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Chemistry, miracles, magic, and beauty: Oteil Burbridge goes deep on the Dead, forthcoming Garcia-Hunter ballads album, and more with WAMC

 Oteil Burbridge
Jay Blakesberg
Oteil Burbridge on stage with Dead and Company in 2023.

To hear the fully produced piece, including samples of the Dead and Company and Oteil and Friends tunes referred to in the text below, hit the play button above.

This is Josh Landes and you’re listening to WAMC. Coming up this hour, a special conversation with multi-instrumentalist and singer Oteil Burbridge.

Burbridge is currently on the road with Grateful Dead offshoot Dead and Company, who are traversing the continent on their final tour.

“When everybody's in the band is smiling, and then the crew and the crowd, I'm like, hey, we're doing it right. And then from there, I go to what I always tell my children, if they are worried about something, if they'll be able to do it. Again, I say, if you did it before, you can do it again. You may not do it this time. But you can do it again, if you did it before. And we've done it before. So I just allow myself the permission to fail and not do it this time and shoot my shot.”

We’ll talk with Oteil Burbridge about the Dead, how becoming a parent has impacted his musical life, and much more in this special WAMC conversation.

I’m Josh Landes, and this hour we’re bringing you a special conversation with musician Oteil Burbridge.

Over the past three decades, the bassist, percussionist, singer, pianist, and banjo player has established himself as a highly sought-after band member and an elite improviser. Mentored by the legendary Southern avant-garde bandleader Colonel Bruce Hampton, Burbridge rose to national prominence over a 17-year stint as bassist in the Allman Brothers Band until their retirement in 2014. Soon after, he joined original Grateful Dead members Bobby Weir, Mickey Hart, and Billy Kreutzmann – along with John Mayer and Jeff Chimenti – to form Dead and Company. Eight years later, the band – with Jay Lane stepping in to replace Kreutzmann – is taking a final victory lap around the country before a climatic three-night stand in San Francisco, home of the Dead, in July. Burbridge is following up on Dead and Company’s last hurrah with a series of dates with his all-star band Oteil and Friends, including one at the Rye Bread Music and Arts Festival in Schaghticoke, New York. The band features past WAMC interviewees and members of the Grateful Dead expanded universe like Melvin Seals and Steve Kimock.   Later this year, he’s also releasing an album of ballads written by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, the minds behind many of the Grateful Dead’s most iconic tunes. This version of Garcia and Hunter’s “High Time,” performed in Hartford in July 2022, offers a taste of the rich, soulful vision of classic Dead material Burbridge has brought to the songbook.

WAMC: You've had a fascinating career, but even for your career, this is a big year. The final Dead and Company tour, this really robust incarnation of Oteil and friends hitting the road, the release of your Garcia-Hunter ballads album- This is clearly a landmark Oteil year. Where's your head at right now looking deep into this 2023?

[laughs] I didn't really think of it that way. But now that you mentioned it, it's like, no pressure or anything Oteil. I guess it is kind of a landmark year. I really don't look at- I look like really big picture, like 10 years down the road, and then I look like a week or two ahead. So, I really haven't thought about it, probably because it would put too much pressure on me. But I have a five-year-old and an eight-year-old, and so that keeps me more in the day to day. You’ve just got to deal with what's happening today, and I try my best to live in the present and not the past or the future, because then it robs me of the present. So honestly, I mean, I hate to say it, or to be a letdown, but it's not like different from any other year. Because I'm just dealing with right now. Like, right now I'm dealing with the next two doctor's appointments, and my mom just moved here from North Carolina, and the kids, whatever their thing is, you know what I mean? That's where my head is at, it's always in today. But yeah, now that you mentioned, and it's kind of scary. [laughs]

A quality of your playing is patience, and when I hear you sit down to solo perform “Stella Blue,” or when I hear you ease into your bass solo on “Eyes of the World,” it seems that you really manage to have this very distinct relationship with time and tempo. Can you talk about how you've learned to be patient in your playing over the decades that you've been performing?

