Jack Firneno, the Wire
George Price remembers first seeing the Grateful Dead at the original Woodstock festival when he was 16, and then in Watkins Glen, New York in 1973 with The Band and The Allman Brothers, during a run of shows that are still celebrated and revered by fans of those groups.
“Every time I’d see them, there was just excellence and a good feeling,” he recalled.
And, he said, that’s what Snipes Farm aims to replicate every June.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Grateful Dead, and the 12th year that Snipes Farm has been hosting In and Out the Garden We Go, a festival that celebrates the music and influence of the Grateful Dead. The two-day event features more than a dozen bands playing music from, or informed by, the legendary band, which is recognized mostly for its long, exploratory improvised passages in concert.
“They had an audience response beyond any other band,” said Price. “It was just joyfulness and fun.”
Snipes Farm, he continued, with its lush pastures and hundred-year-old trees, is the perfect place to foster those feelings: “It’s the most beautiful venue I’ve seen. It feels like the middle of nowhere but you’re right near Route 1.”
Also featuring artisan food trucks and children’s performer Bobby Beetcut, the festival is literally all-ages. “It’s different from some other jam band festivals where there’s more wildness,” said Price. “We want a place where you can bring your six-year-old and not worry about them.”
In fact, that’s part of the allure of the Dead: that they weren’t just a jam band, or just any one kind of band. There’s the country aspect, the straight-ahead rock songs, the free-form jazz and more.
“They dipped into all kinds of genres,” noted Price.
That’s what makes a band like the bluegrass group Magnolia String Band a fitting act on a bill like this.
“They had this cosmic Americana thing, this mythical country, the west, bluegrass and mountain tradition,” said Magnolia mandolin player Matthew Backes. “They put all those things into a rock act that was a major sensation for decades.”
For their set, Magnolia is pulling from bluegrass standards that Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia, himself a string band alumni, brought into the band’s repertoire. They’re also taking Grateful Dead standards and rearranging them as bluegrass songs.
The changeups may be a little risky but that, Backes pointed out, was what really made the band special.
“I always liked that they would just stand onstage and let something unfold with the constant presence of danger and failure,” he said. “They messed up as much as they succeeded, but it made you feel like something was actually happening.”
That sense of adventure is also what endears someone like Paul Baroli, bassist and singer of the festival’s headliner Steal Your Face.
“They took rock and made it adventurous like no one had ever been able to do before,” said Baroli. “That adventurous music made for an adventurous lifestyle, and once you experience that, if you’re that kind of person, you’re on the bus.”
Steal Your Face virtually started out at Snipes Farm, playing the first In and Out festival after only recently forming. “They gave us a chance, something to work for musically and professionally,” Baroli recalled. “We’ve always sort of looked at it as our backyard.”
The band taps into the “psychedelic, high-energy” aspect of the Dead, said Baroli, and enjoys playing alongside so many different kinds of bands at In and Out the Garden.
“It’s always been that way, a bunch of bands that do their own take. There’s never a straight tribute band. You get a little of everything,” he noted.
But, for the uninitiated yet curious, where does one start listening with a band like the Grateful Dead, whose discography includes 13 studio albums and literally hundreds of live releases?
Price and Backes recommend the live triple-album, 2-CD Europe ’72, a collection of live recordings from that year’s tour, as a good gateway to the band.
“I like that era of the Dead the best. The sounds are amazing, the guitars are great,” noted Backes.
“It’s a nice eclectic mix, a best-of for the band,” agreed Price.
Baroli’s favorite is Hundred Year Hall, also recorded live that year. It’s “ferocious,” he said, and it’s the album that got him into the band. But, he stressed, the Dead covered a lot of ground, and those records are just one entry point.
“Start poking around,” he suggested. “Even if you don’t like the first ten things you hear, just keep going.”
In and Out the Garden We Go will be held at Snipes Farm, 890 West Bridge St. in Morrisville, on June 12 and 13. Tickets start at $25. For information, visit www.musicatsnipesfarm.com, www.stealyourfaceband.com, or www.magnoliastringband.com.