Once upon a time, countercultural musical icons The Grateful Dead became the beacon for both disenfranchised youths and lovers of bluesy, psychedelic music. In their heyday, one of their concerts (like the Sept. 3, 1977 show at the Englishtown Raceway Park, in New Jersey) could attract over 100,000 attendees. The cultural phenomenon of the Dead may have transmuted, to some extent, to events like Electric Daisy Carnival, an event which occurred last weekend, in Las Vegas, and had an attendance somewhere near the 400,000 range. The similarities include feel good vibes, psychedelic drugs, colorful and creative clothing fashions, a family-feeling, and a basis in musical appreciation. The most notable distinctions of EDC are that among hundreds of acts, no live music is performed, the countercultural aspect of the gathering is ironically rife with a consumerism mentality, and no children (under 21) are permitted. This weekend, however, the spirit of the Dead rose again and made its presence known when a few hundred people turned up for the Grateful Dead-inspired, jam band music festival at Oak Canyon Park in Silverado.
In this second year of producer Ted Tesoriero’s OC Music Festival’s resurgence, first, second, and third generation deadheads braved the damp and crisp elements to camp out for the four-day Memorial Day weekend and enjoy a killer three-day line-up of musicians. Wanting to get a decent perspective of the event, but not having the ability to camp out and experience the whole shebang, this reporter witnessed the beginning of the festival, on Friday night, and then returned to see how it was going on Sunday morning.
For day one, Cubensis and Groove Session played alternating sets (two each) from 7- 11 p.m. Cubensis, one of the greatest Dead tribute bands around, did a great job of warming up the crowd with their first set, which featured covers of “West L.A. Fadeaway,” “Mexicali Blues,” and ended abruptly during the intro of “Franklin’s Tower,” when the band realized it was time to share the stage, so to speak. More accurately, after they played for an hour on the Main Stage, Groove Session played for 40 minutes on the festival’s Hilltop Stage. Although I didn’t recognize Groove Session’s songs, they played a terrific, funkadelic rock set. After the sun had set, creative lighting and various decorative elements turned the pastoral grounds into a minimalistic psychedelic fun zone, as the bands played into the night.
On Sunday morning, I made it back to the campground to see the weekend music lovers emerging from their tents and trailers to head to one of the few food trucks for coffee. A couple of miscellaneous merch vendors were already manning their stations and yapping with some of the patrons. Among them was Deadhead Rick Reynolds, who shared his observations about his first OC Music Fest experience.
“We live in San Diego. For us to drive up and spend $300-$400 to come here for the weekend; it was well worth it!” Reynolds explained. “I mean, we travel, to different concerts all across the country on a rarity. And to find one that’s reasonably priced, it has such a beautiful landscape, and a lake literally right behind it…You don’t find that very often, especially in southern California.”
Some of the highlights for Reynolds and his wife, Helen, included hanging with band members, making new friends, seeing people being responsible enough to clean up after themselves, and observing that the good will and spirit of Dead tradition still thrived. One of the most impressive aspects of the scene was its accessibility for families.
“A lot of jam bands and lot of hippie bands are usually super kid-friendly, but the amount of little small children running around here and being supervised and unsupervised and having the ability to run around and having the parks here to play — there’s jungle gyms at the bottom of the hill — has given them more options.” Reynolds continued, “So it’s allowing more of the families to come in, which is what we’re all about. I mean, we’re parents; we have a 21-year-old grown son now…he used to come to concerts with us when he was a child and that was always one of the main concerns because there were very few children for him to play with [given the] situations. Adults being adults, you know what I’m saying? Open drinking, stuff like that. We haven’t seen any violence here. We haven’t seen any open alcohol or anything like that. Everybody’s been really kind, really respectful and always smiling.”
As the sun took its time warming up the morning crowd, Other Mother Brother Band brought life to the Hilltop Stage with some outstanding bluegrass, fusion jamming, which included an original number called “Fire in the Bowl,” and covers of tunes by Chick Corea and Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. Regrettably, I didn’t get to experience the sets of each of the 20 bands of the festival line-up, but experiencing the tip of the iceberg, as it were, was a terrific experience. I’m not sure if in 30 years or so, the youths that populate the non-live-music-based festivals will have the same interest or ability to recapture the experiences from their heyday as the Deadheads do. I believe that with non-live music, something gets lost. However, in the jam band arena, the synergy between musicians and music lovers maintains its staying power, and given the ability to kindle that energy in a low-key and groovy setting like a canyon campground, it is likely and inspiring that the spirit of the Dead will continue to get by and survive.