I think it's really just getting older, because I always think of myself as impatient and too quick on the trigger. And when you're young, that's an almost forgivable tendency. You can play faster when you're younger. You can't see the big picture as much when you're younger, unless you're a songwriter. And I think songwriters and composers in general, whether they're writing songs with lyrics or not, tend to have a bigger picture view. I've tried to write music since very early on, since I was a teenager. And I think the better I get at composing, the more I slow down, because big picture, it's about, when you zoom out over the song, what is the essential feeling that you're trying to convey? So, anything that gets in the way of that can just be chopped off like excess fat, you know what I mean? So, probably just time. In Dead and Company, I sing, it's pretty much all ballads except for “Fire on the Mountain.” So, when you see me doing all these ballads, you know, my new record is all ballads. So, it’s, by definition, it's taking its time. [laughs] But a lot of that comes from getting older, and I enjoy the space. I enjoy- It's like food. A lot of my favorite types of foods have to simmer and marinate for a long time. Gumbo, New Orleans food, Indian food, Italian food, it just has to simmer and marinate for a long time. You’ve got to let it take its own time.

Here’s Burbridge playing bass and singing on the Garcia-Hunter ballad “If I Had The World To Give” – originally released on the Dead’s album “Shakedown Street” in 1978 – at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in July 2022.

Climbing into these Garcia-Hunter songs over the years you've now been performing them and working on this album, what have you learned about those two guys from that experience? Are there things about their compositional style or their lyrical style that you feel like you understand now more so than you first did picking up the songbook eight years ago?

Not really, honestly. I just marvel at it more. The fact that they were as- You know, most bands, with the exception of like, you have a solo artist like John Mayer for instance, right? But when you have like a band, like the Allman Brothers Band or the Grateful Dead, and many other bands, it’s a thing about chemistry. And there's just a chemistry that happens that is literally a miracle. Like, if you don't believe in miracles, there's certain things that you get to just let you know that it's true. And so, you know, when I- When I sing, for instance, when I sing Garcia-Hunter ballads, I almost feel like I'm stronger doing those that my own songs. Now, why is that? I don't know. But I know they have such an incredible chemistry together. It just fits. It's like two puzzle pieces that were born in completely different places and found each other and came together and made this perfect fit. It's just- The longer I do it, the less I learn other than it's just really amazing that it happened and thank God. From all these bands that are like that, that are legendary, once it changes, it's never the same again. Like if Garcia tried to write with another lyricist, I don't think it would be the same. How could it? So, it's just the thing to be really grateful for. And it's unique in many different ways, from other people that have done it together, like Elton John and his lyricist, for instance. So, I've learned that, how it's different in those kinds of ways, but it doesn't explain why. And that's what fascinates me the most. We can observe the differences in all kinds of things, but it's the why that fascinates me. And I haven't learned that other than my suspicion and my hunch that it's just chemistry and a miracle and magic and beautiful. And I'm grateful that I lived at the same time as it.

I'm interested in how you think of yourself as an interpreter of the Dead cannon. You've now spent so much time with this music, I think you've really managed to elevate, in this 21st century incarnation of the Dead, some of these songs and really put your own signature on them. Do you think about that, that idea of being someone carrying some sort of weight forward for a new generation understanding some of this material?

