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Published: 2013/03/30
by Dean Budnick

Grahame Lesh’s Family Values

If you close your eyes, I’d love to know which memory jumps into your head from that era? The first one that comes to mind.

There are a few and these are all memories that don’t necessarily have to do with the music, they’re just great experiences. I had a bunch of friends come with me for ’03 and ’04 Dead Tours, not the whole tours but for both Red Rocks runs and those were great fun. For shows I could pick tons of PLQ shows. The Warfield runs in September ’03 with the Q were great. I do remember, if we go to the [Grateful] Dead, I do have flashes of when they first did “Unbroken Chain,” It was my fault, my doing with them bringing back “Unbroken Chain.”

Can you elaborate on that?

Well, my dad has credited me more than I really remember. But I do remember mentioning that I liked the song from listening to it on the Mars Hotel CD, and I couldn’t really wrap my head around the fact that there are reasons for not doing it—it’s really, really, really complicated. My dad was like, “Yeah, why don’t we do that?” And he brought it to them during some tour in ’94, ’95 and they did it.

Jumping back to the present, how did the Family Band come together?

It started with the bar shows—we did the soft opening bar shows before the grand opening in March. The soft opening was in the bar and that was four nights and a full rock band with all sorts of guests: Bobby [Weir], Jackie Greene, and Tim and Nicki Bluhm and Deren Ney, the Railroad Earth guys came…That was just a whole crazy weekend. Even after the big twelve show run to open the whole thing, there were the Rambles and other shows. While they were rehearsing, my dad and whoever else was in town, found that they enjoyed just going into the bar afterwards and playing some music. You know, there are all kinds of great experiences with that. The power went out one time so they played acoustic by candlelight. It was just whoever was around: John Kadlecik, Jon Graboff, Jackie [Greene], whoever was in town. And often it would be Ross James or me as the third person. This was before my brother graduated.

Ross James was just working there?

He’s on what they call “Team Terrapin.” He works on sound. He does the sound for the streams now, that’s his main thing, but they all do everything these days. He’s on the crew and he played guitar for the soft opening band. Basically from the start he was pulling double duty. He and I would sort of be the other two rhythm guitar players or guitar players when they needed someone to join in for these guitar shows. Then Brian graduated and he came down, and he actually works there full time at Terrapin. So he has plenty of time to do the music stuff when they need him to.

What does he do?

It’s very similar to Ross. He helps my mom with all kinds of marketing stuff and just running the whole thing. It’s a team and I don’t know what their titles are, but they all help out. My brother helps a little more on the restaurant side than say Ross or some of the other more crew people do. Once my brother came back, Brian and Ross’ friend Scott Padden came to town, and he plays drum and bass, so he would play drums every once and a while when we had my dad down to play bass. Then we sort of discovered that a very old friend of Brian and myself, Alex Koford, was a really, really good drummer, so we sort of were like, “Hey, do you want to play drums for us?” And that way Scott could play bass, which is what he does best. So the five of us sort of became the Family Band, but it’s rotating. I can’t make every show, we’ve got Alex Nelson, Jackie Greene’s brother, coming down and playing whenever he can. Our friend Emily Sunderland has been singing with us all the time.

It just sort of happened naturally. The restaurant discovered that, as you can imagine, if there’s live music people will come and buy drinks from the bar and such. So they wanted to have music all the time. It started getting real around November when my dad went on tour with Phil Lesh and Friends and we sort of had to pick up the slack. We started turning into a band then, the five of us. Then in December the decision was made that we’d do every Wednesday and Sunday, and they might expand it further.

So American Jubilee is the same lineup minus you?

Kind of. I guess I’m not technically in American Jubilee, but until recently I’ve played in all their shows. American Jubilee is Brian and Ross’ band and it just happens to have a very similar lineup to the Family Band. They asked Alex Koford to be the drummer recently and Scott Padden used to be the drummer. Their other friend, Scott Harvey, and me join when we can.

We used to say that American Jubilee is the Family Band when we play away from Terrapin, but it’s a little bit more fluid a definition than that. Think of American Jubilee as Brian’s band and Grahame Lesh and Friends is my band, which really needs a real name at some point, and then the Family Band is all of us.

Grahame Lesh and Friends includes one of your bandmates from Maiden Lane?

Yes, Eric Sarr, our drummer, was also in Maiden Lane, and Connor O’Sullivan, our bass player, became the bass player for Maiden Lane in our final months, when we were just sort of rehearsing, we never played any shows. Then, when we couldn’t keep Maiden Lane going, I asked Eric and Connor to join me in my own project. Our fourth member is Elliott Peck, who is Connor’s wife, and she plays keys and also sings and plays guitar.

How would you characterize the sound?

We’re just rock and roll. We’ve got a little bit of country in us but it’s just rock and roll. Elliott and I both sing about half of the leads, so guy and girl vocals. She’s great, she’s got a big soul voice. It’s just a fun rock show.

Mostly originals?

Yes, my originals, Elliott’s originals, and we throw in about twenty percent covers to our original shows. Connor and Elliott will come down and join the Family Band as well, so it’s all just one big pot we’re stirring everything into.

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