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Ghost Light and "Dark Star": Catching Up with Holly Bowling

So, you’re going to primarily focus on Ghost Light in the next year or so and not play as many solo shows?

That’s definitely true. I’ll probably do some solo stuff here and there, but in general I want to give this thing the time that it deserves and really throw myself into it. I like to throw myself into things with both feet, you know?

Absolutely. I also wanted to talk a little bit about your connection with the Grateful Dead. In recent history, you played with Phil & Friends. You also played with Bob Weir not too long ago. And you grew up on The Dead. What were those experiences like coming from where you’re coming from?

You know, the biggest take away from playing with them—and I’ve gotten to play with Phil more than Bob, but with both of them—is the fact that they’ve been doing it this long and they’re still into it. It’s amazing. I mean Phil is what, 77? And he doesn’t look it on stage. The energy that he’s putting out is incredible. And at that point, you know, you’ve been at the top of everything for so long that you could easily show up with an attitude like, “Whatever. I don’t need to be doing this.” And it’s the opposite. He shows up and is just radiating joy when he plays. And that kind of thing—finding it in your life and still being 100% tapped into that is amazing. That’s the biggest take away for me. I want to be in my 70s and still finding that joy and that happiness, still having that commitment and that dedication and that drive.

And then, kind of going back to your own Deadhead roots, were there any moments you played with Phil where you stepped outside of yourself and you realized, “Whoa! I’m on stage with Phil Lesh right now!”

The first time going up there, there is that moment of like, ‘Holy shit I’m gonna play with Phil Lesh!” As I was driving to the venue, I started to feel a little nervous and then the minute that we started to play I was like, “This is the easiest thing in the world to slip into.”

Phil’s a very welcoming guy and musically really welcomes you in, but for me I’m like, “Oh, this is the music that I know better than anything else. This is the earliest music I remember as a kid. I grew up on this. This is my world.” You know? “This feels good.”

But a couple of gigs later we were playing at Terrapin Crossroads again, and I had this moment like partway through, where I was like, “I’m playing ‘Dark Star.’ Pinch me!”

And what about Bob Weir?

I played with Bob at Christmas Jam in 2016, and it was just this crazy confluence of things. It ended up being the day that my album dropped, my Dead album, Better Left Unsaid. And I spent the album release day onstage with Bob, which was—to grow up listening to this stuff and then to have this piano project spiral into what it’s become and then have that culminate with “Boom! I put this album out that I’m super proud of and I’m not even paying attention to the album today because I’m getting to play these songs with Bob.” It was just one of those amazing days.

Did either Phil or Bob come up to you and say like, ‘Hey, I heard your version of one of our songs and I really liked it!”

Talking to both those guys, they’ve had nice things to say, which is cool because it’s a weird moment when you’re playing music that’s your interpretation and the person who wrote the original is standing right there. You want to do it justice and you want to do it your own way, but also a part of you is like, “Man, I hope they didn’t think I really screwed that up.”

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