You know, I don't think about it unless I'm forced to, which I am often because people ask me in interviews and casually in conversation. But times, like especially early on in the band, when I did think about it, it would just mess me up completely. I couldn't play, just having a crisis of confidence, insecurity, anxiety, comparison destroys contentment. It's like all these things that just are like, argh, like, too much. And again, that's that whole thing about, if I live in the future, am I worried about how people are going to perceive it? Or if I live in the past, I'm worried about how I'm not doing it like it was already done, then I'm robbed of the present. And so, I have to just be myself, it's like, look, they called me, right? So, whatever it was they saw in me, they thought that I was a good fit for it, that we had to try it out and see, but I have to just let that be enough. And then, as I get to know everybody, of course, you start to learn about each other and learn about what other people want. And you learn more about the songs and what the songs need and what the song wants. You learn about how this particular group of people- because it's not the same, you know? It's me and Chimenti and Mayer, right? And so that's, we have to learn what this thing is, and you're always learning because people change every day. So, you're kind of perpetually learning. So, I try to, the short answer, I just trying not to think about it at all and in the present, and aware. I have a more heightened awareness of what's actually happening and how it all is playing out. And it's all so subjective man. I can distill it all down to, if it feels good- Like, when I look, and I'm smiling and John’s smiling and Chimenti’s smiling and Bill’s smiling and Mickey’s smiling and Bob is smiling, I'm like, well, this must be right. [laughs] Like, because it's subjective. Who could say, does it taste good or does it not taste good? To one person, it tastes good. To another, it doesn't. When everybody in the band is smiling, and then the crew and the crowd, I'm like, hey, we're doing it right. And then from there, I go to what I always tell my children if they are worried about something, if they'll be able to do it again. I say, if you did it before, you can do it again. You may not do it this time, but you can do it again if you did it before. And we've done it before. So, I just allow myself the permission to fail and not do it this time and shoot my shot.

Can you give us a sense of what that communication is like on stage with the band at this point? I mean, you're talking about all this, the eye contact, the smiling, finding these sweet spots together. If you had to sort of break down how that communication happens, give us sort of a diagram. What's it look like?

Man, that's like science trying to measure what love is. I can't give you a diagram, there is no diagram. It's an ever-changing diagram. So, if I diagramed that it would be wrong as soon as I did it. If we watched a video together- This is why I hate the way videos are cut where they keep changing the shot. I wish I could get a video of Dead and Company that’s just one shot of the entire band. And that's it. Because you miss so much when the edits cut away of that communication. So, if we had a video that was shot like that, and you and I could sit down and watch together, and then a moment happens, and then I can show you that particular time- Hey, Bill that something there, it sparked it. Chimenti caught it first, and then Mayer, and it went to me. You know what I mean? And then we went into this other groove because of that. I mean, like, there's no diagram. But I could show you how it happens in individual moments during the set, if we could watch it together with a shot that got the whole band. [laughs] Which I would love to do. It would be a great thing to do like on YouTube, to just have that shot and just take, you know, I don't know, 10 moments and just say, see how this happened there? See it spark there this time? It's just different every time and that's what's so cool about it.

Here’s Burbridge with Dead and Company diving into the snaky twists and turns of the instrumental “Slipknot” – originally released on the 1975 Grateful Dead LP “Blues For Allah” – at Bethel back in July 2022.

Something that's become a real highlight of the Dead and Company experience is the band's interpretation of “Eyes of the World,” and particularly, the song culminates, in Dead and Company’s version, with you playing a big solo to wrap up the song. Can you tell me a little bit about how you guys have developed “Eyes of the World,” and why that became the place where you seem to feel most comfortable really letting loose and exploring the space?

Actually, it's not the place I feel most comfortable. I would rather solo over ballads. But I think either [Grateful Dead bassist] Phil [Lesh] used to do a solo there or something. It's the only place I get to solo, which sucks. [laughs] I come from jazz, where, you know, you get to solo on every song if you want. It's a different thing. And for some reason, “Eyes of the World” ended up becoming the thing. So, I have kind of a love-hate relationship with that solo, and now I'm really psyched about it again, because I'm like, it's an opportunity to do all the things that I might not get to do during the course of the night. But I like to solo over ballads more than anything. I've become that way more in my old age, too. I've just sat down, especially recently, in the last six months, and even the last four months or three months, I've sat down and really tried to mine “Eyes of the World” even more. It's like, okay, if this was going to be your only solo in the night, really dig down even deeper into it. And then I found a couple of hacks that I was like, oh, wow, I cannot believe I did not see this before for years. Like, really simple, too. So, I have high hopes to do a much better job on my “Eyes of the World” solos this year than in the past. And of course, I'll be watching them on Nugs a day after to see if I actually did better. [laughs] It is what it is. It's a beautiful song and it's a fun thing to solo over. And in my band, I can solo over “Stella Blue” or whatever I want it to solo over. It’s fun. I don't really think we think about it that much, I think, again, because of the chemistry that we have together. When I say that- Let me back up. I don't think we think about it that much in terms of making “Eyes of the World” this thing in Dead and Company. I think it just became what it is by virtue of the collection of people that we have together. I approach that song more like a Motown [song], like the song “What's Going On.” I mentioned that to [Bobby Weir and Wolf Brothers bassist] Don Was when we had him on my podcast- We have a podcast called “Comes a Time” with me and a standup comedian, Mike Finoia. He came on, Don Was came on, and I mentioned that to him, and then in Wolf Brother, they started doing that. They started doing “Eyes of the World” and then segueing into “What's Going On” by Marvin Gaye. And I thought that was so cool, like, cool, you actually did it. I’m kind of playing that bassline anyway. So, it comes out differently, just with me and Mayer and Chimenti playing it than it would in the original. So, we didn't have to really think about it. This is something else already as soon as we started doing it.

