The jam band fan base is a special kind of fanbase in today’s musical world. When a didgeridoo is brought onstage, these people say “Hell Yeah that’s a didgeridoo!” Such was the crowd reaction on December 6th at the State Theater in Falls Church when a didgeridoo joined the musical hodge-podge of the John K Band, led by John Kadlecik of Dark Star Orchestra and Furthur. They played a tremendous three and a half hour set, showcasing Mr. Kadlecik’s musical history.In an interview, Kadlecik said that he respects Jerry Garcia, but wants to break out of the mold that fans and media alike have cast for him. While granted he did, in some ways, prove Rolling Stone’s point that he is “the best Jerry Garcia since Jerry Garcia,” the night was about so much more than that. Over the course of the night, Kadlecik gave the audience members – or at least those like myself who were not as intimately familiar with his work – a crash course in his musical career. From starting with “Nobody Told Me,” a song by The Mix, an American group Kadlecik was a member of, to covering Smokey Robinson’s “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” and throwing in some Dead covers, Kadlecik ran the gambit of the music he makes and loves.
Like the Dead before him, Mr. Kadlecik uses the nature of jam music to create original workings of songs. “The Way You Do The Things You Do,” also covered by the Jerry Garcia Band, was reworked by the band into a swinging, reggae flavored jam that outpaces the original’s length considerably. The band displayed their ability to tastefully expand the song, using the talents of the drums, bass, and percussionist to create a solid rhythm that seemed to be able to go on forever. The same could be said about DC’s own Go-Go music, the combination of those instruments made a “floating beat” that was able to carry the guitar and organ solos on their journeys. Kadlecik also uses this as a moment to further distance himself from being fixed as “the new Garcia.” Garcia’s version of the song was closer to traditional rock and roll, not at all like the version conjured up by The John K Band.
And like the Dead, the John K Band makes room for interesting textures in the music. Aside from the large, Australian woodwind mentioned above, the group drew in other folk-based instruments to expand the colors on their palette. Percussionist Katy Gaughan brought the guiro to add subtle spice to “The Way You Do The Things You Do” and used the washboard out of the cupboard on Emmylou Harris’s “Walls of Time.”
This is the space that Mr. Kadlecik works in with this band. They draw on elements of the Grateful Dead’s music – as the music he knows best – but they do not allow themselves to be bogged down in recreating the Dead. Mr. Kadlecik’s guitar tone matches Garcia’s, recreating that entrancing and awe-inspiring space-y and soulful quality, and their voices sound similar, but this does not mean that he should be shackled to the pedestal of Garcia. In the same way, they do not allow themselves to be shackled to the pillar of the Dead or the Garcia band. Instead, the John K Band works to reimagine the tradition of the Dead with their own sound. It is this that draws crowds as large as the ones on the two nights at the State Theater: they want something that is nostalgic and familiar but also exciting and new. Perhaps this explains the great enthusiasm over the didgeridoo.
I was skeptical, seeing a sea of tie-dye before me, whether these people were here for the John K Band as its own unit, or as another way of reliving those magical, hazy Dead shows. As the group’s agent, Phil Simon, said to me “People are really here for the John K Band. He brought the concept [of being separate from Jerry Garcia/Furthur] here enough such that people are here for the band.” People enjoy the space that the John K Band occupies, as derivative of the Dead but not carbon copy. Indeed for the handful of Dead covers, Kadlecik and the group threw their own spin on nearly-untouchable classics – most satisfyingly and poignantly was when they inserted a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Wot’s…Uh, The Deal” in the middle of “Dark Star.” Even at the set’s peak, a raucous rendition of the boogey town favorite “Shakedown Street,” the band was not content to simply rest on the Dead’s laurels. This is where the didgeridoo came in, after the band was joined by the road crew for a mind-blowing collective African-drum jam. And then, even I was saying “Hell yeah, that’s a didgeridoo.”
- Originally published on The Rotation, WGTB Georgetown Radio's music blog, on 12/09/13
- for further interest, check out the interview with John Kadlecik under the "Interviews" Tab