From the Grateful Dead's earliest days in Palo Alto and the burgeoning rock and psychedelic music scene in San Francisco, drummer Bill Kreutzmann was right there with them as timekeeper and comrade. Alongside Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, and Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, the low-key Kreutzmann helped develop the band's distinctively loose, frenetic, and exploratory style of jamming.
The drummer took a break from his current duties with the Dead (as the band is now called) to tour with his musical side project, BK3. The trio performs at the Music Farm on Friday.
"It's interesting because they're two completely different kinds of things," Kreutzmann says of the BK3's style of jam-rock. "The Grateful Dead plays oldies but goodies, and plays 'em real good, and now I'm playing with new musicians that I haven't been able to play with very much. That's very exciting for me. We'll play new music and songs, a lot of R&B, and it's pretty different. That's why I'm looking forward to this tour so much."
Kreutzmann has spent much of the spring touring with the Dead alongside percussionist Mickey Hart (the other "rhythm devil" in the band). He played drums with guitarist Papa Mali at several festivals in late-May before getting the BK3 together for the current tour.
"We just finished 23 gigs with the Dead," says the drummer. "The band got better and better. Normally, I'd come home with big blisters on my fingers. But I don't have any of that now. My style has changed so much. If you looked at my hands now, you'd be amazed at how smooth they are. I think I know just how hard to hit the drums now, so I have a better sense of dynamics."
The BK3 usually features a casual rotation of musicians. Phish bassist Mike Gordon and Allman Brothers' bassist Oteil Burbridge have both done tours with Kreutzmann under the moniker. This season, the lineup boats bassist James "Hutch" Hutchinson (of Bonnie Raitt's band) and guitarist Scott Murawski (of Max Creek) — two skillful players with a good ear for rhythm and a strong penchant for improvisation.
"I've played with Hutch many times before," says Kreutzmann. "He's a wonderful bass player, and we get along great. At my age, you get along really great or else you're not in the band [laughs]. There's no point in putting stress on your life at this point, you know? It's really a collaborative thing. It's not about learning new things; it's about supplying what you already know, picking the right pieces, and putting the puzzle together the right way.
"This year has been a fantastic year for me," he adds. "I've played more music than I have in years. I'm one of those guys who gets told by musicians that I have linebacker eyes; I'm always checking everybody. I don't know if that's the drummer's job or not, but that's just how I do it."
The Music Farm holds less than 1,000 people — significantly smaller than most of the festivals and concert halls to which the Dead is accustomed. As far as the size of the venue or audience goes, Kreutzmann couldn't care less, as long as the people in the audience are into the music and react to the performance.
"If people really welcome you when you walk on stage — and it could be anywhere — [the size of a gig] doesn't matter," he says. "You're up there, and they give it back to you. I call it a Möbius strip. I don't think the band is any more important than the audience, really. If an audience is really enthusiastic and pumped, then they're just as important as the band, you know? I'm pretty humble, and I don't really buy into the star trip or anything ... I just play the living shit out of the drums [laughs]. That's all I really know how to do."