Here’s Burbridge positively taking flight on his “Eyes Of The World” solo from Dead and Company’s performance at Barton Hall at Cornell University in Ithaca on May 8th, 2023.

Speaking of your background in jazz, what does it feel like to bust out a cover of “Milestones” in a stadium? It's just this long tradition of the Dead, from Branford Marsalis to Ornette Coleman, to bringing out guys who get to play jazz music in these huge spaces to huge audiences that maybe most people don't associate jazz with. What's that feeling like, to let loose of a Miles Davis cover to a stadium for 40,000 people?

I think it's great, man. Where else would you get to do it? I remember the first time we did like a really long “Dark Star” or “Bird Song,” which to me are just like Miles ballads, like “In A Silent Way” or something, you know? It’s just a very, very slow, you're letting it float like a cloud. And when it's not super windy, the clouds just taking its time. And to do that with like 45,000 people, and nobody's getting antsy, everybody listening like it's a jazz club- It's a feeling that's almost impossible to describe. It's really something. Totally unique. And I don't know anybody else that does it, honestly. We used to be able to do that with the Allman Brothers, but we never played like, while I was with him, we never played a place like the size of Gillette Stadium. Well, once. I think we did a [Crossroads Guitar Festival] with [Eric] Clapton once at a really big stadium, but that's not a full night’s set when we really get to stretch out and take something like “Dreams” for that long, stroll that around the park for that long in a big place. But it's really great, man. Again, it's like, it's almost like another miracle, where you're like, how do we get away with this? It's impossible. Nobody gets away with this. [laughs] A 20-minute ballad.

Here’s Dead & Company at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colorado in June 2022 offering their take on the classic Miles Davis tune “Milestones” to tens of thousands of Deadheads.

In the second half of WAMC’s interview with multi-instrumentalist and singer Oteil Burbridge, we’ll hear about the making of his forthcoming album of ballads written by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, how becoming a parent has changed his life, and the loved ones he carries with him through song.

Welcome back to WAMC’s special interview with multi-instrumentalist Oteil Burbridge. I’m Josh Landes. We just heard him with his band Oteil and Friends performing the Grateful Dead’s “Dark Star” in Seattle in September 2022. He’s taking the band on the road this year after the final Dead and Company tour wraps up later this summer, including a stop at the Rye Bread Music and Arts Festival in Schaghticoke, New York in July. Last year, Burbridge recorded an album of ballads written by Grateful Dead songwriting duo Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter in Iceland. In the second half of his talk with WAMC, he discusses how the process forced the versatile musician to step directly into the spotlight and confront his own insecurities about performing. First, here’s another track from Burbridge’s Seattle 2022 performance with Oteil and Friends where the bandleader offers his take on a jauntier Garcia-Hunter number- “Run For The Roses,” the title track of Jerry Garcia’s 1982 solo album.

With the record you're putting out this year, this is the first time you've sat down to fully be the guy. You're singing every song, you're making these arrangements, you’re making these big decisions. You’ve said that you can be your own biggest critic and hold yourself to exacting standards and listen back to things and hear things that you believe you’ve gotten wrong. How do you learn to process those reactions while also having the confidence to really lean into a record that is really wholly yours?

