John Kadlecik was the quintessential Deadhead. In fact, shortly after a friend turned him on to the Grateful Dead, he fell in love with the band and dropped out of college.
Years later, Kadlecik became a member of the Dark Star Orchestra. He got to be Jerry. He had the voice and the touch, emulating Garcia's signature fret-caressing without ever sounding like an imposter. It's a gig Kadlecik had for 12 years. But all of that changed when he got the call.
Phil Lesh and Bob Weir, founding members of the Grateful Dead, were looking to start a new project. Touring as the Dead with fellow founders Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann had grown stale, with shows marked by long periods of space and a leadership void still lurking since Garcia's passing.
So Furthur was formed. Weir's keyboardist from side project RatDog, Jeff Chimenti, signed on, along with drumming virtuoso Joe Russo. Furthur doesn't just recycle Dead songs; they've begun performing new originals as well, including the impressive composition, "The Mountain Song."
Old heads like Kadlecik seem to agree that Further is the most exciting project since the Grateful Dead disbanded.
"No doubt, it's the best," says Jimmy Hawk, a James Island general contractor who saw the Grateful Dead exactly 50 times. "Kadlecik is the real deal. The Dead have had other guitar players, but this guy played like Jerry for a living. You're in a Dead cover band and you get asked to cover Jerry? What a thrill for him. And it's back to being like the Grateful Dead."
Hawk's first show was at Duke University in 1978, and even after Jerry's passing, he hasn't slowed down. On Furthur's first tour last spring, he saw them in Atlanta, Asheville, and Charlotte and flew to Baltimore in October.
"I've seen shows after Jerry where no one could make up their minds, and Furthur doesn't have those issues," says Hawk.
Another James Islander, Dylan Raymond, saw the Grateful Dead 32 times, but without Jerry he's not inclined to attend this Saturday. "I caught the tail end of it, just before the scene got dirty," says Raymond, whose mother took him to see the Jerry Garcia Band in Rochester, N.Y., when he was 12 years old. By eighth grade, he was traveling to Albany, Buffalo, and New York City for shows.
"In Highgate, Ver., a guy had a farm and let us camp on his land," Raymond recalls. "He gave us hay rides to the show, and I don't remember him charging us anything. It was the first time I'd seen tents everywhere like that, and a VW bus with the full canvas pop-up and tent on the side. It gave me goosebumps. Bob Dylan opened, and wore nothing but white shoes, white socks, white pants, white jacket, white tie, and black sunglasses. I ate some really good acid from Russia, but I specifically remember all of it."
Like many, Raymond tells stories of the family's loving vibe, united by music, that compelled him to travel and tour with the like-minded caravan. He says he was never a hippie though.
"Hippies are people from the Vietnam days," he explains. "I don't think we were hippies. I was a Deadhead."
Mt. Pleasant marketing consultant Bert Wood got a few years head start on Raymond, catching over 150 shows, beginning in 1986 at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. He gets a sparkle in his eye recounting experiences like hearing the first version of the song "Ripple" in 17 years at a show in Landover, Md., and he's hoping for more reminders of those days on Saturday.
"I'm going, just for the experience and everything," says Wood. "Obviously, it's not the same, but you go and hear some good ol' Grateful Dead and have fun. It's always a good time."