “Morning Dew” I’ve heard in a long time.  Simply cathartic.  

Watch fan shot footage of Bearly Dead performing “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” at the Cohoes Music Hall 8/9/23.

As the Days Between celebrations came to a bittersweet close, a flood of emotions ran through my mind. Pardon the obligatory pun, but I couldn’t help but feel grateful and for so many different reasons.  Reinvigorated and inspired.  Even 28 years after Jerry Garcia’s passing, it’s clear the music he made is as relatable and as relevant today as it ever was and that Jerry’s contributions will never be forgotten. Over the course of the 5 shows, you were bound to hear some repeats, but considering how few there actually were is quite a testament to just how deep GD’s songbook is. I’m grateful for the musical community I live in that continues to play these songs, the talent that it takes to get up there and actually do it and to the amazing local venues that provide a platform for them to do it on.  There will never be another Jerry Garcia, but if this 9 day period taught me anything, it’s that this music is absolutely timeless, “Weir everywhere” and that the Capital Region still has plenty of heart, I can hear it beat out loud.

Check out full setlists and photos of each show courtesy of NYS Music correspondent Zak Radick.

Organ Fairchild ft. NYS Dead Coalition | August 1, 2023 | Lark Hall | Albany, NY

Set 1: Morning Coffee, Over the Handlebars, Yum, Picasso Moon > Cream Puff War > He’s Gone, Chamelonious Monk with Layla tease

Set 2: Let the Good Times Roll, After Midnight, Cumberland Blues, New Speedway Boogie, Bird Song, Peggy-O, They Love Each Other, Love Light.

*Set 2 featured members of Into The Now and Vinnie Amico of moe.

Neon Avenue | August 2, 2023 | Riverfront Park | Troy, NY

Setlist: Shakedown Street, Touch of Grey, Sugaree, Scarlet Begonias > Fire on the Mountain, Truckin > Wharf Rat > Sugar Magnolia > Casey Jones, Magnificent Sanctuary Band, U.S. Blues

Encore: Brokedown Palace.

Deadbeats | August 4, 2023 | Lark Hall | Albany, NY

Set 1: Bertha, Beat It On Down the Line > Greatest Story Ever Told, Hard To Handle, Candy Man, Cumberland Blues, The Buzz, Dire Wolf, Scarlet Begonias > Fire On the Mountain

Set 2: Help on the Way > Slipknot > Franklin’s Tower, Crosstown Traffic, Truckin, Rubin and Cherise, Throwing Stones, Not Fade Away, Midnight Moonlight, Ride Mighty High

Encore: Ripple, US Blues

The Wheel Trio | August 9, 2023 | Lark Hall | Albany, NY

Setlist: Dark Hollow, Deep Elum Blues, Oh Babe It Ain’t No Lie, Jack A Roe, Dire Wolf, Rosalie McFall, Friend of the Devil, Deal, Black Peter, Bird Song, Catfish John, Must Have Been the Roses, On the Road Again, Uncle John’s Band, Midnight Moonlight, Cumberland Blues, Ripple

Bearly Dead | 8-9-2023 | Cohoes Music Hall | Cohoes, NY

Set 1: Here Comes Sunshine, Passenger, Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo, Ramble On Rose, Black-Throated Wind, Tennessee Jed, Terrapin Station > China Cat Sunflower -> I Know You Rider

Set 2: The Weight[1], Cats Under the Stars, Rhapsody in Blue, Easy Wind > Dark Star[2] > He’s Gone -> Uncle John’s Band > Death Don’t Have No Mercy, The Music Never Stopped > Morning Dew

[1] Dedicated to Robbie Robertson
[2] Contained Rolling Stones “Miss You” teases

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