Well, you know, it's so scary, especially because I have never considered myself a singer. I've always sang background vocals, and then I sang lead my band for a little while. And I really started concentrating on it more after getting with Dead and Company, because we have in-ear monitors. I realized a lot of what was so hard, why it was so hard for me to sing is because I was trying to scream over the loud volume of the band and the PA. I'm not putting it on the band guys. The PA was just really loud. And so even with monitors, you're just adding more volume. And then the other people turn up their monitors, and they only add to it. It's like a volume, it’s like an arms race. But with in-ear monitors, I realized, I was like, well, I could hit much higher notes than I thought and I can hit them more in tune than I thought. And so, I relearned how to sing by not having to scream because of the in-ear monitors. And I thought, well, maybe I can sing lead, you know? And so, I think I put a lot of pressure on myself doing an album of all ballads, because ballads are the hardest thing to sing. And for me, I guess because I was doing it with Dead and Company, it seemed a more natural fit. And I think it might be a little easier for me personally to sing ballads because they're moving slower. So, all the vocal movements can be slower. And I don't have to sing all these really complicated licks like Stevie Wonder or like really great singers. Because that that comparison always destroys me. [laughs] I’m like, compare yourself to Mick Jagger, you’ll feel a lot better.

Well, I mean, famously, Hendrix thought he was a bad singer, you know.

I'm sure! You know, Hendrix, he sings where he talks. And a lot of singers, their voices are like instruments. They can just do amazing things. But Hendrix sings right where he talks. So that's where I started, singing “Power of Soul” or “Spanish Castle Magic.” And that helped me kind of get going a little bit or feel a little bit more confident. But then, when I decided to do it, I was like, really, you should just do all ballads on your record man. Make it a thing, just lean into it. And so, I just had to do that thing again of just trust, or else I would get overwhelmed. Over the pandemic, my wife had bought a nice upright piano, right before the pandemic hit, and when we moved into this house, basically, I just sat at the piano with all these ballads. And as I was learning the song, literally, my fingers would make mistakes. And I would be like, ooh, that's really nice. So just me sitting at the piano with all these songs, trying to get them under my belt, these little things worked their way in, almost exclusively by accident, if you believe in that sort of thing, which I don't really, but ended up giving me something unique because it happened organically. We're shut into the house, I'm doing this thing kind of as therapy. And a lot of that was real, because my brother passed away like four years ago, my dad passed a year ago. April, he died. So, a lot of this was like, being at the piano, singing these Garcia ballads is extremely cathartic. So, all that's in the music, and that helped me to- It's like, this is a time in your life that's golden. It's strange, me being the patriarch of my family now. I'm usually the little brother. And now my dad’s gone and my older brother's gone, now I’m the patriarch. What a weird thing. And then I had my first kid at 50. And now, as I've become the patriarch of my family, I have these little ones, a five and a eight-year-old running around as I'm working on these tunes, crying, singing “China Doll,” thinking about Kofi being gone. It's just a heavy time of life, and that's what’s on the record. Just represents this period of my life that’s super heavy, and I think you'll be able to hear all of that.

Here’s Burbridge’s take on “China Doll” – another Garcia-Hunter ballad first released on 1974’s “From the Mars Hotel” – at Madison Square Garden on Halloween 2019.

I'm so interested to hear about how you're raising your kids as someone so steeped in music. How does music play a role in your day-to-day life as a parent?

