Familiar sounds of the Grateful Dead emerged on Wednesday from the Backdoor Playhouse, filling the cool air with a sense of community and comfort. In the newly renovated Playhouse, there was a revelation of sorts taking place. The Stolen Faces, a Nashville-based Grateful Dead tribute band, had taken the stage for a full-on, two-set-and-an-encore night of Dead.
However, the band’s performance was slightly altered – they had decided to perform acoustically. While drums and the sonic blanket of electric guitars were missing, The Stolen Faces didn’t miss a beat. They performed a 7-song set of Dead rarities (China Doll, Ripple) and set staples (Cassidy, Tennessee Jed) with members Jack Silverman and Christian Grizzard on guitar and bass, respectively.
In their three years as a band, this was their first-ever acoustic performance – and first in Cookeville. In collaboration with Tech English professor, Andrew Smith, the performance was a complement to a series of ongoing talks by Smith about the “Summer of Love.”
“Really, what the Summer of Love was, was people your age deciding that they had enough war, enough hypocrisy and enough greed. They really wanted to try and live a new way,” Smith explained to the crowd. “The hippie lineage is wide and far and it's a very good thing.”
The Dead’s fingerprints are all over the musical renaissance that began in the late 60’s. Through their deep musical knowledge, they emerged as an alternative to the era’s other bigger bands who represented the psychedelic shift in sound signaled by the Summer of Love.
“They created somewhat of an American songbook that will stand the test of time forever. The other part of it is they came along at the right time,” Grizzard said.
By listening to the performance, it was clear to see how and why their tunes earned that status. Grateful Dead songs are timeless, but they require to a specific improvisational energy, which The Stolen Faces adapted to acoustic arrangements in an exciting, yet mellow way.
“Jefferson Airplane and these other bands were great bands who had some great songs, but generally they went and played their songs and the Grateful Dead just kind of experimented,” Silverman added.
Of course, the Dead would not be without their loyal fan base; Deadheads, as they’d prefer to be called. Smith was sporting a Wharf Rats shirt, a division of Dead fandom who remained clean and sober. “You could keep going because you never saw the same thing twice,” Silverman said of the road-tripping nature of their legendary tours.
Other fans, clad in tie dye shirts, were dancing through the aisles as The Stolen Faces delved into groovier territory. It not only added an electricity to the performance, but emphasized the versatility of the band’s music. People of all ages were present, from seniors in college to seniors in age. Every single one of them was visibly enlightened by the music. Smith argued that the “stigma” of being a Dead fan had slowly died over the years, to which Silverman agreed.
“I'll confess that at times in the late or mid-eighties and the 90's it was kind of depressing for me because I felt like they weren't in their prime, and drugs were taking their toll, on Jerry [Garcia] particularly,” Silverman said. “It was easy to make fun of at that point because people would see it – after he died and was dead for a few years, that was no longer Jerry Garcia. Jerry Garcia was who you saw on TV and who you remembered and who you loved from the greatest albums from his prime before his decline. To me, I think that's a lot of it, that suddenly you could take any part of it you want at that point,” he concluded.
The beauty of bands like The Stolen Faces is the continuation of that idea. When the Dead created these songs and built their following, it was among the most original musical movements of the twentieth century. Now, with reunion tours such as Dead & Company, the feeling and appreciation will live on, even inside the walls of Tech.
At one point, Smith interjected that “The music never stops.” As someone who’s lived on the other side of their influence, Grizzard agreed. “Yeah, the music never stops.”