Dexter Grove: 1,700 Gigs Later
Dexter Grove spent ten years blending just two instruments into a single sound. Yet, throughout their decade-long career, guitarist Charley Orlando and percussionist Steve Drizos proved to be one of jam-nation's most enduring acts, cultivating a dedicated following, while remaining true to their original mission: to create fun, no frills "acid folk music." So it seems fitting that the two-piece acoustic band closed out their career with an equally simple, straightforward message: "Thank you for a real good time."
Bred in the bars of Oswego, NY, a small college town tucked away in New York's northwest corner, Dexter Grove never intended to join the burgeoning jamband community. Coming together in Oswego's local coffee shops, while Orlando studied at a nearby SUNY, the duo built their repertoire grassroots-style, jamming in a variety of settings before formally branding their sound. In 1995, Orlando and Drizo settled on the moniker Dexter Grove, offering a stripped-down acoustic sound based around Orlando's six-string guitar and Drizo's conga. Playing a rootsy mix of acoustic jams and folksy compositions, Dexter Grove applied a rock-and-roll esthetic to their coffeehouse sound, dubbing themselves a two-person band, instead of an acoustic duo. Through a variety of live segues and bouncy percussion tricks, Dexter Grove fit snugly on bills alongside moe., the Ominous Seapods and Oswego brethren freebeerandchicken. Quickly migrating to Albany, NY, whose cement flyways and interstates have long served as a musical vortex of sorts, Dexter Grove began blending a variety of guitar sounds and percussion toys. And, like their electric counterparts, Dexter Grove mixed elements of Albany's alt-rock sound with a more organic approach, as evidenced by Orlando's well of original compositions.
"I always admired bands like Pearl Jam. They didn't take twenty minutes to say something," Orlando says three days after Dexter Drove's final gig. "We never intended to be a jamband. But we become a jamband by joining Leeway's Homegrown Network and by spending 200 days a year on the road."
Crashing with friends on the road, and staying true to their portable instrumentation, Orlando quickly realized that Dexter Grove could be a viable full-time career option. After spending their seminal years playing northeast bars and coffee houses, Dexter Grove began to tour nationally, taking their debut disc 420 along for the ride. In 1996, the group relocated to Boulder, CO and, after an invitation to the High Sierra Music Festival in California that summer, began touring the West Coast as well. "We were touring the entire country and needed a central location," Orlando says. "Our manager gave us an option: Boulder, CO or Laurence, KS" [laughs]. Clocking in an average of 250 dates a year, in 45 states across the country, the duo laid the groundwork for a small, but dedicated, contingent of tapers with their varied shows and workhorse road-ethic. Meanwhile, the group’s meticulously kept set lists served as a staple in Jambands.com’s Box Scores section for years.
Over the years Dexter Grove has shared the stage with a diverse mix of artists, including the Tony Trischka Band, The String Cheese Incident, Keller Williams, Dave Mason, Traffic's Jim Capaldi, and Merl Saunders. Dexter Grove also fostered a longstanding friendship with moe., appearing at the Buffalo-bred band's moe.down gathering and jamming with their upstate neighbors both in the studio and in a variety of live settings. Jim Loughlin, in particular, has helped round out the group's sound, using Dexter Grove as a forum to showcase his skills as a bassist. moe. guitarist Al Schnier also joined in on Dexter Grove's Without a Crowd Volume 1. In an odd turn of events, Dexter Grove also found themselves sharing a bill with 80s rockers Quiet Riot. "We had a gig booked in, but it was canceled when Quiet Riot came through town," Orlando says. "The promoter said, I know this sounds crazy, but do you want to open for them?' They were real approachable and waited around to meet everyone in that club after the show."
Dexter Grove also played a unique series of dates within the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park. From 1996 through 2000, Dexter Grove played Yellowstone annually. The group's 2000 visit to Yellowstone has also been captured on Without a Crowd Volume 2, perhaps their most lauded release. Dexter Grove's annual Halloween visits to Stillwater, OK also proved memorable.
Ironically, Dexter Grove's final tour was a dramatic departure from the duo's trademark style. Recruiting Junior Ruppel on bass, best known for his work with Jerry Joseph, Dexter Grove expanded to a trio, offering harder-edged interpretations of their songs. Quickly jumping into a headlining tour, the trio explored its traditional rock leanings, also sharing a Winston-Salem, NC date with Stockholm Syndrome.
"We had a real rock-and-roll, punk edge. It's a completely different sound for us," Orlando says. "But, the Dexter Grove sound has been around so long, it felt wrong to change it. We decided, if we are going to change things up, we couldn't do it as Dexter Grove."
So, ultimately, Dexter Grove decided to part ways, allowing the group's moniker to remain pure and their acid-folk format untouched. Hitting several old haunts in August and September, DG returned to their womb for their final three-night run.
After performances in Buffalo, NY and Canton, NY, Dexter Grove formally parted ways on September 11 with a headlining spot a stone's throw away from Albany in Troy, NY's Revolution Hall.
"We grew up nearby in Albany," Orlando says of the group's decision to closeout their career in the year-old Revolution Hall. " We just heard it's an excellent place to play. Pretty much everything is fair game."
Offering a set of their traditional acoustic-fair, as well as a guest-laden electronic set of "full blown rock-and-roll," Dexter Grove's final gig stretched into the night, capped off with a double encore. While friends such as Loughlin and Freebeerandchicken's Kirk and Ken Juhas sat in throughout the night, "Loose Lucy" showcased just Orlando and Drizo
"It actually has nothing to do with the Grateful Dead [laughs], although I used to tour a lot with the Dead," Orlando says of their decision to close with "Loose Lucy."
"The line thank you for a real good time,' just seemed right.'"
Though Orlando doesn't rule out future collaborations with Drizos, for now, the guitarist is stepping away from the jamband scene to begin work on his solo debut. Fashioning himself a singer-songwriter, Orlando will also begin recording sessions in New York this fall. "When we played with Stockholm Syndrome this summer, Dave Schools said to me, You can't stop, who am I going to envy now.'" Orlando says. "What he meant was, we just had fun with our music without having to deal with all the aggravation.'"
So how did Orlando decompress after a decade on the road? Simple: "Watching football and catching up on sleep."