You know, it didn’t as much as it does now. It's funny, it really- I think it took my brother dying and even more so my dad dying. It was a really different time. My dad wished that he could have been a musician, but he didn't feel like he was good enough. And he wanted a family more than anything, so he chose the straight world and having a family. And then they discovered my brother had perfect pitch when he was seven, so my brother could outplay my dad by the time he was like ten. He could probably play circles around my dad, who also played flute like my brother. But music was my dad's religion. So, I couldn't ever imagine like my dad putting on a record and me telling him to turn it off, tight? It just wouldn't even be thinkable. Yet in my household, we have Alexa. So, if I put something on, my kids just tell Alexa to change it and then they never make it through a whole song and they have Alexa changing it or something. I’m like, you guys don't listen to an entire song, what's wrong with you? So, but even that being said, I didn't play music a lot around the house when I was home, because when I get home, I like to, used to like to unplug from all of that. And I wouldn't play bass. I may play a different instrument, like play drums or banjo for a little while. But mostly I would, it would be more of a ying-yang. And then when my dad passed, I was like, Oteil, your childhood, when you remember your childhood, it's as much the sound of your childhood and all your dad's music and my mom's music as much as it is any visual memories or emotional memories. Then when I was making the playlist for my dad's funeral, that's when I just started playing music around the house all the time. I just, I have my little music room here with my little speaker setup, and I put on what I listen to, and then I just open the door. And the kids may not even be here listening to everything, hear whatever I'm listening to in the background, and now I'm much more intentional about that. And it just makes me feel more connected to my dad Kofi, honestly, which I took for granted before they were gone. And now it's funny because my kids have slowly started to let me play what I want, because in my music room, they can’t just change it. And now in the car, they're letting me play more of what I want and I can put on meditative stuff and they won't fight so much. So, it's changing. It's becoming really cool.

So Oteil, something I'm always fascinated with is that as a touring musician, you get to experience these massive iconic venues all over North America when you go on these tours. When you think about some of these iconic venues, be it SPAC, be it Shoreline, what are some of your personal relationships with these spaces? Are there any venues that you're particularly excited to vibe in and to perform in?

Yeah, I really like Alpine [Valley Music Theatre in Troy, Wisconsin] with Dead and Company. It wouldn't be the same with a different band. I don't know why, it’s just a certain feeling of the Grateful Dead music in Alpine Valley that just does it for me. Every time it has a little halo around it. Definitely Shoreline, but Shoreline’s a little difficult, sound wise. But just when you're there, you just can't help but feel it. And I actually got to play the Fillmore with Dead and Company one time, which was really, really meaningful, because I had played there before with my band, and I think maybe even with Colonel Bruce, too. But I know we played there with Oteil and the Peacemakers because we did a tour with Bruce Hornsby. And actually, the poster from that show is still up at the Fillmore- Well, it was last time I was here. But I didn't know then what I know now. So, when I was in the Fillmore with Dead and Company, all those pictures that were there, that are there, of all the guys when they were so, so young just hit me so much harder. Because the Bob that I know and the Bill that I know and the Mickey I know, I look at the pictures of Bill, Bob, and Mickey, and I'm woah. Bill was only 17 when he joined the band. He was only a year older than Bob. [laughs] And just like, woah man- The sense of history just kind of really throttled me. It jolted me. I was like, wow, that was really cool. I love the Gorge. I love places with no ceiling. So interestingly enough, I think the stadiums sound better – from my vantage point, I can't speak from the audience's vantage point – But from the stage, the stadiums, or even- I don't think we've ever done it with Dead and Company, we used to do it with the Allman Brothers, a state fair or something. But just anything with no ceiling just sounds so much better to me. So much better. So even though there's not really a strong vibe for me in like Gillette Stadium, it just sounds good. [laughs] I like it. I prefer those just because they sound better. But you know, of course you get some of that- I was never a big baseball fan, but you get some of that at Wrigley and at Fenway. You can feel it. It's almost like a contact high. I can feel it from the huge baseball fans in the audience, that sense of history. I have a really good friend here, Megan, that used to always go to Wrigley to see stuff with her dad who passed away, and hearing her talk about the Wrigley shows and what it means to her really brought it home for me, and then I started to key in on that more, kind of through other people. So, but they're all- Any chance to plug and play anywhere is a sacred moment.

Here’s Burbridge leading Dead & Company through “The Other One” at the Kia Forum in Los Angeles on May 20th, 2023.

You're a guy who's very spiritually aware and very connected to some higher vibration thinking and feeling, and I know that you have this very deep connection with your mentor, Colonel Bruce Hampton, who passed away in 2017. I'm interested- In 2023, in this day and age, do you still get a sense of the Colonel being with you? Do you still communicate with him in any way? Do you feel like he's present with you at all in your life today?

