The John K Band, The U-Liners, On The Bus, The Hamilton, Washington, DC – 8/10
When The Hamilton opened its doors at 7pm to the Deadheads lucky enough to get a ticket to Jerry Garcia’s 70th birthday celebration, I’m not sure if the management understood what it was in for. Throngs of ‘heads, young and old, came out of the woodwork hoping to get into the sold-out 450-seat venue for what turned out to be one of DC’s hottest shows in a very long time. But The Hamilton’s staff lived up to the professionalism that their small venue has always been known for, and accommodated the onslaught of earnest fans in every way possible. Having been to shows at literally hundreds of venues in my time, The Hamilton and their staff ranks at the very top.
If it wasn’t enough that it was the late, great guitar player and founding member of the Grateful Dead’s birthday to bring people out, then the three acts’ performances, headlined by The John K Band, sure brought the house down.
On The Bus, The U-Liners and The John K Band took the stage to celebrate the love of Garcia’s music, and played their hearts out till very late in a performance that would have delighted the famously good-natured guitar player. Everyone, including the audience, had nothing but grins on their faces all night, and as Garcia said many times in one of the Grateful Dead’s signature tunes, “He’s Gone,” there’s “nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile.”
On The Bus, a group of very talented musicians in their own right who’ve been loyally covering the Dead’s music and bringing a large local following of ‘heads together since 2002, played first. Sitting in were guitarist John Kadlecik of Furthur (he plays in Garcia’s position) playing violin and his wife, Katy Gaughn, an extraordinarily gifted conga percussionist from the area who plays with The John K Band, Djesben, and various local musicians. OTB’s set was inspired before giving the stage over to Takoma Park, MD’s The U-Liners, a socially conscious favorite that blends Joe Uehlein’s American roots and working class background with bluegrass, rock, folk, and country.
With Kadlecik also sitting in on violin, The U-Liners’ more folk and bluegrass style of music focused on Garcia’s traditional roots and that “down home” jug band sound that was at the very heart of Jerry Garcia’s music. Jerry played the banjo for most of his adult life, and he said that playing the five-stringed instrument and returning to it throughout his career, helped him fundamentally with his on-going relationship with the six-stringed guitar. The Grateful Dead’s and The Jerry Garcia Band’s relentless tour schedules prevented him from doing a lot of it, but in the mid-70’s he and some of the genre’s most famous — far more than he — agreed to rehearse and perform as a bluegrass band. Old and In the Way performed a few gigs and we are blessed to have a live album performance with Jerry playing the banjo from those live shows, and I recommend it for any music enthusiast. It is quite simply a masterpiece by any measure. The U-Liners certainly brought that part of Jerry’s realm home to The Hamilton with a beautiful rendition of the Grateful Dead’s iconic “Eyes Of the World.”
Finally The John K Band, playing headliner without the fanfare, came on about 10pm. Although one might think that Kadlecik, a founding member of premier Dead tribute band Dark Star Orchestra, would only play music within that style, John continues to offer a blend of his own unique taste and inventiveness. Like Jerry, his interest in music is wide-ranging, and he seems to have the humility of a true journeyman. A student of improvisation, he works at purveying his goods through live performance; he studies his craft as it unfolds within him. While holding true to what many Dead and Jerry Garcia Band fans hold dear, John also is exposing many to this spectrum, this “rainbow full of sound” of musical styles. Admittedly his band, while influenced by the inventors of the jam band genre and choosing some covers, also has graced many old fans — thirsty for what Garcia and the Dead prided themselves on: a wide-ranging catalog of music — with new music. One song selection of the evening that John did cover was pure Jerry. Russian Lullaby, admittedly a personal favorite, was played with such extraordinary skill and reverence to Garcia, that I was not alone in my praise.
The members of all three bands, as well as some special guests, who came out of the audience with their axes in tow, joined Kadlecik for the final two encore tunes Franklin’s Tower and Ripple. Included were Guitarist and composer Sanjay Mishra, who recorded an album “Blue Incantation” in Garcia’s later years, and area accordion player Nick Newlin.
We look forward to seeing The John K Band again at this beautiful venue. The Hamilton offers the full spectrum of an evening’s entertainment with its Crown Plaza Hotel, restaurant, and lower level music venue and bar, catering to musician and patron alike.