Absolutely. When he died, I was like, oh, shit, now Bruce can be everywhere all at once. We're all screwed. [laughs] He’s going mess with all of us. So, whenever the power goes out, or someone says, if something, an amp goes down, or somebody goes, I've never seen this happen before, I'm like, uh oh, that's the Colonel. Or it might be the elves, I don't know, since Iceland. But I actually do. I have four candles here on top of my amp. One’s for my dad, one is for my brother, one is for Colonel Bruce, and one is for Dr. Jim Barnett, who is my theology mentor. And I light them pretty regularly and think about them. I forget who it was that said it, but they're like, your loved ones that have passed on are literally just a thought away. Like, if you think of them, the connection is established. And it can be two-way, just like a cell phone text. So, I do. I take the time, and there's often times, especially when you have young kids, that something happens, and I just think I hope you guys are watching this right now because this is a great moment. If you're not, come over here and check it out. Because you get so many of these moments in life, and if there's one thing I've learned to do, it’s to savor them when they happen. Really savor them. So yeah, I think about them and communicate with them I would say almost daily. Definitely daily, because as soon as I look at the candles, I think of them. I'm in here every day, and it's a good thing. It's a good thing. I feel like they're definitely there.

When you guys got back on stage in 2021 after months of lockdown, you kick off this new era of the band, and indeed, maybe of live music following this terrifying experience with the pandemic, with you playing the opening bassline to “Touch of Grey.” I mean, that's got to stand out to you, right? I mean, that's a moment!


I don’t remember that at all.

[both laughing]

It's so great. But you know, frankly, I'm not supposed to. There's so many- Whatever went into that night, right, like, creating those moments- You can thank [Bob Weir manager and Dead and Company setlist writer] Matt Busch for that, probably, right? Because he, I think he initially writes those set lists and then everybody else chimes in and says, what does he call it- “the first bicker.” [laughs] His first setlist that he sends out. But he's very, very thoughtful and very intentional about exactly what those kinds of things that you just mentioned, like that, opening up with “Touch of Grey.” But that kind of care goes into every night. And that's why I can't remember. Because we're already on to the next night. And I'm really glad that those moments do stick out for the audience, and maybe some other guys have better memories than me and they remember it. Don't use my memory as any kind of case. [laughs] But I'm glad that that it sticks out for you. When I hear you talk about that show, and that particular setlist, and that you started out the bassline with “Touch of Grey” after the pandemic, I'm so glad because that kind of care goes into every night, and it's nice that it's noticed, and that it's actually hitting home and hitting people's hearts and heads that way. And their butts. That's my job.

Here’s Dead and Company’s aforementioned version of “Touch of Grey” – the sole hit single of the Grateful Dead’s thirty-year run off of 1987’s “In the Dark” – in Raleigh, North Carolina at the start of the 2021 summer tour, the band’s first following the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak the previous spring.

Oteil, thank you so much for your time today. This was a real dream come true. I'm so excited for the new record and any number of the shows you're playing this year. But thank you for being so generous with your time and your answers. This really, this made my week, man. Thank you so much.

Man, you're so welcome. Thank you. And I seriously can't wait for you to hear the new record. I can't wait for people to hear it. I can't wait to hear what they think of it. It's scary, but also really exciting, because my heart is definitely in this one. It is in all of them. But you know, we've been through some stuff, all of us. [laughs] And I think you’re going to hear that.

Well, I truly cannot wait, man. Thank you again, have a lovely day, and yeah, man- Good luck on the road. Safe travels.

Bless you, brother. Hopefully I'll see you out there on the road.

Bassist, banjo player, pianist, singer, and percussionist Oteil Burbridge is currently on tour with Dead and Company, whose farewell tour sweeps through the WAMC listening area on June 17th and 18th at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Burbridge will bring his Oteil and Friends band to The Rye Bread Music and Arts Festival in Schaghticoke, New York in July.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.